Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sundarbans - Bangladeshi Natural Resource Selected as New7Wonders


The Sundarbans (Bengali: সুন্দরবন, Shundorbôn) is the largest single block of tidal halophytic mangrove forest in the world.The name Sundarban can be literally translated as "beautiful jungle" or "beautiful forest" in the Bengali language (Shundor, "beautiful" and bon, "forest" or "jungle"). The name may have been derived from the Sundari trees that are found in Sundarbans in large numbers. Alternatively, it has been proposed that the name is a corruption of Samudraban (Bengali: সমুদ্রবন Shomudrobôn "Sea Forest") or Chandra-bandhe (name of a primitive tribe). But the generally accepted view is the one associated with Sundari trees.
The forest lies in the vast delta on the Bay of Bengal formed by the super confluence of the Padma, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers across Saiyan southern Bangladesh. The seasonally-flooded Sundarbans freshwater swamp forests lie inland from the mangrove forests on the coastal fringe. The forest covers 10,000 of which about 6,000 are in Bangladesh. It became inscribed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1997. The Sundarbans is estimated to be about 4,110 km², of which about 1,700 km² is occupied by waterbodies in the forms of river, canals and creeks of width varying from a few meters to several kilometers.
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.

The area is known for the eponymous Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris), as well as numerous fauna including species of birds, spotted deer, crocodiles and snakes. The fertile soils of the delta have been subject to intensive human use for centuries, and the ecoregion has been mostly converted to intensive agriculture, with few enclaves of forest remaining. The remaining forests, taken together with the Sundarbans mangroves, are important habitat for the endangered tiger. Additionally, the Sundarbans serves a crucial function as a protective barrier for the millions of inhabitants in and around Khulna and Mongla against the floods that result from the cyclones. The Sundarbans has also been enlisted among the finalists in the New7Wonders of Nature as natural resource.
Nature Of Sundarbans

The Sundarbans flora is characterized by the abundance of Heritiera fomes, Excoecaria agallocha, Ceriops decandra and Sonneratia apetala. A total 245 genera and 334 plant species were recorded by David Prain in 1903. Since Prain’s report there have been considerable changes in the status of various mangrove species and taxonomic revision of the man-grove flora. However, very little exploration of the botanical nature of the Sundarbans has been made to keep up with these changes. Whilst most of the mangroves in other parts of the world are characterized by members of the Rhizophoraceae, Avicenneaceae or Laganculariaceae, the mangroves of Bangladesh are dominated by the Sterculiaceae and Euphorbiaceae.

The Bangladesh mangrove vegetation of the Sundarbans differs greatly from other non-deltaic coastal mangrove forests and upland forests associations. Unlike the former, the Rhizophoraceae are of minor importance. Differences in vegetation have been explained in terms of freshwater and low salinity influences in the Northeast and variations in drainage and siltation. The Sundarbans has been classified as a moist tropical forest demonstrating a whole mosaic of seres, comprising primary colonization on new accretions to more mature beach forests, often conspicuously dominated by Keora (Sonneratia apetala) and tidal forests. Historically three principal vegetation types have been recognized in broad correlation with varying degrees of water salinity, freshwater flushing and physiography and which are represented in the wildlife sanctuaries:
Sundari Tree

Sundari and Gewa occur prominently throughout the area with discontinuous distribution of Dhundul (Xylocarpus granatum) and Kankra. Among grasses and Palms, Poresia coaractata, Myriostachya wightiana, Imperata cylindrica, Phragmites karka, Nypa fruticans are well distributed. Keora is an indicator species for newly accreted mudbanks and is an important species for wildlife, especially spotted deer (Axis axis). Besides the forest, there are extensive areas of brackish and freshwater marshes, intertidal mudflats, sandflats, sand dunes with typical dune vegetation, open grassland on sandy soils and raised areas supporting a variety of terrestrial shrubs and trees.
Lauadaga Snake

Succession is generally defined as the successive occupation of a site by different plant communities. In an accreting mudflats the outer community along the sequence represents the pioneer community which is gradually replaced by the next community representing the seral stages and finally by a climax community typical of the climatic zone. Troup suggested that succession began in the newly accreted land created by fresh deposits of eroded soil.
Idle of Bonbibi

The pioneer vegetation on these newly accreted sites is Sonneratia, followed by Avicennia and Nypa. As the ground is elevated as a result of soil deposition, other trees make their appearance. The most prevalent, though one of the late species to appear, is Excoecaria. As the level of land rises through accretion and the land is only occasionally flooded by tides, Heritiera fomes begins to appear.
The Sundarbans provides a unique ecosystem and a rich wildlife habitat. According to the 2011 tiger census, the Sundarbans have about 270 tigers. Although previous rough estimates had suggested much higher figures close to 300, the 2011 census provided the first ever scientific estimate of tigers from the area. Tiger attacks are frequent in the Sundarbans. Between 100 and 250 people are killed per year.Chital deer are widely seen in southern parts of Sundarban.
Royal Bengal Tiger

There is much more wildlife here than just the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger (Panthera tigris tigris). Most importantly, mangroves are a transition from the marine to freshwater and terrestrial systems, and provide critical habitat for numerous species of small fish, crabs, fidler crabs, hermit 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.
A 1991 study has revealed that the Bangladeshi part of the Sundarbans supports diverse biological resources including at least 150 species of commercially important fishes, 270 species of birds, 42 species of mammals, 35 reptiles and 8 amphibian species. This represents a significant proportion of the species present in Bangladesh (i.e. about 30% of the reptiles, 37% the birds and 34% of the mammals) and includes a large number of species which are now extinct elsewhere in the country. Two amphibians, 14 reptiles, 25 aves and five mammals are presently endangered. The Sundarbans is an important wintering area for migrant water birds and is an area suitable for watching and studying avifauna.
Chital Deers at Sundarbans

The management of wildlife is presently restricted to, firstly, the protection of fauna from poaching, and, secondly, designation of some areas as wildlife sanctuaries where no extraction of forest produce is allowed and where the wildlife face few disturbances. Although the fauna of Bangladesh have diminished in recent times. and the Sundarbans has not been spared from this decline, the mangrove forest retains several good wildlife habitats and their associated fauna. Of these, the tiger and dolphin are target species for planning wildlife management and tourism development. There are high profile and vulnerable mammals living in two contrasting environments, and their statuses and management are strong indicators of the general condition and management of wildlife. Some of the species are protected by legislation, notably by the Bangladesh Wildlife (Preservation) Order, 1973 (P.O. 23 of 1973).

The Sunderbans is celebrated through numerous Bengali folk songs and dances, often centered around the folk heroes, gods and goddesses specific to the Sunderbans (like Bonbibi and Dakshin Rai) and to the Lower Gangetic Delta (like Manasa and Chand Sadagar). The Bengali folk epic Manasamangal mentions Netidhopani and has some passages set in the Sunderbans during the heroine Behula's quest to bring her husband Lakhindar back to life.

The area provides the setting for several novels by Emilio Salgari, (e.g. The Mystery of the Black Jungle). Sundarbaney Arjan Sardar, a novel by Shibshankar Mitra, and Padma Nadir Majhi, a novel by Manik Bandopadhyay, are based on the rigors of lives of villagers and fishermen living in the Sunderbans region, and are woven into the Bengali psyche to a great extent. Padma Nadir Majhi was also made into a movie by Goutam Ghose. Part of the plot of Salman Rushdie's Booker Prize winning novel, Midnight's Children is also set in the Sundarbans. This forest is adopted as the setting of Kunal Basu's short story "The Japanese Wife" and the subsequent film adaptation. Most of the plot of prize-winning anthropologist Amitav Ghosh's 2004 novel, The Hungry Tide, is set in the Sundarbans. The book mentions two accounts of the Banbibi story of "Dukhey's Redemption."

The Sunderbans has been the subject of numerous non-fiction books, including The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans by Sy Montegomery for a young audience, which was shortlisted for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children's Book Award. In Up The Country, Emily Eden discusses her travels through the Sunderbans. Numerous documentary movies have been made about the Sunderbans, including the 2003 IMAX production Shining Bright about the Bengal Tiger. The acclaimed BBC TV series Ganges documents the lives of villagers, especially honey collectors, in the Sundarbans.

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