The recent sighting of Artic Skua in Dhanushkodi has surprised birdwatchers in the region. From early August to March, this coastal region in the Bay of Bengal plays host to a number of migratory birds from Central Asia. Of late, the number of birds coming here has increased due to changing weather patterns leading to more storms in the Arabian sea, which was earlier the pit stop for these birds.
In order to make this habitat a safe haven for these visitors, the Forest Department has opened a check-post near the police station on the road to Dhanushkodi. All vehicles proceeding towards Archalmunai are checked for plastic products.
Jagadish Bakan, Wildlife Warden, Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park, says within a month there has been a noticeable difference and within two months the department hopes to make the whole area plastic-free.
H. Byju, researcher at Annamalai University, who works on shorebirds, says any foreign intrusion — be it plastic waste, garbage or even human habitation — should be curbed if the migratory birds need to thrive. The birds are segregated by two types of foraging behaviour. Some with smaller beaks peck the surface for food, while those with larger beaks probe the ground.
During high tide, the sea brings along living organisms which thrive in these backwaters, found on the left side of the road to Arachalmunai. For the birds to forage, the substrata needs to be soft, Mr. Byju says, adding it is not just the plastic waste on the shore, but even garbage that is brought in by the waves and deposited on the shore leads to hardening of the surface.
Concretisation in the region like building of the road and plans for a railway station in Dhanushkodi may lead to loss of habitat for these birds, fear bird lovers. Seepage of hard soil from these buildings may in the long run result in hardening of the substrata. This will lead to the disappearance of the natural habitat for invertebrates, like molluscs, worms and crustaceans like crabs, the food for these migratory birds. “During migratory flights, birds require high fat storage that they acquire during stopovers hence it is very important to protect these feeding grounds”, says Mr. Byju.
N. Raveendran, an avid birdwatcher, says more needs to be done to create sustained awareness among people. Even on the right side of the road, tourists can be seen entering areas that are the nesting ground of Olive Ridley turtles. “Tourism is good but steps should be taken to focus on ecotourism or sustainable tourism to protect this region,” he adds.
Though the Wildlife department has taken various steps to protect areas coming under its control, more needs to be done, say birdwatchers.
Mr. Bakan says plans are afoot to create more awareness among tourists.
“We are planning to build bird observation towers and we hope that it will help bring a deeper connect with tourists and thus preserve the area in the long run,” he says.