An Appeal for declaring Sunderbans as ‘Mangrove Biome’

Gautam Kumar Das

Sunderbans, a part of deltaic plain of fluvio-marine deposits and the habitat of biggest contiguous mangrove patch of the world is with magnificent biodiversity including world famous Royal Bengal tiger and estuarine crocodiles. For its amazingly quiet nature, and as a biogenous coast of numerous flora and fauna, Sunderbans is declared as Biosphere Reserve by the ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India in March, 1989. The role of mangrove ecosystem in Sunderbans as buffer against tsunamis, cyclones, as an agent for soil conservation, as sanctuary to many rare endemic flora and fauna, for these reasons IUCN announced Sunderbans as World Heritage Site for its dynamic ecosystem and this Sunderbans contains almost all uniqueness like other biomes to be enlisted as a ‘Mangrove Biome’. Mangrove Biome would be a unique identity of the Sunderbans and greater impetus for the bio-geographical region of the world.

There are 64 species of mangroves and its associated species and 1692 species of fauna are identified till date that enriches the biotic region of the Sunderbans. Covering an entire area of 25,500 sq km of both India and Bangladesh – a part of the world’s largest Ganga-Brahmaputra Delta at the confluence of the Bay of Bengal, Sunderbans is excellent for its awe-inspiring abode of Royal Bengal tiger, estuarine crocodiles, king cobra, pythons, otters, water monitors and many other animals including mangroves which constitute the lifeline of the Sunderbans. For this reason the mangrove forest of the Sunderbans, the most nutrient rich and productive environment, is to be considered and enlisted as Mangrove Biome, the largest unit of ecosystem. Biome is a large collection of plants and animals adapted to survive within their geographical zone a region’s soil and animal life are closely related to its vegetation. This, in turn, is linked to the climate and nature of the environment, such a system is a biome like Sunderbans including all its characteristics which are unique and different from other biomes. Among the physical parameters, the climate of the Sunderbans is tropical oceanic. The tides are semi-diurnal with slight diurnal inequality. The heavy rainfall during the monsoon includes the tidal interactions in almost all the rivers of the Sunderbans and flood and ebb tidal currents fluctuate with seasons. Soils are rich in salts due to saline ground water table present at shallow depth. The estuarine region is generally low lying deltaic plain inundated regularly by brackish waters. Surface soils are salinised due to capillary rise of saline water depending upon the elevation, soil texture, climate, drainage and other reasons. From the ecological point of view, the high-salinity tolerant plants respond variously to the change in the morphological and physiological conditions in different parts of the intertidal zones.

Constantly built-up Sunderbans with vast new alluvial plain intersected by a large number of tidal rivers and creeks, surrounded by the saline and brackish water has soil, water, air, flora and fauna as its components of vibrating ecosystem. Mangrove community as a whole is termed as ‘Mangals’. Occurring in the intertidal mudflat, the mangroves is an assemblage of plants of different species with special halophytic adaptive features such as pneumatophores, stilt roots, root buttress, salt gland, viviparous germination etc. Self-sufficient detritus based mangroves ecosystem produces and utilizes the food materials within its periphery. The complicated network of mangroves roots baffles sediments. These roots reduce the wave action.

In Sunderbans there is no such borderline between mangroves and water and it looks like a natural art on canvas having different strokes of colours given by an unmindful painter. Sometimes the water here touches the layer at which earth and sky appear to meet; sometimes it kisses the substrate soil and brackish water of the estuarine environment. All of these characteristics and parameters; the amazingly environment of grand symphony of silence; the forest-beauty; the entire Sunderbans including India and Bangladesh seek the declaration of a completely unique ‘Mangrove Biome’ by the competent authority like IUCN or UNESCO.

Jun 28, 2018

Gautam Kumar Das

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