Conservation at BNHS
Conservation based on scientific research is the raison d’être of BNHS. The primary aim of the Conservation Department is to undertake biodiversity conservation and advocacy. This is achieved through a variety of activities including rapid biodiversity assessment, critique of EIAs of large projects, public awareness campaigns, biodiversity conservation projects across habitats, field surveys, co-operation with corporates to promote good environmental practices and media campaigns. The conservation policies recommended and implemented by BNHS are a result of such diligent work.
Moreover, it is being increasingly recognized that effective on-ground wildlife conservation can happen if all the concerned stakeholders are involved in the planning and implementation process. Thus, field research should be supported by interventions in the relevant ecological, social, cultural, economic, policy level and technological aspects. Successful conservation cannot take place in water tight compartments, where one issue or field of knowledge operates in isolation from others. Hence a multi-disciplinary approach to conservation is looked at as the way forward. The major ongoing conservation programmes of BNHS in the priority areas identified are as follows.
• Marine Conservation Programmes:
With an 8000 km long coastline, India is blessed with a vast variety of marine and coastal ecosystems. This flagship programme of the Conservation Department aims to highlight the need for conservation of this vast ocean biodiversity and spans myriad geographies across India. At present, a team of 10 scientists and five field assistants are working on several important programmes from four field stations; viz. Gulf of Kutch (Gujarat), Ratnagiri and Mumbai (Maharashtra), Agatti and Kavaratti (Lakshadweep Islands) and Andaman & Nicobar.
Ø Gulf of Kutch (Gujarat): Being an important region from the point of view of coastal and marine biodiversity, a team of scientists is working on various conservation research programmes in the Gulf of Kutch, such as inter-tidal fauna of the region, sea turtle nest monitoring programme along Porbandar and Mandvi coast, mangrove restoration and conservation and awareness campaigns.
Ø Ratnagiri (Maharashtra): The marine conservation research base in Ratnagiri is equipped with a full-fledged research laboratory. It includes high-end microscopes and PCR. BNHS, in collaboration with National Center for Cell Studies (NCCS), also undertakes molecular phylogenetic studies on select marine taxa. Some important programmes presently underway include identifying ecologically significant marine and coastal areas, studying diversity of inter-tidal fauna, studying mangrove community structure along the creeks of Konkan coast and implementing community-based conservation of mangroves.
Ø Lakshadweep Islands: One of the most important initiatives, titled ‘Project Giant Clam’, was commenced in Lakshadweep in 2004 and continues till date. Community conserved Agatti Conservation Reserve was a pioneering work of BNHS team, which introduced an integrated approach towards conservation. After relentless efforts by BNHS, Government of India finally recognized the high quality research done on Giant Clam and identified it as an important species. Currently the Giant Clam Species Recovery Plan is being formulated. Lakshadweep field station also serves as an important training centre, which undertakes periodic training programmes for graduate and post graduate students.
Ø Andaman and Nicobar Islands: BNHS recently extended the coral reef and Giant Clam research work to Andaman and Nicobar Islands. A full-fledged scuba setup is currently available at Port Blair.
The marine conservation programmes comprise the following major conservation initiatives.
Ø Population Ecology of Giant Clam: Giant Clam (Tridacna sp) is the largest living species of bivalves, with its distribution confined to a narrow geographical area within the coral reefs of the Indo-Pacific region. In India, Giant Clams are found only in Lakshadweep Islands and Andaman & Nicobar Islands. These ecologically and economically important species are listed as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Endangered Animals and also under Appendix-II of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES.) Over the years, over exploitation of these clams has led to their extinction from several areas of the world, necessitating the need for conservation in the natural habitat. Of the five species of Giant Clam occurring in Indian waters, three species, viz. Tridacna maxima, T. squamosa and Hippopus hippopus are included in the Schedule-I of Indian Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, while the other two species are not included due to lack of information about the occurrence and population dynamics of these species.
When nothing was known about the ecology and biology of these species in India, BNHS was the first to study these organisms and has been doing so for the past 10 years in Lakshadweep and for the past one year in Andaman & Nicobar. While the ecology and population dynamics for T. maxima of Lakshadweep have been extensively studied over the past decade providing valuable insight about this endangered species, a baseline data is being created for T. squamosa. Over the past one year BNHS is collecting data for baseline studies of the Giant Clam population of Andaman & Nicobar as well. With T. crocea dominating this region, BNHS has only recently confirmed the presence of T. gigas and H. hippopus from Andaman & Nicobar. Further studies of these clam populations are required. Click Here for More Details
Ø Opisthobranch Fauna of India: Opisthobranchs are soft-bodied, highly colourful and diversified molluscs. These are considered to be rare due to their cryptic nature. As a part of the All India Coordinated Project on Taxonomy (AICOPTAX) study, BNHS had led several expeditions for the study of these beautiful organisms along Gujarat, Maharashtra, Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar coast. BNHS opisthobranch collection now includes approximately 300 species and is one of the best in India. Pioneering work of BNHS scientists added over 200 species as new records from India through various research expeditions and publications since 2006. Recently a new species - Anteaeolidiella Poshitra Carmona (Bhave et al, 2014) - was described from Poshitra, Gujarat. Many new species have been identified and are in the process of publication. Click Here for More Details
Ø Inter-tidal Fauna: The Inter-tidal zone in the coastal areas is considered to be a highly tolerant zone, as it deals with constant changing water levels, in addition to high anthropogenic influence. Having said this, the region harbours the most diverse marine groups usually seen, as water recedes during the ebb tide, literally transforming the so-called “still world” into an altogether new marine kingdom, teeming with Life! The rock pools exhibit a three dimensional ecosystem, whereas the sandy beach and mudflat inhabitants exhibit their unique adaptability. This diversity and adaptability makes them a perfect topic for scientific study with areas like taxonomy, behavior and ecology yet to be fully explored. A dedicated team of taxonomists is presently studying various taxa such as hydroids, bryozoa, sponges, symbiotic shrimps, sea anemones and polyclad flatworms. Click Here for More Details
Ø Marine Mollusca: BNHS at present is also undertaking surveys for various other species of molluscs across all coastal states and union territories (including islands) of India.
Ø Project Mangrove: This important project was initiated in 2007 by BNHS, in association with Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) in Gujarat and Maharashtra. Under the programme, BNHS assisted ONGC in restoring 200 hectares of degraded mangroves in Gujarat. A team of mangrove experts is also undertaking studies on mangroves along the Konkan coast of Maharashtra. Project Mangrove has also developed two mobile education units working in these two states. Conservation education is undertaken through presentations, meetings, poster displays and rallies involving villagers, in order to conduct mangrove restoration work. There have been several awareness programmes involving teachers and students regarding coastal biodiversity and their role in conservation. More than 60,000 students and 1,500 teachers have participated in over 1,000 educational activities in the coastal areas till now. About 250 coastal villages (including 20,000 local villagers, primarily from the fishing community) have been covered under community education and socio-economic surveys. Moreover, this project has provided employment to 150 locals in Gandhar, Gujarat in nursery and restoration activities. Click Here for More Details
Ø Ecologically Sensitive Marine and Coastal Areas: Approximately 20% of the world’s coral reefs were lost and an additional 20% degraded in the last few decades of the 20th century, and approximately 35% of the total mangrove area was lost during the same time (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005). India being one of the mega bio-diverse countries, it is our responsibility to document and conserve the various neglected habitats and biota. Pressure from developmental activities is ever increasing. For instance, at least 15 developmental projects are proposed in a particular narrow strip of 200 km on the western coast, severely affecting the environment. Lack of awareness in the contemporary planning process and absence of baseline information on marine and coastal biodiversity are the main hindrances in bringing these regions under some sort of protected area framework. BNHS aims to identify ecologically sensitive areas and work for their protection through new approaches such as Smart Protected Areas (PAs) and revival of the earlier community-based conservation model in our villages. In an effort to build a baseline study through biodiversity documentation programme for coastal ecosystems of Maharashtra, BNHS team is undertaking extensive surveys using internationally accepted criteria to identify ecologically sensitive marine and coastal areas. A preliminary report on the same was released during CBD COP 11 at Hyderabad. Click Here for More Details
Ø Flamingo Conservation in Sewri Bay: An ambitious five-year programme (2014-2019) has been launched, in collaboration with Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT), which aims to understand flamingo movement and undertake site specific conservation action. Flamingo movement will be monitored by putting 15 Platform Transmitter Terminals (PTTs) on birds. Parallel to the research part, degraded mangrove areas will be restored through mangrove afforestation. A mobile education unit will undertake educational activities in Sewri and other coastal areas of Mumbai for students. Click Here for More Details
• Landscape Conservation Programmes:
BNHS believes that studying entire landscapes and implementing a conservation model for them, including wildlife and human dominated areas, is the way forward for effective long-term protection of our habitats and biodiversity. Piecemeal approach focusing only on PAs will only create islands of biodiversity with no linkages or migration corridors. BNHS is undertaking various programmes at the landscape level.
Ø Coastal Plateaus: Coastal plateaus in Konkan region of Maharashtra represent unique ecosystems, highly characterized by seasonality. Lack or scarcity of woody species make these rocky plateaus appear barren or “waste lands” during the eight-month long dry season comprising winter and summer. However, monsoon brings these plateaus back to life with gregarious populations of ephemeral plants, insects, amphibians and reptiles, most of which are habitat specialists. The biological uniqueness of rocky plateaus gets further highlighted due to their high endemism. Off late, most of these coastal plateaus are experiencing heavy biotic pressures. Lack of awareness at the policy level about their role as special habitats, coupled with absence of baseline data on their ecology, are the main hindrances in bringing them under any form of protection framework. As a part of an extensive biodiversity documentation programme for coastal ecosystems of Maharashtra, BNHS has recently undertaken an in-depth study of plant communities of the coastal plateaus and the threats to these unique ecosystems. Click Here for More Details
Ø Freshwater Fishes of Western Ghats: Freshwater habitats, considered to be the least studied and highly threatened, are biodiversity hotspots within Western Ghats. The rich and endemic freshwater fish fauna of Western Ghats faces a high risk of extinction due to growing anthropogenic pressures. BNHS is working towards conservation of freshwater fishes in Western Ghats. A programme commenced five years ago, it now primarily deals with action-based research, development of conservation strategies and their implementation. It includes developing a database on the diversity and distribution of freshwater fish in northern Western Ghats (Maharashtra), while building local capacity by involving experts from educational institutes, NGOs, civil society and local/tribal fishing communities. Scientific expeditions, field documentation, monitoring, taxonomic inventories such as novel species descriptions through integrated approach, and ecological studies are some of the fundamental aspects of this project. Education and awareness campaigns conducted in Raigad district have helped in involving the local/tribal community and capacity building for fish conservation initiatives. Click Here for More Details
Ø Satpuda Landscape Tiger Programme (SLTP): This programme involves an integrated approach towards tiger conservation. Started in 2005 with support from Born Free Foundation, Wild Cru and Oxford University, the programme now has multiple partners and individual donors. SLTP covers the Satpuda landscape with its base in Nagpur. In 2012, Tata Steel joined hands with BNHS to strengthen the activities of the Mobile Education Unit (MEU), which now operates in the fringe areas of major protected areas such as Pench (Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra), Tadoba, Nagzira, Navegaon, Bor and Kanha. The work is done in close collaboration with the state forest departments of both, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. As a part of its integrated approach, the work covers the three vital areas of education, sustainable livelihoods and participatory conservation. Click Here for More Details
Ø Population Ecology of Smooth-coated Otter: This species of otter - Lutrogale perspicillata - is a piscivoros predator. It is the largest otter and was once very common in South Asian wetlands and low lying areas (Mason and Macdonald, 1990). These aquatic mammals are closely associated with fresh water, usually rivers, streams or lakes, although they are also found in estuarine marshes. This species is losing its ground throughout much of its historic range, because of loss of wetlands and other habitats, pollution, urbanization and hunting. Through this project BNHS aims to develop baseline information about the status and population of Smooth-coated Otter in Ratnagiri district. Click Here for More Details
Ø Population Ecology of Indian Spiny-tailed Lizard: This species of lizard - Saara hardwikii - is endemic to the arid region, which lies between India and Pakistan. It feeds purely on typical arid grass species. There is a huge demand for this species, leading to poaching and trading activities. Some people believe that the oil extracted from the flesh of this lizard can cure rheumatism. Available data and information are not enough to provide a clear road map for the conservation plan for this species. BNHS is conducting population ecology and distribution surveys in the semi-arid regions of Gujarat. For more specific studies of the population of this species, BNHS is seeking more quantitative data in order to design an appropriate conservation programme, based on scientific facts. Click Here for More Details
Ø Urban Biodiversity and Eco-restoration: BNHS has been working in the important city forest area – Sanjay Gandhi National Park – in Mumbai and Thane for the past decade. The programme includes study of Leopard and other biodiversity, man-animal conflict, nature education and awareness events, volunteer training, and eco-restoration (natural forest regeneration) in the degraded fringe areas of the park.
Sustainable development in harmony with nature is the need of the hour. Conservation of natural resources at all levels is the key. BNHS feels that every individual, organization and company can and should take up the cause of nature conservation and sustainable growth in their own capacity. Every such action will have short-term and long-term positive effects. Towards this end, BNHS has been partnering with a range of organizations from different backgrounds.
BNHS has been conducting biodiversity assessment and eco-restoration activities with various corporates, government agencies and NGOs from India and abroad including Welspun Maxsteel; Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL); Tata Power; Tata Steel; Tata Motors; Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India (DFCCIL); ONGC; ICICI Bank; City Bank; Union Bank; Mahindra; RPS Energy; Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM); Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT), state Minor Irrigation Departments, Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Pench Tiger Reserve and Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve, Maharashtra Forest Department; Kanha Tiger Reserve, Madhya Pradesh Forest Department; Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), Government of India; Marine National Park Trust, Gujarat; Vasant Sheth Foundation; Whitley Fund for Nature; Darwin Initiative; LEAD International; Born Free Foundation; International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN); Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), Germany; Share and Care Foundation and Van Neste Foundation.
In order to channelize the conservation work, BNHS has over the years initiated various funds for supporting important local conservation initiatives. All donations are exempted from Income Tax under Section 80 G. The various funds initiated are as follows:
· City Forest Fund: Set up to protect the biodiversity of Sanjay Gandhi National Park
· Sálim Ali Nature Conservation Fund (SANCF) Fund: Set up to finance small individual conservation initiatives by young researchers - More than 50 field studies have been supported so far
· Forest Guard Fund: Set up to support guards working on the field to protect our forests
· Conservation Fund: General fund set up to meet BNHS conservation goals and objectives