6 sites in MMR are now wetlands
The Maharashtra forest department has approved and published an official document showing six ecologically sensitive areas in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) as wetlands.
The Thane creek flamingo sanctuary (TCFS) management plan 2020-2030, sanctioned by the state’s chief wildlife warden (CWLW) on June 18, has officially designated six sites – Bhandup (11 ha) in Mumbai, Panje (124 ha), Belpada (30 ha), Bhendkhal (8 ha) in Uran, Training Ship Chanakya (13 ha), NRI Complex (19 ha) in Navi Mumbai – as wetlands.
The areas have been listed as ‘satellite wetlands that need to be protected within a 50km radius of TCFS’, the document read. This is the first time the state has also officially declared its intent to protect each site as either conservation or community reserves. HT has a copy of the approved management plan, while the mangrove cell confirmed the development.
Virendra Tiwari, the additional principal chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell, said the identification of these six sites as wetlands was done based on a report by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) - Coastal Wetlands and water birds of Navi Mumbai 2019.
“The report has been made part of the official document (TCFS management plan), which was approved by the CWLW under provisions of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. This is the first step. It is our endeavour to follow up with competent authorities (district administration and state bodies) to declare these sites as protected areas,” said Tiwari.
The proposed action plan for these six sites include understanding the linkages between TCFS and its satellite wetlands in the radius of 50km, to work with research organisations to monitor the status of these wetlands, the mangrove cell to liaise with agencies concerned to formulate necessary policies for conserving identified wetlands, and finally to declare them as conservation or community reserves (protected areas).
“Six satellite wetlands have been identified and flamingo movement will be monitored with the help of experts. Flamingos are itinerant species (travelling from place to place) adapted to respond to changes in local environment by moving, and depend on a network of suitable sites. Conservation of satellite wetlands around TCFS is also equally critical for the long-term survival of flamingos in the region,” the document read.
Wetland sites such as TSC, NRI, and Panje had witnessed large flocks of flamingos from March to May. BNHS estimated that there were over 1.5 lakh flamingos visiting MMR wetlands this migratory season.
“Protecting these wetlands will help us achieve our sustainable development goals and commitments to the global community on Central Asian Flyway that the Prime Minister had announced during the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS COP 13) in Gandhinagar in February,” said Deepak Apte, director, BNHS. “They are vital migratory bird habitats and their protection is crucial from the air safety point of view for the Navi Mumbai International Airport.”
Prior to the latest development, HT had reported on April 29 about a letter issued by the mangrove cell to the Raigad and Thane district administrations, City Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco), and Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) for a no-objection certificate and comments on declaring these six zones a Conservation Reserves. While both district administrations are yet to respond, JNPT had said the sites under their jurisdiction, Belpada and Bhendkhal, were not wetlands, but commercial and agricultural lands. Cidco, that had plans to construct an 18-hole golf course over NRI and TSC, has not officially responded to the mangrove cell, but told HT that they had ‘no clarity’ on the fate of the golf courses at the moment.
“With large-scale destruction reported from all these sites already, this decision by the forest department will help protect the last surviving major wetlands in MMR, safeguard city areas from flooding and defend losses to local livelihood,” said environmentalist Stalin D.