Eco Tourism in the Sunderbans

Deforestation is somewhat of a cliché when we talk about environment conservation. But it has badly affected many forest covered areas, especially in India. Due to the increase in population, the mangrove cover in the Sunderbans has considerably reduced. The Sunderbans are a low lying area located in West Bengal. To the south of the Sunderbans is the Bay of Bengal and to the north is the Baleswar River. They are well known for the Royal Bengal tigers, spotted deer and a variety of crocodiles and snakes.

The mangrove grows mainly in saline, coastal regions and the Sunderbans provide a conducive environment. In the past ten years, there has been massive deforestation in the Sunderbans, which resulted in considerable reduction of the mangroves. The mangroves provide an embankment which prevents the low lying areas from flooding. Since the mangroves support a lot of wildlife, the reduction in mangrove cover has caused adverse effects on the population of various species in the Sunderbans.

During Cyclone Aila in 2009, 330 people were reported dead and approximately 8200 were reported missing. Property was also severely damaged. Post the cyclone, due to the flooding many water borne diseases were reported which also took many lives. The animals were also affected by the cyclone. Many Royal Bengal tigers were suspected of having drowned. Though the cyclone happened due to meteorological reasons, it is believed that if there was more mangrove cover, the damage could have been reduced, because the mangroves would have protected the Sunderbans from excessive flooding.

Keeping in mind the importance of mangroves, sincere efforts to increase the mangrove cover are being undertaken. Many NGOs which work for the protection and conservation of the environment are planting more and more Sundari trees to help increase the mangrove cover. They are also trying to involve locals in this effort which increases the manpower and spreads awareness about the environment.

The Sunderbans have been a source of livelihood for the local people for many years now. These people depend upon the wood for fire and the animals for products from which they make money. To make sure that these people do not suffer from the afforestation project, they are made to participate in it. Alternative means of livelihood are also introduced to them.

To increase awareness about the environment, eco tourism is also being promoted in these areas. Eco tourism is a kind of tourism which aims at educating the traveler about the environment. This is generally promoted in areas where the balance of the ecosystem is very fragile. Other kinds of travel cause a lot of damage to the environment. This also causes humans to encroach upon the forest lands with hotels and they commercialize the pristine environment. Eco tourism aims at causing minimal damage to the environment by spreading awareness. Through a combination of eco tourism, afforestation, awareness drives and means of alternate livelihood, it is believed that the mangrove cover can be salvaged.

Chandani Karnik

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