Climate Crisis: Bengal Tigers And The Sundarbans Face Extinction

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By A Correspondent

Bengal Tigers and their habitat the Sundarban, the single largest mangrove forest in the world, are facing extinction. The killer-criminal is well-known: Climate crisis.

The Sundarbans are disappearing, taking endangered species like the Bengal tiger with them [1].

Rapid deterioration in mangrove health is occurring in the Sundarbans, resulting in as much as 200m of coast disappearing in a single year.

A report published on January 11, 2013 in Remote Sensing by scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) states that as human development thrives, and global temperature continues to rise, natural protection from tidal waves and cyclones is being degraded at alarming rates. This will inevitably lead to species loss in this richly biodiverse part of the world, if nothing is done to stop it.

ZSL’s Dr Nathalie Pettorelli, senior author of the paper says: “Our results indicate a rapidly retreating coastline that cannot be accounted for by the regular dynamics of the Sundarbans. Degradation is happening fast, weakening this natural shield for India and Bangladesh.”

The name ‘Sundarban’ can be literally translated as ‘beautiful forest’ in the Bengali language. The area is the largest block of continuous mangrove forest in the world, being home to almost 500 species of reptile, fish, bird and mammals, including the endangered Bengal tiger.

Sarah Christie, ZSL’s tiger conservation expert says: “The Sundarbans is a critical tiger habitat; one of only a handful of remaining forests big enough to hold several hundred tigers. To lose the Sundarbans would be to move a step closer to the extinction of these majestic animals.”

Although mangroves are rare, they are an important barrier against climate change, providing protection to coastal areas from tsunamis and cyclones. They are also the most carbon rich forests in the tropics with high carbon sequestration potential, meaning their degradation and loss substantially reduce our ability to mitigate, and adapt to, predicted changes in climatic conditions.

Mangroves comprise less than 1 percent of all forest areas across the world, amounting to roughly half the size of the UK. It is essential that the protection of mangroves becomes a priority, particularly for the charismatic species which will disappear with them if no action is taken to preserve their habitat.

ZSL’s Chief Mangrove Scientific Advisor Jurgenne Primavera says: “Mangrove protection is urgent given the continuing threats to the world’s remaining 14 to 15 million hectares of mangroves from aquaculture, land development and over-exploitation. The recently established IUCN SSC Mangrove Specialist Group, hosted by ZSL, will develop a global conservation strategy for mangroves based on an assessment of research and conservation needs.”

Citing the study John Vidal reported [2]:

The Sundarbans forest took the brunt of super cyclone Sidr in 2007, but new satellite studies show that 71% of the forested coastline is retreating by as much as 200 metres a year. If erosion continues at this pace, already threatened tiger populations living in the forests will be put further at risk.

Natalie Pettorelli, one of the report's authors, said: "Coastline retreat is evident everywhere. A continuing rate of retreat would see these parts of the mangrove disappear within 50 years. On the Indian side of the Sundarbans, the island which extends most into the Bay of Bengal has receded by an average of 150 metres a year, with a maximum of just over 200 metres; this would see the disappearance of the island in about 20 years."

The Sundarbans are known for vanishing islands but the scientists said the current retreat of the mangrove forests on the southern coastline is not normal. "The causes for increasing coastline retreat, other than direct anthropogenic ones, include increased frequency of storm surges and other extreme natural events, rises in sea-level and increased salinity, which increases the vulnerability of mangroves," said Pettorelli.

"Our results indicate a rapidly retreating coastline that cannot be accounted for by the regular dynamics of the Sundarbans. Degradation is happening fast, weakening this natural shield for India and Bangladesh.

"As human development thrives, and global temperature continues to rise, natural protection from tidal waves and cyclones is being degraded at alarming rates. This will inevitably lead to species loss in this richly biodiverse part of the world, if nothing is done to stop it.

Source:

[1] ZSL LIVING CONSERVATION, Jan 11, 2013, “Bengali forests are fading away”,
http://www.zsl.org/conservation/news/bengali-forests-are-fading-away,1039,NS.html

[2] guardian.co.uk, Jan 29, 2013, “Tigers under threat from disappearing mangrove forest”,
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/jan/29/sunderbans-disappearing-mangrove-india-bangladesh

[Source: Countercurrents.org]

MARCH 2017

Vol. 11 - No. 8










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