Trees for Forests and Wildlife
350,000 trees in the villages of Rajapur, Pakhirala, Kachukhali, Ranipur in Gosaba block and Jogeshgunj, Hemnagar and Bankra in Hingalgaunge block at the Periphery of Sundarbans National Park, South 24 Parganas, West Bengal, India.
Mangroves form the most important and unique feature of this area with their ability to thrive both in dry as well as flood like conditions. Due to the presence of both saltwater and freshwater, both types of plants are present and support the habitat in their own unique way. The trees provide habitat continuation and form links in the area to prevent habitat isolation for the Tigers, categorised as endangered in the IUCN red list (The IUCN red list of threatened species, 2011), apart from providing shelter and enabling them to camouflage. (Habitat Use by Tigers in the Mangrove Forests of the Sundarbans)
Studies have found that land loss due to rising sea levels and erosion is causing the displacement of rural communities (entire villages in some cases) and exacerbating poverty. The loss of mangrove cover in the area is alarming, especially in the Gosaba block which forms the primary project area. Climate change, sea level rise, sediment starvation, all have contributed to land loss and thus loss of forest cover. (Singh, Climate change impact: Sunderbans steadily losing its famed mangroves, 2017) Sucharit B Neogi et al. talks about the role of mangroves in food security, containing the effect of storm surges and tsunamis, creating livelihood opportunities, CO2 sequestration, sediment trapping, nutrient recycling etc.
The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United States emphasizes the importance of mangroves in the food web of coastal ecosystems, therefore, making a direct impact on the terrestrial and aquatic life of the area. Mangrove Society of India's Executive Secretary Dr Arvind Untawale, mentions the significance of mangroves against tsunamis, pollution, protecting marine biodiversity and producing medicinal products.
The forest products available for collection, use and sale are honey, beeswax, resins, fruits, leaves, twigs and bark form the majority of the non-timber forest products in both India and Bangladesh. (Food and Agricultural Organisation). They contribute 79% of the average annual income to the collector’s family (Anshu Singh). Recent satellite analysis by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) shows that in the last ten years, 3.7% of the mangrove and other forests in the Sundarbans have disappeared, along with 9,990 hectares of landmass, due to erosion. (Narayan, Nayantara. ‘The shrinking islands of the world’s largest mangroves have triggered a refugee crisis.’ The Quartz: 18 March 2015: Google. Web)
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the forest supports a plethora of wildlife. The Royal Bengal Tiger, that is endemic to this region, has adapted to an almost amphibious lifestyle--swimming for long distances to mark their territory and hunt their prey. This region has 400 tigers, the highest concentration on the planet.
The tree species planted here include jat bain(Avicennia officinalis), peyara bain(Avicennia marina), kalo bain(Avicennia alba), kankra(Bruguiera gymnorrhiza), garjan(Rhizophora apiculata), pasur(Xylocarpus mekongensis) and math garan(Ceriops tagal).
The animals' species found here include the tiger, fishing cat, spotted deer, wild boar, jungle cat, rhesus macaque, otter, pangolin and fox. The crocodile, python, Gangetic dolphin and marine turtles are also found here.
The bird species found here include the small minivet, black-hooded oriole, mangrove whistler, cinnamon bittern, swamp francolin, grey-headed fishing eagle, brown fish owl, osprey, purple sunbird, pale-billed flowerpecker, loten's sunbird, striated babbler, striped tit-babbler, brown-cheeked fulvetta, lemon-rumped warbler, brown-winged kingfisher, purple heron, fulvous-breasted woodpecker, northern eagle owl.
The Sundarbans are threatened by various challenges like population pressure, spatial transformation, excessive resource extraction, salinization, sea-level rise, and climate change, thus making it difficult for it to survive even till 2100(WWF Report, 2017). The project aims to address some of these issues. The tiger forms a very important part of both the ecology and economy of the Sundarbans, providing great economic returns. D. Balasubramanian mentions in his writing, the various functions of a tiger reserve that contributes to ecology, the economy as well as culture and planting the trees contribute to the habitat conservation of the tiger thus contributing to the tiger and other wildlife conservation in the long run. (Balasubramanian, 2017).
Thus the plantation of mangroves around villages at the Periphery of the Sundarbans National Park directly impacts rural livelihoods by creating jobs in nursery and planting activities, improve fisheries catch, provide flowers, fruit, fodder and fuel to rural communities and wildlife, generate oxygen, reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, fight climate change, and benefit endemic wildlife including the endangered Tiger. Reforestation thus provides ample livelihood opportunities for the people in the buffer area, preventing them from venturing into the forest and minimising chances of conflict and empowerment of the dwellers as a result.