The world has apparently lost its first habituated island — Lohachara Island in Sunderbans — thanks to global warming plus human intrusion. Another island, Ghoramora, in the Sunderbans National Park is on the verge of being lost to the Bay of Bengal and 12 more may end similarly by 2020, a report prepared by Jadavpur University has warned.
The alarming aspect of the six-year long study is that the rising sea levels may push about 400 tigers in Sunderbans, a world heritage site, towards Bangladesh and may result in extinction of Sundari, a mangrove species unique to the national park. Experts say the sea there is rising at an annual rate of 3.14 mm as compared to the global rate of 2.2 mm.
According to Dr Sugata Hazra, Director of School of Oceanographic Studies at Jadhavpur University, the rising sea level caused massive soil erosion and finally, the Lohachara submerged into the sea. "The trend first recorded in 2001 but was confirmed in 2006 through satellite imaginary," he told HT. Sunderbans by its physical nature of being low lying is more prone to devastation caused by rising sea levels.
Hazra also blamed human interference for excessive soil erosion. "The mangrove cultivation was extensively damaged till 1990s by humans but not much effort went into its re-plantation," he said. In addition, the upstream dams on Ganga and Bhramaputra reduced enough fresh water to the mangrove wetland and salinity increased in Sunderbans due to excessive sea flooding causing huge damage to the vegetation, said a Greenpeace campaigner.
The National Coastal Authority under the Ministry of Environment and Forests has been informed about the shocking discovery. A ministry official said that they were aware of the situation and soon the government will bring in new guidelines on Coastal Regulation Zones "Saving Sunderbans and olive ridley turtles in Orissa will be prioritised in the new regulations," he said.
The government may have to act fast as Hazra says that Sunderbans may lose 12 more islets by 2020 if corrective steps are not taken soon. Two-thirds of the nearby populated island Ghoramara is submerged. "It is just a matter of years before we lose this island too. Still, it is not too late to start as many more islands can be saved through visible interventions," he said. But, added that so far the government's response has been 'slow'. Already, 10,000 people in Sunderbans have been forced refugees with their land been eaten up by the rising sea.