New Initiative of UNDP and Forest Department to save dolphins in Sundarbans

Photo: © Md Rezaul Karim Chowdhury/ UNDP Bangladesh

Sundarbans, world’s largest mangrove forest, is the only place where the Ganges river dolphins and Irrawaddy dolphins are found together. But these are now endangered mammals due to both natural and man-made causes. The government of Bangladesh in 2012, has declared Dhangmari, Chandpai and Dudhmukhi areas of eastern Sundarbans, as dolphin sanctuaries, covering 32 linear kilometres. This means the mammals can survive in a safe environment.

Although the government of Bangladesh has taken several steps to conserve dolphins, but they are still in danger. Fishermen are still using banned nets to catch fish in the designated areas and ocean-bound vessels are also using the area as a thoroughfare. Dolphins are sometimes killed by either because they are trapped in fishing nets or injured by the propellers of ships. The ecosystems of the Sundarbans are also being faced with many threats like sea level rise, salinity due to climate change, oil and coal spills, pollution from rivers that flow into the delta. These have negative impact on dolphins conservation.

To have a better management plan to protect dolphins in the Sundarbans’ rivers, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in association with Bangladesh Forest Department and financial support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) initiated a project called “Expanding the Protected Area System to Incorporate Important Aquatic Ecosystems” (EPASIIAEP).

This is a three-year project, started in 2017. The project is to build the capacity to manage effectively the existing protected areas declared for dolphin and to expand their operational coverage while still meeting the livelihood aspirations of local communities especially the fishers through alternative nature based livelihood option. The project will also conduct a dolphin survey, which was earlier done in 2002. The population of Ganges and Irrawaddy Dolphins in the Bangladesh portion of the Sundarbans was around 225 and 451 respectively, estimated by the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

The project will include activities on  awareness raising among local communities for dolphin conservation, acquire knowledge for decision making, engage local fishermen, tour operator and other community members in discussions on adaptive management needed to ensure human-dolphin coexistence.

This is a major step under the partnership of MoEF-UNDP-GEF to protect Sundarbans ecosystem, and also a significant contribution towards achieving SDG14: Life below Water.  The lessons generated from the project will be using in policy making and actions to protect ecosystems of other waterbodies and river systems of Bangladesh

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