Sundarbans (‘the beautiful forest’ in English) is a wild fragile mangrove ecosystem in the southern Bengal – fundamental to existence of this part of the world. The delta homes to the biggest mangrove forest on earth and is the only tiger-mangrove. The region is one of the most vulnerable from climate change and increasing disasters.
Sunderbans region includes 4263 km2 of Reserve Forest including 1678 km2 in South 24 Parganas Reserve Forest & 2585 km2 in Sunderban Tiger Reserve.
Looking back to the history of the protected area, Government of India constituted Sunderban Tiger Reserve [STR] in 1973 under “Project Tiger” scheme. It covers an area of 2585 km2 comprising 1330 km2 core forest and 1255 km2 buffer zone forest. Considering the importance of Sundarban’s Bio-geographic Region, the National Park Area of the Sundarban Tiger Reserve have been included in the list of World Natural Heritage Sites in 1985. The Govt. of India declared the Sunderbans region including the protected area of Sunderban Tiger Reserve as BIOSPHERE RESERVE in 1989. And it received the recognition of UNESCO, under its Man & Biosphere (MAB) Programme in Nov. 2001. Sunderban Reserve Forest has also been nominated for recognition as a Ramsar Site (A Wetland of International Importance).
The Indian Sunderban is known as Hoogly-Matla estuary (Hooghly is the Lower part of River Ganges). Besides these two main rivers, there are innumerable big & small rivers which are criss-crossing The Sunderbans namely Bidya, Saptamukhani, Raimangal, Muriganga, Thakuran, Gomor etc.
Sunderban is the product of tidal estuary. Here, in the hundreds of creeks & channels the sea water gets diluted with the inflow of fresh water from the rivers, thereby causing tidal fluctuations every day. Sometimes the river swell & again it’s subsides. There are two tides & two ebbs every day.
Flora of Sundarbans
Mangrove forest of Indian Sunderbans has a total of 84 recognised flora species out of which 34 are true mangroves. Mangroves are trees of various species of several families which can survive, grow and propagate in sea water or swampy brackish water and alluvial soil in tidal zone. The mouth of the tidal creeks and drivers, where salt and fresh water is mixed in ideal proportion, show the greatest concentration of mangroves in Sunderbans.
Fauna of Sundarbans
The Sundarbans of India and Bangladesh is the only mangrove in the world where tigers still alive. The Sundarbans provides a unique ecosystem and a rich wildlife habitat. This mangrove is the critical habitat for numerous species of small fish, crabs, shrimps and other crustaceans that adapt to feed and shelter, and reproduce among the tangled mass of roots, known as pneumatophores, which grow upward from the anaerobic mud to get the supply of oxygen.
Fishing cats, macaques, wild boars, common grey mongooses, foxes, jungle cats, flying foxes, pangolins, and spotted deer are also found in abundance in the Sundarbans.
Sundarbans supports diverse biological resources including at least 250 species of commercially important fish, 270 species of birds, 42 species of mammals, 35 reptiles and 8 amphibian species.
Sunderbans is not only a land of mangroves, rivers and tigers. It also homes to 6 million people in India. Though agriculture and fishery is the major livelihood here, a large portion of the people depends heavily on forest products to earn their bread. Continuous threats from cyclonic storms, salinity increase and changing rainfall patterns have made their lives a struggle for existence. Consequences are male migration leaving behind women headed households with children and elderly, the most vulnerable population of society. The famous phrase ‘a tiger on the land, a crocodile in the water’ has supposedly originated from this region. Life in these distant mangrove island villages is on the horns of a dilemma.