Sunderbans has been the largest mangrove forest in the world rich in biodiversity over decades, according to the Forest Survey of India. However, the dense mangrove cover on the West Bengal side of Sunderbans has declined by 4.23 per cent from 1038 square kilometres in 2011 to 994 square kilometre in 2022.
Fortunately, local women, who know the importance of the mangroves, came forward to save the Sundarbans with an initiative to protect, restore and regenerate them. The women living in close proximity to the Sunderbans feel it their responsibility as inhabitants of the area to preserve and protect the Delta for the future generations.
Due to the scarcity of freshwater on India’s side Sundarbans Sundri, which happens to be the dominant species in the area is fast disappearing. Mangroves are known to be among the most effective natural barriers against floods. They are of crucial importance as a dampener on cyclones. Hence, their slow decline, both in terms of area and key health indicators, is a matter of grave concern.
The declining trend in the health of the existing mangroves is being attributed to reduced freshwater supply, rise in salinity and the combined effect of rainfall instability and rise in temperature.
Under the circumstances, the local women have taken upon themselves the task of reviving the Sunderbans by planting mangrove saplings alongside the river to ensure that the area around their houses remains safe and secure.
These women have made it a routine to prepare the saplings at home before planting them in a row alongside the river to keep the embankment and their houses protected against floods. In due course of time, their efforts started bearing fruits with the mangroves sustaining the Sunderbans.
Sundarbans is a cluster of low-lying islands on the way to Bengal. It is also a UNESCO heritage site that lies on the deltas of three major rivers, namely the Ganga, the Brahmaputra and the Megan which provide wildlife for centuries. It is one of the largest mangrove areas of the world that is home to some of the unique species like Royal Bengal Tigers, Salt-water Crocodile and Indian Python.
However, Sunderbans is famous for its unique ecosystem rich with biodiversity. The delta region spanning over Bangladesh and India is at risk of multiple threats. Due to flooding of the coast and erosion of soil with rise in sea level over the past five decades four islands have completely disappeared rendering nearly 6,000 families homeless.
Increasing number of cyclones from Aila 2009 to Amphan 2020, and Yaas 2021 and storms are causing loss of lives and damage to the infrastructure of the forest.
Added to this is human activities, upstream dams, land reclamation and shrimp farming which are adversely changing the hydrology that serves as the foundation of the wetland ecosystem.