Sundarban Wetland of West Bengal – History, Access, Topography, Geology, Hydrology, Flora, Wildlife and Restoration Plans

Sundarban Wetland

The Sundarban Wetland was recognized as the Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on January 30, 2019. The official name of this site is Sundarbans Reserved Forest.  

Sundarban is a mangrove area. It contains hundreds of islands and a maze of rivers, rivulets, and creeks, in the delta of the Rivers Ganges and the Brahmaputra on the Bay of Bengal in India and Bangladesh. It is spread around the area from the Hooghly River West Bengal to the Baleswar River in Bangladesh’s division of Khulna. 

It comprises closed and open mangrove forests. The lands around this area are used for agricultural purposes, mudflats, and barren land. Multiple tidal streams and channels intersect it.  

Sundarban Wetland contains three other sanctuaries too: 

  • Sundarbans West Wildlife Sanctuary 
  • Sundarbans South Sanctuary 
  • Sundarbans East Sanctuary 

History of the Sundarban Wetland

The name Sundarbans is believed to be derived from sundry or Sundari (Heritiera fomes). The history of this site begins from 200-300 AD. A river named Chand Sadagar ruined the city of the Mughal emperor. This led to the discovery of the Baghmara Forest Area. 

The Mughal rulers leased this forest of Sundarbans to the nearby residents. Many people took refuge in this area, starting from armies to emperor Akbar. The legal authority of this forest went under several changes. In 1757 the British East India Company took over the ownership of this area from Mughal Emperor Alamgir II. 

The systematic management of the forest started in the 1860s. But the British were more focused on taking over the wealth of the forest. 

In 1875 a large portion of the mangrove forests was declared as reserved forests under the Forest Act, 1865 (Act VIII of 1865). This place was then declared a UNESCO (United Nations of Educational Scientific Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site.   

Access to the Wetland 

The nearest airport is the Netaji Subhash Chandra International Airport in Kolkata. The airport is well connected to major cities of India through regular flights of various carriers. 

Cabs can be hired from the airport to reach Sundarbans, which takes three hours. One can take a bus or car to Sonakhali, Godkhali, Namkhana, Canning, Raidighi, or Najat and proceed to Sundarbans through motorboats. There are no direct trains to Sundarbans. The closest railway junction is Sealdah.  

One can also reach Sundarbans via Canning by boarding one of the regular local trains running between Canning and Kolkata. Local transport in Sundarbans includes river cruises on boats, which are the best way to enjoy Sunderbans.   

Topography of Area 

The Sundarbans mangrove forest covers an area of about 10,000 km2. This place covers 133,010 hectares.   

Geology of Area  

The Sundarban wetland lies in the enormous delta on the Bay of Bengal. This is formed by the super confluence of the Hooghly, Padma (both are distributaries of Ganges), Brahmaputra, and Meghna rivers across southern Bangladesh.   

Hydrology of the Land 

The recent research declared that the Indian part of Sundarbans is estimated to be about 4,110 km2. Of which water bodies occupy about 1,700 km2 in the forms of rivers, canals, and creeks of width varying from a few meters to numerous kilometers. The seasonally flooded Sundarbans freshwater devastate forests lie inland from the mangrove forests on the coastal fringe. 

Flora Found 

The dominant flora in the mangrove swamps are as follows: 

  • Sundari 
  • Gengwa (Excoecaria agallocha) 
  • Nipa palms (Nypa fruticans) 
  • Halophytic (Salt-tolerant) 

The most abundant tree species are 

  • Sundry (Heritiera fomes) 
  • Gewa (Excoecaria agallocha) 

Wildlife Around 

The forests provide habitat to 453 fauna wildlife, including 290 birds, 120 fishTigrisammal, 35 reptiles, and eight amphibian species. 

The Sundarbans region is a refuge for a variety of animal species, many of them rare and endangered. It is an important shelter for Bengal Tigers, also known as Panthera Tigris. 

The forest provides a habitat for small wild cats such as 

  • Jungle catbirdslis chaus 
  • Fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus) 
  • Leopard cat (P. bengalensis) 

Mammals seen here include Spotted Deer, Wild boars Otters, Wildcats, and Dolphins. Other than that, Javan Rhinoceroses, Guar, Water Buffalo, and Spotted Deer—are now believed to be extinct there. 

Several dozen reptile and amphibian species can also be found in the Sundarbans, notably crocodiles, Indian, pythons, cobras, and marine turtles. 

The region is home to more than 250 bird species—both seas, on migrants, and permanent residents. Some of them are as follows: 

  • Hornbills 
  • Storks 
  • Waders 
  • Kingfishers 
  • White Ibis 
  • Raptors 
  • Sea eagles 

Islands in the Lake 

The Sundarbans is intersected by a complex network of tidal waterways, mudflats, and small islands of salt-tolerant mangrove forests. The interconnected network of waterways makes almost every corner of the forest accessible by boat. 

Economic Evaluation of the Lake’s Resources 

The Sundarbans have an important role in the economy of the southwestern region of Bangladesh and the national economy. It is the single enormous source of forest produce in the country. The forest provides raw materials for wood-based industries. The traditional forest produces timber, fuelwood, and pulpwood. The large-scale harvest of non-wood forest products and resources plays a vital role in the lake’s economy contribution. This includes the following: 

  • Thatching materials 
  • Honey 
  • Beeswax 
  • Fish 
  • Crustacean 
  • Mollusk 

Deterioration of the Lake Environment 

The Sundarbans are under threat from both natural and human-made causes. 

Despite a total ban on all poaching or hunting wildlife, there is a consistent pattern of depleted biodiversity in the area. The ecological quality of the forest is also declining. The forest also suffers from expanded salinity due to increasing sea levels because of climate change

In May 2009, Cyclone Aila destroyed the Sundarbans with huge fatalities. At least 100,000 people were affected by this cyclone. Meanwhile, the landfall of Cyclone Sidr damaged around 40% of the Sundarbans. 

A recent coal-fired Rampal power star situated 14 kilometers from Bangladesh is anticipated to further damage this unique mangrove forest, according to a 2016 report by UNESCO. 

Climate change is anticipated to negatively affect both natural systems and human populations in the region, resulting in additional ecosystem degradation and climate migration.   

Restoration Plans 

The Directorate of Forest is responsible for administering and managing Sundarban National Park in West Bengal. 

 In 2001, the World Heritage Fund received USD 20,000 as preparatory assistance for promotion between India and Bangladesh. 

The government has also banned poaching. Action is also taken towards the climate changes by Unite Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization. 

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