Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Bangladesh to create sanctuary for river dolphins

SALEEM SAMAD

BANGLADESH WILDLIFE authorities are declaring three areas in the Sundarbans mangrove forest as “dolphin sanctuaries” to protect an endangered species of freshwater dolphins from extinction.

The dolphins, known as Irabati Dolphins or locally as Sushuk, live in the southern mangrove forest, the main habitat of the endangered mammal.

According to research that began in 2002, around 6,000 river dolphins live in the area stretching from the Irabati river to southern region of Bangladesh. There are only 100 Irabati dolphins in the world living outside this area, near Southeast Asia’s Mekong delta.

The forest department’s wildlife officer, Tapan Kumar Dey, said the agency has declared three water segments--Dhangmari, Chandpai and Dudhmukhi--as sanctuaries for free roaming and breeding by the dolphins. Once the sanctuary is initiated, fishing will be prohibited in those areas.

The waterways of the world's largest mangrove forest are the lone habitat of around 676 freshwater mammals -- 225 of Ganges river species and 451 of Irrawaddy -- the largest population in a single habitat.

Hundreds of fishermen catch fish, shrimp and crab in the water bodies, known as a hotspot of dolphins, also a breeding ground for fish, he said.

Although the animals are not targeted directly by fishermen, they often get entangled in fishing nets and die in dozens every year. They are also threatened by rising salinity and pollution.

Rubaiyat Mansur, a researcher in dolphin conservation, found that the world's largest population of Irrawaddy dolphins – an estimated 6,000 – live along Bangladesh's southern coast, including in the Sundarbans.

Mansur traveled a thousand kilometers of waterways in the treacherous Sundarbans. He said the mangrove forest is the only place in the world where the Ganges river dolphins and Irrawaddy dolphins are found.

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and elective democracy. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com