Bhubaneswar, Jan. 21: The fall in Chilika’s dolphin population, the number going down from 156 to 145 according to the latest count, might not only be a cause for concern for the endangered species, it might also affect tourist inflow to the area.
Dolphins happen to be one of the major attractions of the lake and any drop in their number is bound to have an impact on tourist inflow. Every year, lakhs of people throng Satpada, a major dolphin sighting area of the lake.
Equally important is the fact that dolphins are known to be slow breeders. Hence, while even a fractional increase in their population should be a cause for celebration, a fall must set alarm bells ringing. There is some good news, though, as the number of calves has gone up.
Irrawady dolphins are an endangered species with their total population in the world estimated to be less than 7,500. The population in Chilika is considered to be the highest in a single lagoon.
That being so, the latest census, in some ways, is also a reflection on the general health of the lake, something that has been a cause of concern for environmentalists for quite sometime now. Though steps have been taken to improve the situation in the last few years, a lot more needs to be done.
The biggest threat to Chilika, celebrated by a succession of Odia poets as the idyll of peace, comes from prawn culture which continues to be a major bone of contention between traditional and non-traditional fishermen. Despite half-hearted measures by the government to remove prawn enclosures from the lake, the practice goes on with overt and covert support of politicians.
The lake has shrunk over the past few decades because of rampant prawn culture and is believed to be getting shallower. Environmentalists say the lake bed has also risen on account of continuous discharge of silt into it by the local rivers. While stopping the discharge from the local rivers may be impossible, it is certainly possible for the government to stop the proliferation of prawn culture. However, not much has been done.
The hope then lies in the efforts of organisations such as the Chilika Development Authority in spreading awareness about the need to preserve the lake. They have been interacting not only with the local communities on a regular basis but also reaching out to tourists to ensure that people looking for a spot of fun do not end up causing permanent damage to Asia’s largest brackish water lake.