In a webinar on “Exploring the impact of COVID-19 on the ecosystem health of rivers and its dolphin population: Present status and future strategy for conservation in India-Bangladesh-Myanmar-Nepal”organised by Inland Fisheries Society of India, ICAR – Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute, National Mission for Clean Ganga , Professional Fisheries Graduates Forum (PFGF) and Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management Society.
River Dolphins a unique species found mainly in rivers of Asia and South America are vanishing rapidly. Gangetic Dolphin, the national aquatic animal of India has been declared endangered by International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This webinar was organised to discuss the future strategy to conserve and revive these Dolphins with regional cooperation.
The webinar started with a welcome address by Dr. B. K. Das, Director, ICAR-CIFRI who gave a brief about the aim and objectives of this webinar. He stated that the webinar would enhance DolphinConservation in the South East Asian Regional Countries. Dr. J. K. Jena, DDG (Fisheries Science), ICAR in his address emphasised that with less disturbance and interference Dolphins can thrive on their own and that is what we have seen during the lockdown. He said, “These animals do not realise boundaries and have tried to find habitat wherever possible. Hence, regional cooperation is very important in conserving them.” Dr. B. C. Chaudhury, Retd. Principal Scientist,Wildlife institute of India gave a historical overview the research done on Dolphins so far. Dr. M. Munawar of Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management Society, Canada conveyed his best wishes.
Rajiv Ranjan Mishra, Director General, National Mission for Clean Ganga (NMCG), shared his experiences on Dolphin Conservation linking its importance in rejuvenation of the Ganga. While working on rejuvenation of river Ganga,continuous efforts in theNamamiGangeprogrammeto bring Dolphin Conservation to national attention has resulted in the announcement of “Project Dolphin” by theHon’ble Prime Ministry under MoEF. This project will be in-line with “Project Tiger” which has successfully helped in increasing tiger population. However, the most important thing to focus on now is community participation along with scientific interventions. NamamiGange has given importance to biodiversity and ecological improvement along with pollution abatement and projects have been taken up for improvement of fisheries with CIFRI and for biodiversity conservation with Wildlife Institute of India (WII). Under this framework, this is a first of its kind occasion where the fishery sector is leading theDolphin Conservation discourse.
Prof. A. P. Sharma, Ex Director ICAR-CIFRI, Barrackpore highlighted the need to research on dolphin habitat restoration and Dr. Dilip Kumar, Former Vice Chancellor, ICAR-CIFE, spoke about the social aspects of fishermen’s life and Dolphins in rural India.
Fishery conservation efforts under NamamiGange through CIFRI would improve prey base in Dolphin habitat leading to enhanced Dolphin population.Livelihood improvement of fishermen to help them join conservation efforts.Coordinated approach needed for synergising transboundary efforts and to develop a regional program.Small habitats in North East Rivers need special study for local propagation or translocation.Dolphin education for students, community engagement and improving overall awareness.Latest under water acoustic methodology to be applied for Dolphin census.E-flow assessment and implementation from biodiversity point of view.
Sunderban delta is an unique ecological space where Gangetic as well as Irrawaddy Dolphin are present, spread over India as well as Bangladesh. The Conference gave a unique opportunity to share experience on the Dolphins. It was also supplemented by Myanmar and Chilika Lake authority in the context of theIrrawaddy Dolphin.The Webinar was attended by more than 1000 participants across the world. Lectures on “Conservative measure of Irrawaddy Dolphin in Myanmar” by Dr. Hla Win, DDG- Fisheries- Retired, Myanmar, “Status of Dolphins in Nepalese Rivers” by Dr Madhav K. Shrestha, Professor, Aquaculture AFU (Retired), Nepal and “National Atlas and Dolphin action plan- Bangladesh” by Professor Md. A Aziz, Prof Benazir Ahmed, Senior expert from Bangladesh amongst other well-known global scholars were the highlights of the conference.The conference resolved to continue this regional and multi sectoral collaboration. The rich discussion would be very helpful in developing contours of the ‘Project Dolphin’ in India.