AND LEGAL STATUS
In a bid to conserve the complex and fragile mangrove ecosystem
and the endangered flora, fauna associated with it, Govt. of Odisha
Vide notification No. 6958/FFAH dt. 22.4.1975 constituted the ex-zamindary
forests of Kanika Raj which were declared as P.F. Vide notification
No. 33233 dt. 04.10.1961 as a Sanctuary known as Bhitarkanika Wildlife
Sanctuary. The area of the Sanctuary is 672 Sq. Kms.
Subsequently, in the year 1998, the core area of Bhitarkanika
Wildlife Sanctuary comprising of 145 Sq. Kms was declared as a
National Park Vide Notification No.19686 / F&E dated 16.9.98
because of its ecological, faunal, floral, geomorphological and
zoological association and importance and for the purpose of protectin
The area has also been designated as the second Ramsar site (i.e.
Wetland of International importance) of the State during August,
2002. It is a unique area with rich biodiversity as it covers different
ecosystems such as the landmass, tidal waterbodies of the deltaic
region, estuaries and territorial waters of the Bay of Bengal along
with their associated flora and fauna.
The deltaic region formed by the alluvial deposits of river Brahmani,
Baitarani and Dhamara (Bhitarkanika) and the Mahanadi deltaic area,
comprising of about 3000 Sq. Km. forms the proposed Bhitarkanika
Biosphere Reserve. This deltaic region is a unique bioclimatic zone
in a typical geographic situation in the coastal region of Bay of
Bengal. It is located in the Kendrapara District of the State of
The proposed Bhitarkanika
Biosphere Reserve covers erstwhile Kanika and Kujang Zamindari area.
It includes at present three protected areas namely Bhitarkanika
Wildlife Sanctuary, Bhitarkanika National Park and the Gahirmatha
Marine Wildlife Sanctuary.
The resilient mangroves serve the protective functions to a greater
extent. It protects the hinterland against cyclonic storms during
cyclones, super cyclones, tidal surges and other natural catastrophes
acting as an effective shelterbelt. In the unprecedented super cyclone
of October 1999, the mangroves has withstood the onslaught of cyclonic
wind and saved the life and property of millions of people.
perform a variety of productive as well as protective functions.
This mangrove wetland in particular is a repository of biological
diversity in terms of flora and fauna.
This ecosystem harbours the largest number of saltwater crocodile
population in the Indian sub-continent. Other reptilian fauna include
Monitor lizard, Indian python, King cobra and varieties of other
snake species. It also harbours a number of endangered animals like
Fishing cat, Leopard cat, Dolphins and Porpoises.
Gahirmatha coast finds a prominent place in the turtle map of the
world because of the distinction of having one of world's largest
nesting and breeding congregation of Olive Ridley Sea turtles.
including mudflats provide ideal feeding, perching and nesting facilities
to a variety of resident and migratory waterfowl.
The wetland supports one of the largest mangrove ecosystems after
Sundarbans, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh in the Indian mainland. It
has more than 300 numbers of plant species, which include mangroves,
mangrove associates and non mangroves. The floral diversity of Bhitarkanika
wetland is known to be largest in India and second largest after
Papua New Guinea in the world. Considering the genetic diversity
of the wetland and its importance, the mangrove steering committee
of Govt. of India have established its National Mangrove Genetic
Resource Conservation Centre in one of the islands of this wetland
i.e. Kalibhanjadia island.
The area supports rich biodiversity including mangroves and mangrove
associates (71 species), largest population of estuarine crocodiles
(1358 as per 2004 census), the rare white crocodile (Sankhua), largest
Indian lizards (water monitor), poisonous and non-poisonous snakes
like king cobra and python, varieties of resident and migratory
birds (217 species) and number of mammalian species (spotted deer,
sambar, wild boar, fishing cat, jungle cat, otter etc.) In comparison
to the national status, the composition of vertebrate fauna / species
of Bhitarkanika project area represents 8% mammals, 17.70% birds,
9.40% reptiles and 2.5 % amphibians. The Gahirmatha sea beach, bordering
the sanctuary attracts hundreds and thousands of Olive ridley sea
turtles for mass nesting / egg laying (World's largest rookery)
during the winter months (January to April).
and Biological Uniqueness
Endemism in Bhitarkanika is not fully explored. Yet, it is expected
to be there particularly in sectors like mangrove flora and benthic
fauna, soil fauna, aquatic flora and fauna. Among the three species
of Sundari trees (Heritiera sp.) available, Heritiera kanikensis
or Kanika Sundari is endemic to Bhitarkanika.
Bhitarkanika is endowed
with a very complex and dynamic ecosystem and is highly fragile
in nature. The ecosystem is complex in a sense that all the sub
ecosystem namely fresh water, marine and terrestrial are intricately
mixed with each other. The essential factor for maintenance of such
ecosystem is regular influx of fresh water from adjoining land and
tidal inflow from the sea. Any change in the regime of either factor
is likely to effect a corresponding change in the mangrove ecosystem.
Depending upon the
degree of inundation, the species composition, richness and diversity
varies. Since the area contains older formations and newly accreting
landmass, several horizontal zonation of plant communities are met
with. The horizontal and vertical zonation of plant communities
influenced by influx of fresh water degree of inundation, seasonal
rainfall and salinity gradients greatly influence the status of
wildlife, their number and distribution
VALUES AND ECOSYSTEM FUNCTIONS
Mangrove wetland encompasses a host of ecosystems namely; estuarine
/ brackish water ecosystem, riverine ecosystem, forest ecosystem,
etc. Each such ecosystem supports food chains within it to maintain
the balance of nature.
Mangroves have been
considered as "land builders". It is believed that the
roots of mangroves secrete a substance, which modifies the coarse
particles into fine ones and help in soil formation. The tangles
of stilt roots also help in sedimentation of particulate matter.
Network of mangrove roots provide firm anchorage to the banks of
tidal rivers, creeks and also the coast line. It effectively arrests
river bank and coastal erosion and ultimately helps in controlling
flood damages. It also exercises a moderating influence on the cyclonic
wind and storm surges. In the past, serve cyclones and tidal surges
of the coastal Kendrapara district; particularly the Rajnagar area,
is known to have been effectively controlled due to the presence
of thick mangrove vegetation in the zone of Bhitarkanika and the
adjoining Mahanadi deltaic area.
Mangrove areas support a range of interconnected food webs, which
directly sustain the fisheries. Algae and detritus sustain shrimps
and prawns, which provide a food source for species such as Bhekti
(Lates sp.) Cat fishes etc. Fish and prawns spend most of their
adult life at sea and return to the mangrove areas and vice versa
to spawn. Some of the commercially important fishes are Ilisha,
(Hilisa illisha), Khainga (Mullet sp.), Bhekti (Lates calcarifer),
Kantia (Mustus gulia), Kokill (Anchovella sp.) etc. Prawns such
as Penaeus indicus, tiger prawn (Penaeus monodon), Metapenaeus affinis
and crabs, mainly the mud crabs (Scylla serrata) are exploited in
large numbers by the fishermen both in the breeding and non-breeding
seasons. Mud skippers, a typical fish reside around and in mangroves.
These fishes are able to survive short periods of aerial exposure,
skip around on the water and mud and build chimney like burrows.
Ecological Vulnerability is due to large scale encroachments, current
living styles and dependence of people on Bhitarkanika. Although
there are known pollution causing Industries like Oswal and PPL,
etc. around Bhitarkanika which could affect the ecological soundness,
use of chemicals and pesticides in agricultural fields and effluents
coming from large number of prawn gherries has some impact on the
wildlife depending on the aquatic habitat.
Bhitarkanika mangrove wetland is one of the most productive ecosystems.
It adds to the coastal fishery production. The rivers and creeks
in the wetland are a major source of variety of indigenous fish.
The sheltered waters of mangroves provide nursery ground for commercially
harvested prawns and shrimps. Several fish species come to the estuary
for breeding. Fishing is the mainstay of the villagers those who
do not have any landed property. In addition, the local people depend
on the mangrove vegetation for collection of honey, wax and medicinal
plants. Around 50 quintal of honey is available per year in Bhitarkanika
The wetland has a good number of ancient monuments like palace of
ex-zamindar, Shiva temple inside Bhitarkanika forest block, Jagannath
temple at Righagarh and Keradagarh, Panchubarahi goddess temple
at Satabhaya and others such small temples which are culturally
significant to the inhabitants.
The wetland is endowed with a variety of habitats and microhabitats
to shelter wide ranging aquatic, terrestrial and avifauna. The animals
and birds associated with the mangrove and wetland can be broadly
categorized into two groups namely invertebrate and vertebrate.
Vertebrate fauna include a variety of fishes, amphibians, birds,
reptiles and mammals.
The Saltwater crocodile
"rear and rehabilitation" operation is a success story
in Bhitarkanika and the crocodile population in the Bhitarkanika
river system has been gradually built up. The captive reared young
crocodiles have been released in the creeks and estuaries and above
2200 crocodiles have been released in phases since 1977. Some of
the released crocodiles have bred successfully in the wild and above
45 clutches of eggs have been located, which is 6.5% more in comparison
Bhitarkanika is a
living laboratory for Scientists / Biologists perusing studies on
Biodiversity and human values. Scientific research on the endangered
Saltwater crocodiles and Olive Ridley Sea turtles over two decades
and half in Bhitarkanika have yielded much scientific data / information
on the species and its habitat. Much study need to be done on the
flora and fauna which are still remained unexplored.
Bhitarkanika has become an identified tourist destination in Odisha
and is a paradise for nature lovers, conservationists, and biologists.
However, the Ecotourism potentiality is yet to be fully explored.
Some infrastructure are presently available in places like Chandbali,
Dangmal, Dhamara, Habalikhati, Gupti and Ekakula for catering the
need of tourists which are being developed and upgraded. Number
of tourists in Bhitarkanika in the past three years are as follows:
2001- 2002 : 28,000
2002- 2003 : 24,000
2003- 2004 : 22,000
AND PEOPLE'S LIVELIHOOD
Above 9 lakh people in about 900 revenue villages and hamlets live
in and around proposed Bhitarkanika Biosphere Reserve (410 villages
in the sanctuary area). The people who live in the villages adjoining
mangrove forest blocks earn a part of their livelihood from the
mangrove ecosystem, which constitutes about 100 villages. The livelihood
patterns of rest of the villages directly or indirectly influence
the very existence and survival of the flora and fauna of the mangrove
ecosystem. It is, therefore, essential to provide alternative means
of livelihood for the people living in about 100 villages to reduce
their dependency on this eco-fragile ecosystem and to take measures
so that the land use pattern and also livelihood issues of the rest
of the villages shall not exert any negative influence on the existence
and survival of this coastal mangrove ecosystem.
Encroachment of forestland:
Encroachment of forestland by the migratory people and conversion
of the same into common homestead and agriculture land are the main
problem in this locality. This has put tremendous biotic pressure
on the potential mangrove forests. In the encroached land, the tidal
creeks are being blocked by earthen bunds, which prevents the natural
tidal flow and gradually the mangrove vegetation perish from that
In and around the site, a large chunk of the agriculture land adjacent
to rivers and creeks have been converted to prawn farms. Even number
of people from outside the area have purchased private land along
the coast as well as along the creeks and converted the same to
aquaculture farms. They are discharging the untreated effluents
from the farm to nearby rivers and creeks and thereby affecting
the aquatic fauna and the mangroves.
Fishing in the rivers and creeks by the surrounding local people
is posing several adverse factors, the major being obstruction of
migratory routs of fishes and blocking of free movement of crocodiles.
Sometime, fishing by the local people leads to virtual closure of
creeks, thereby the tidal inundation is hampered to a considerable
extent. Fishing in the near shore and off shore coastal waters resulting
in mortality of endangered Sea turtles, Dolphins, etc. Movement
of fishing vessels in the congregated breeding ground of Sea turtles
is affecting the social facilitation in Ridleys and disturbing the
Stock and Grazing:
An estimated 70,000 cattle depend on the forest and meadow located
therein for grazing during cropping season. This puts pressure on
mangrove vegetation especially Avicennia species.
To wean the poachers away from poaching, a massive awareness programme
has been undertaken The efforts are supplemented with the establishment
of anti-poaching camps at strategic points. To encourage eco-tourism,
training camps for eco-guides and boat-man associations are being
Habitat development inside the sanctuary is being done with funds
received from MoEF of Govt. of India. These measures include raising
up of plantations, digging and renovation of creeks and digging
The State Forest and Environment Department have taken several measures
for conservation and management of this unique wetland and its rich
biodiversity, with the support of the Ministry of E &F, Govt.
of India. These measures include:
· Building of Data base
· Protection of salt water crocodiles and sea turtles
· Protection of migratory waterfowl and other species prone
to poaching for meat
· Weed control
· Restoration of the feeding and roosting habitat of water
· Pollution control
· Creation of awareness about the values and functions of
mangroves and wetland
· Research and development activities
· Community participation
· Capacity building
· Institutional strengthening
· Promotion of eco-tourism