As anthropogenic exploitation of the environment continues, fragile ecosystems struggle to survive. The Sundarbans are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the largest in the world coherent mangrove forests. Located in the tidal lower delta plain of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna Basin, Sundarbans, stretches across the Indian state of West Bengal and its neighboring country of Bangladesh. West Bengal contains about 4,300 square kilometers of mangroves, while Bangladesh is home to just over 6,000 square kilometers. The term Sundarbans – literally meaning “beautiful forest” – is home to an impressive variety of flora and fauna; Endangered species such as the Royal Bengal Tiger, Irrawaddy Dolphin, Estuary Crocodile and Indian Python find habitat in the Sundarbans. For years are at risk of becoming homeless as human encroachment on their neighborhoods continues unabated.
Where nature and its animal populations are threatened, so are the inhabitants of the human world. The people living in the delta, including metropolitan Kolkata, depend on the mangroves of the Sundarbans to act as a buffer against storms and flooding that are common on the coastal plains. The salt-tolerant trees and shrubs that make up the mangroves help protect coastal areas from increasingly intense waves and erosion. By serving as a flood barrier, they potentially reduce the damage caused by tropical storms. Healthy mangroves in the Indian state of Orissa saved many lives during the 1999 cyclone that originated in the Bay of Bengal. The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami caused significantly less damage to the east coast of India, which remained sheltered by mangroves and other forests. A dense mangrove belt can effectively reduce the peak pressure of a tsunami wave. In delta mangroves like Sundarbans, periodic erosion and hurricane damage are internal dynamics that can be balanced by the ecosystem itself if left undisturbed. But human intervention has not only limited nature’s ability to make up for its losses, but has also exacerbated environmental degradation and ecosystem imbalances in largely irreversible ways.
In recent years, deforestation has significantly reduced the dense mangrove swaths. Global warming has increased the threat to the Sundarbans. Future projections of sea level rise are expected to exceed those of recent decades, escalating the occurrence and severity of coastal flooding and saltwater intrusion into surface and groundwater. A deadly combination of sea level rise and tidal hydraulics often leads to erosion of shorelines and estuaries. The rate of erosion is perhaps among the highest in the west-central section saptamukhi and the Gosaba Estuaries reaching up to 40 m/year. Sea level rise will also increase the backwater effect in coastal rivers. As the salt front is pushed inland, the backwater effect will impede drainage, resulting in significant flooding of forested areas.
In addition, freshwater bodies can hardly contribute to the rescue. As the Hooghly River traverses a highly urbanized Kolkata, it becomes significantly polluted and its ability to carry fresh water to the Sundarbans is reduced. Oil spills have exacerbated the situation Pollution in the already contaminated ecosystem. The Haldia Port Complex has fueled the destruction of the delicate ecosystem. The explorations of environmentally conscious travelers in the Sundarbans are contributing to the exponential increase in soil and water pollution.
More than half of the islands on the Indian side of the Sundarbans are densely populated, which accounts for much of the pollution and forest cover. Many trees have been razed to secure firewood for thermal energy as the available biomass is insufficient to meet the villages’ needs. Large areas of mangroves have been converted to farmland. As the habitats of animals became the basis of human existence, the human-wildlife conflict intensifiedi.e. The situation deteriorated to such an extent that the villagers became reluctant to use wildlife conservation techniques due to their insufficient scientific knowledge and the risk of wild animals invading human dwellings. Unfair means are used to harvest mangrove resources in an unsustainable manner. Apart from a few isolated efforts, nothing significant has been done to improve poverty-stricken rural areas.
As a shared resource, it is imperative for the governments of India and Bangladesh to collectively steer the holistic improvement and conservation of the Sundarbans. The loss of Sundarbans could, in the long term, flood neighboring cities, including the capital Kolkata. Spreading awareness at the village level by empowering local governments might ensure a cooperative and symbiotic human-environment relationship.
The adverse effects of widespread deforestation are nothing new to WestbengAl. A dense blanket of green – known locally as the jhaubons — of the Digha Coast, which prevented soil erosion and stemmed the occasional ferocity of the waves, was sacrificed on the altar of tourist expansion. When the sea began a Massive coastal erosion and flooding created a causeway from Old Digha to New Digha through boulders. The boulders have caused many accidents on the beach. From the lessons learned, it might be time to stop the destruction of the coast and its ecosystem. In the Sundarbans, a government crackdown on illegal activities that harm wildlife, the use of alternative energy sources, the regulation of tourism and the reduction of pollution could prevent a unique wetland from turning into a declining wasteland.