School children wait in line at the start of the awareness campaign on Dolphin conservation in Khulna on 04 November 2018. UNDP Bangladesh

To protect the endangered mammals, a 10-day ‘Shushuk Mela’ (Dolphin Fair) was inaugurated on 4 November at Hadis park in Khulna and will continue till 15 November in and around Sundarbans, to raise mass awareness on dolphin conservation.

Sundarbans is home to Asia’s last two remaining freshwater dolphin species - globally Endangered Ganges River Dolphin and Irrawaddy Dolphin. Both these species are threatened with extinction due to over exploitation, unsustainable resource harvesting and livelihoods, poaching, industrial development, maritime traffic, and unplanned tourism.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Bangladesh Forest Department with financial support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) have initiated a project called “Expanding the Protected Area System to Incorporate Important Aquatic Ecosystems (EPASIIAE)” in 2016.

The project aims to engage the community in conserving aquatic animals and build local capacity to reduce the pressure on water resources. It is also working to expand the operational coverage of dolphins and create alternative nature-based livelihood option for the fishermen.

24 October was the International Fresh Water Dolphin Day. To mark the day, UNDP in partnership with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and CNRS has organized a nationwide campaign.

After a 3-day event in Dhaka, a ‘Shushuk Mela’ is being organized in Khulna and around Sundarbans. This boat-based, interactive exhibition will travel to remote fishing villages for 10 days to gain support for aquatic wildlife, sustainable fisheries and climate change adaptation, and engaging local people in respectful consultations on natural resource management.

Puppet show, bioscope, art and crafts exhibition etc were also arranged for the children.

The fair was inaugurated by the Mayor of Khulna City, Talukdar Abdul Khalek. He said, “Sundarbans is not only an asset for Khulna but also for the country. All of us need to protect this largest mangrove forest for safeguarding the nature. And to protect the Sundarbans, we need to conserve all the aquatic animals to keep the biodiversity alive.”

Arif Mohammad Faisal, Programme Specialist, UNDP said, “UNDP is working to bring the government, civil society, private sector, researchers and climate experts and fisherfolk communities together in a single platform to protect aquatic biodiversity of Sundarbans which is essential to achieve the SDG14: life below water.”

He also urged the government to declare dolphin as the ‘Aquatic National Animal’ that will help in their conservation. “If we want to save dolphins, we must stop pollution around Sundarbans,” Arif said.

Raquibul Amin, Country Representative IUCN Bangladesh said, “We all need to come forward to conserve the wildlife of Sundarbans including dolphins. Students also have a role to play by stopping utilisation of single-use plastic, which is destroying the ecosystems of Sundarbans and its waterbodies.”

He also urged to make dolphins the national aquatic animal.

Earlier ABM Sarwar Alam, Programme Coordinator, IUCN presented the keynote on Expanding the Protected Area System to Incorporate Important Aquatic Ecosystems, while Md Modinul Ahsan, National Project Director and Divisional Forest Officer, Wildlife Management and Nature Conservation Division, Khulna gave the welcome remarks.

Md. Jahidul Kabir, Conservator of Forests, Wildlife and Nature Conservation Circle, Dhaka in his closing remarks as the chair of the inaugural session took a pledge with all to conserve the biodiversity of the Sundarbans.

Earlier, a colorful procession was taken out participated by people from the government, educational institutes and development partners.

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