Sunderbans will drown in 60 yrs

Posted by: Joydip & Suchandra Kundu on

KOLKATA: The World Wildlife Fund has warned that days are numbered for much of the sensitive Sunderbans eco-system and in 60 years vast tracts of the rare mangrove forests, home to the Bengal tiger, will be inundated by the rising sea.


The study, focussed on Sunderbans in Bangladesh, says the sea was rising more swiftly than anticipated by
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 and would rise 11.2 inches (above 2000 levels) by 2070. This would result in shrinkage of the Bangladesh Sunderbans by 96% within half a century, reducing the tiger population there to less than 20, said the study.

Unlike previous efforts, WWF's deputy director of conservation science Colby Loucks and his colleagues used a high-resolution digital elevation model with eight estimates of sea level rise to predict the impact on tiger habitat and population size. The team was able to come up with the most accurate predictions till date by importing over 80,000 Global Positioning System (GPS) elevation points.

The study, Sea Level Rise and Tigers: Predicted Impacts to Bangladesh's Sunderbans Mangroves, has been published in the journal, Climatic Change. Though the Indian part of the Sunderbans will not be so badly affected, conservationists wonder how many tigers would be able to survive here with nearly 60% of the habitat gone. Of the total Sunderbans, nearly 60% is in Bangladesh. Tigers do not recognize international borders though and cross over from one side to the other as and when they choose.

Experts say that every tiger requires a large territory of its own (known as range). An ever-spreading human habitat in the Indian part has already resulted in a drop in the big cats' territory, leading to frequent incidents of straying.

``Tigers have adapted to a life in the mangroves and crabs constitute an important part of their diet. Though tigers are a highly adaptable species, occupying territory from the snowy forests of Russia to the tropics of Indonesia, the projected sea level rise in the Sunderbans may outpace the animal's ability to adapt,'' a WWF source said. There are no accurate estimates, but conservationists estimate the mangroves could be home to upto 400 big cats.

The sea level rise will also have an impact on the lives of people who depend on the Sunderbans for their livelihood. The mangroves protect human habitation from cyclones and other natural disasters.


WWF has recommended that governments and natural resource managers take immediate steps to conserve and expand mangroves while preventing poaching and retaliatory killing of tigers. Neighbouring countries should increase sediment delivery and freshwater flows to the coastal region to support agriculture and replenishment of the land.

_Jayanta Gupta, TNN, Feb 23, 2010, 12.57am IST