In Amphan’s trail of destruction, Sunderbans turn red, yellow
Trees in large swathes of the Sunderbans, including several species of mangrove in one of the largest riverine deltas in the world, have started turning yellow and red over the past couple of days, several members of legislative assembly (MLAs) said.
The lawmakers have never witnessed this unnatural phenomenon before, even after the cyclone Aila that devastated large parts in and around the Sunderbans in 2009.
“All trees are turning yellow and red over the past few days, as an effect of the super cyclone Amphan. The effect is less on mangroves and more on the other trees, such as mango, banyan, jambul, neem, and jackfruit. Leaves of almost all trees on the land are turning yellow or red. They look burnt. We’ve never witnessed such a scene before,” said Samir Kumar Jana, an MLA from Patharpratima, one of the worst super cyclone Amphan-hit areas in the South 24-Parganas district.
Among mangroves, it is mainly the Avicennia species that have shown some reddishness on its leaves.
“Over the past few days, I’ve been travelling across all interior areas and the situation is the same everywhere. At places, nothing is left green,” said Jana.
Kultali MLA Ramshankar Haldar echoed him. Veteran Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Kanti Ganguly, who represented Raidighi assembly constituency for years, has had a similar experience.
West Bengal government authorities said that the Indian part of the Sunderbans consists of 4,200 square kilometres (km) of reserved forests along with 5,400 square km of non-forest area, making a total of 9600 sq. km. Of the reserve forest areas, around 1,500 square km of the forest area has suffered massive damage in the cyclone. The Sunderban delta in India comprises 102 islands of which 54 have human settlements, while the rest are only wild forests.
“The effect on mangrove is less, but leaves are turning reddish and yellowish,” said Sukumar Mahato, MLA from Sandeshkhali in North 24-Parganas district.
Ravi Kant Sinha, principal chief conservator of forests (PCCF), West Bengal, said that they have received similar reports. “We have heard that trees, including some mangroves, are turning yellow and red. For mangroves, this could be due to damage in their roots, while for other trees it could be due to increased salinity. However, we’ll need time to ascertain whether the damage is long-term or short-term,” Sinha said.
According to Himadri Sekhar Debnath, former joint-director of the AJC Bose Indian Botanical Garden, “Even mangroves can turn yellowish due to increased salinity. Mangroves live and grow in a mix of sweet and saline water. If the ratio of pH (the measure of the alkalinity or acidity of the water) and saline water gets disturbed, such effects may happen.”
Ajanta Dey of Nature Environment and Wildlife Society, which has conducted large-scale mangrove plantation in the Sunderbans, said the mangroves are least affected. “According to the reports and photographs, all other trees are turning yellowish, like never before. However, we’ve not yet received reports of a similar effect on mangroves. We’ll undertake a field trip soon,” Dey said.
State forest minister Rajib Banerjee said a similar report has come to him as well and he would make a visit to the area for a first-hand feel of this unnatural development.