Mudflats destruction to lead birds coming in way of Navi Mumbai International Airport: Study

BHNS study estimated that 2.5 lakh birds are likely to be displaced from their roosting and feeding habitats and could come in the flight path once the NMIA is functional
Flamingoes at a pond behind TS Chanakya wetland in Navi Mumbai.(HT FILE)
Flamingoes at a pond behind TS Chanakya wetland in Navi Mumbai.(HT FILE)
Published on Jun 04, 2019 01:06 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | By, Mumbai

The proposed Navi Mumbai International Airport (NMIA) is staring at another trouble, this time from birds.

Development activities for residential and commercial purposes are destroying five large mudflat bird habitats in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), part of the Central Asian Flyway, according to a year-long study by the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) titled ‘Coastal Wetlands and waterbirds of Navi Mumbai: Current Status’. This means an estimated 2.5 lakh birds are likely to be displaced from their roosting and feeding habitats and could come in the flight path once the NMIA is functional.

HT has a copy of the report, which will be submitted to the Maharashtra government and the Bombay high court (HC) appointed state mangroves committee this month. This is a second such report by BNHS in five years, highlighting habitat loss, which could lead to an air safety threat.

The study warned that complete destruction of five wetlands – Panje, Bhendkhal, Belpada (in Uran), and Training Ship Chanakya (TSC) wetland, NRI Complex (both in Navi Mumbai) – would lead to “a quarter of a million birds spending more time in the air by forming large flocks or settling along green patches closer to the runway, increasing chances of bird hits or lead to difficulty during takeoff or landing”.

The BNHS recommended that all development activities be stopped at these five zones, and they be declared ‘protected areas’. “These are the last remaining high-tide roosting and feeding sites for both resident and migratory birds. Any loss of this habitat will exponentially compromise the air safety of NMIA,” said Deepak Apte, director, BNHS.

All five wetlands witnessed a mammoth rise in human settlements and expansion of mangrove cover over the past 50 years, resulting in overall reduction in mudflat space, found BNHS, comparing high-resolution satellite images from 1973, 1987, 2002 and 2018. “Avicenia marina mangrove species are growing rapidly in this region owing to their resilience and dominant nature. In order to protect bird habitats there needs to be a balance of mangrove cover and open mudflats,” said N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell.

Across Bhendkhal, Belpada and Panje wetlands, which are the only remaining site for residential birds like purple moorhens, Eurasian coots, Spot-billed ducks and Pheasant-tailed Jacana, land filling and excavation of this wetland has eradicated their breeding grounds. Similarly, TSC and NRI wetlands serve as refuge areas for large flocks (over 6,000 combined) of lesser and greater flamingos, ducks and other waders. “Feeding and resting grounds for migratory birds like ducks, godwits, ruffs and marsh sandpipers are being destroyed, displacing these birds to nearby wetlands. Some of these wetlands, close to NMIA, will witness overpopulation and induce stress among birds due to competition for limited space and food,” said Rahul Khot, assistant director, BNHS.

The City Industrial Development Corporation (Cidco), which owns 26% stake in building NMIA and owns most of the land where these wetlands are located, said they were yet to study the issue. “The BNHS was appointed by Cidco to understand how bird movement in this area would affect the NMIA. I have not seen this report yet,” said Lokesh Chandra, vice-chairman and managing director, Cidco.

Meanwhile, the HC-appointed state mangrove committee issued directions to the Raigad district administration last month to stop reclamation activities in Uran to protect bird habitats. “Five wetlands suggested by BNHS are 75% reclaimed. The state has let this happen,” said Stalin D, member of the committee.

“During our last meeting, the Raigad administration informed that 131 wetlands had been identified within the district. However, final notification needs to be done by the state environment department to ensure protection,” said Neenu Somraj, member secretary of the committee.

Raigad collector Vijay Suryavanshi said, “A few cases have been filed against unidentified persons for illegal reclamation at some of these areas.”

“Over 60% of the proposed zone for the airport already falls under ecologically sensitive areas with mangroves, mudflats, and water bodies. All these areas are already filled up with up to 7m of soil dumping post environment clearance. While birds from this NMIA area are already using Uran and Navi Mumbai wetlands, with this report it becomes clear, that our intention is to destroy their habitat completely,” said Nandkumar Pawar, head, Shree Ekvira Aai Pratishtan


    Badri Chatterjee is an environment correspondent at Hindustan Times, Mumbai. He writes about environment issues - air, water and noise pollution, climate change - weather, wildlife - forests, marine and mangrove conservation

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