Finance Minister K.M. Mani's announcement during his Budget speech in the Assembly that the biodiversity-rich wetland area of Munderikkadavu here will be developed into a bird sanctuary has been greeted by bird lovers in the region with a note of caution that the proposal should envisage the protection of the entire Kattampally wetland ecosystem that is facing threat from large-scale reclamation.

The Minister's announcement in the Assembly on Monday was greeted by birders in the area who recently prepared a report at a seminar organised by the Munderi panchayat which recommended to the government to protect Munderikkadavu and nearby areas that form the catchment of the Kattampallyl river and to develop them into a bird sanctuary with the involvement of local bodies. That report prepared in January last described the Kattampally wetland area as a ‘biodiversity treasure house' having thousands of birds including nearly 60 species of migrants. The seminar attended by local birders had drawn an action plan for conserving the area as a bird sanctuary with the cooperation of Tourism and Forest departments and the local bodies. The report highlighted the immense eco-tourism potential of the area.

Importance

The Kattampally wetland is one of the 24 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in the State identified by the Bombay Natural History Society and the Birdlife International as priority sites for conservation since it holds a considerable population of globally-threatened birds. Environmental activists and bird lovers here have raised serious concern about the large-scale reclamation of land for various developmental projects executed without any conservation consideration.

Of the 24 IBAs in the State, three sites are wetlands and the rest forests, including wildlife sanctuaries. Bird watchers here say that the avian population of Kattampally has been regularly monitored since 1979.

Reclamation threat

C. Sashikumar, ornithologist associated with the Malabar Natural History Society who has been monitoring the bird population of the Kattampally wetland over the last several years, told The Hindu that the proposed bird sanctuary at Munderikkadavu would serve the purpose only if it was envisaged as part of a holistic plan to conserve the entire wetland ecosystem in the area.

The area, he said, was already facing environmental degradation as a result of large-scale reclamation and fragmentation. Approach roads constructed for three bridges in the area were in defiance of any conservational principles, Mr. Sashikumar said adding that the bird sanctuary proposal should not be seen just from an eco-tourism perspective.

The Kattampally wetland area is estimated to have a bird population of over 18,000 birds, nearly 80 per cent of which are migratory ones. The area is also the most important in species diversity as well as in the number of birds. According to birdwatchers here, Garganey, a migratory wild duck, wintering in India from Northern Europe and Siberia, and Northern Pintail, another migratory duck breeding in Northern Europe and Siberia, are the two species found in thousands in the wetland area. The wetland area here is the only place in the State where Oriental Pratincole has been found to breed regularly since 1992, they said.

Ramsar site

Environmental activist and bird enthusiast Khaleel Chovva, who headed a group of volunteers who prepared the report on developing Munderikkadavu as a bird sanctuary, said Munderikkadavu and nearby areas had all the characteristics to be declared as a Ramsar site. He attended the Ramsar Asian Regional Convention in Jakarta in November and made a presentation of Kattampally ecosystem.

Dr. Chovva said that increasing quantity of waste in the area could endanger the biodiversity of the wetland unless efforts were taken to conserve it.

He said that Bristled Grass Bird, Grey-necked Bunting, Red-headed Bunting, Black-headed Bunting, Spotted Red Shank were among the birds sighted in the area for the first time in the State.

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