<Biological Diversity of World Heritage Site-Sunderban, Threat to Extinction and Conservation
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Biological Diversity of World Heritage Site-Sunderban, Threat to Extinction and Conservation

ManikDatta*1, Paramita Das2, Lokesh Paul3, Vikash Kumar3, Apu Das3, Pemakhandu Thungon4

1, 3, 4 Central Institute of Fisheries Education, Mumbai, India, 2, College of Agriculture, Tripura University, Lembucherra, Tripura (W), India.

Corresponding author: manikdattacof@gmail.com


The word “Sundarban” most probably comes from the Bengali words for “beautiful forest”. A large part of the forest is made up of Sundari trees. Sunderban is the largest contiguous mangrove forest area in the world comprising a total area of 9827 sq. km, which lies both India and Bangladesh, while Indian part along constitutes 4264 sq. km and one of the World Heritage Sites of India designated by the World Heritage Convention. The sunderbon biosphere reserve is located in the vast Delta of the Ganges, south of Calcutta. This reserve includes the Royal Bengal Tiger Reserve, Sundarban National Park and three wildlife sanctuaries, viz. Sajnekhali wildlife sanctuary, Lothian Island wildlife sanctuary and Holiday Island wildlife sanctuary. A large no of natural animals include the Bengal Tigers, snake, different kinds of alligator and a large no of birds live in the forest. Sundari, Passur, Nypa are the endemic flora and Bengal tiger, Bengal monitor lizard, Salvator lizard, Estuarine crocodile, Fishing cat, Wild pig, Marine turtles are the endemic fauna. It is also the largest honey hunting place in the world. A large number of honey hunters gathered in the forest area every year to gather honey. Sunderbans Mangrove forest is also the safe house of globally threatened species like Royal Bengal Tiger and Fishing Cats which are having effective protection in this area.Indian Sundarban is bound on the west by river Muriganga and on the east by rivers Harinbhahga and Raimangal. Other major rivers flowing through this eco-system are Saptamukhi, Thakuran, Matla and Goasaba.

Sundarban Biosphere Reserve

The Sundarban Biosphere Reserve declared in 1989 is one among the three marine biosphere reserves in the country. The main objective of the marine biosphere reserve is protection, conservation and judicious utilization of the marine environment. The Sundarbans Project Tiger and National Park and the three Wildlife Sanctuaries namely Sajnekhali Wildlife Sanctuary, Lothian Island Sanctuary, Haliday Island Sanctuary are located within the biosphere reserve. The other areas in the reserve are habitations and cultivated fields. People living in these forest areas are predominantly either fishermen or farmers. The Sundarban Biosphere Reserve has been divided into two regions for effective management. They are the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve under the Field Director (Gosaba) and D.F.O Parganas South (Alipore).

Salient features of the Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve (SBR)

The Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve (SBR) stands distinguished from all the other mangrove sites in the world due to the following salient features, which are unique to this region:

  • The Sundarbans is the single largest mangrove forest in the world.

  • It is the only marshy mangrove tiger land in the World heritage site.

  • This region houses a very high biodiversity with unique flora and fauna.

  • The mangrove forest offers effective protection and acts as a natural barrier against storms and erosion.

  • Tidal amplitude and fluctuations of the Sundarbans mangroves is very high (7 m).

  • Sundarbans mangroves support coastal fisheries in the East Coast of India.

  • Sundarban Mangroves is a home to many endangered species.

Present status of flora & faunal resources

Tropical humid forest and mangroves are the major ecosystem types of the reserve. Mangrove species such as Avicenniaalba, Bruguieragymnorrhiza, Ceriopstagal and Rhizophoraapiculata are the major species. Tropical semi-evergreen forest, agro-ecosystems, silviculture, pisiculture, prawn culture are the major habitats of the reserve. About 16 species of algae, 35 species of mangroves and 184 species of fungi have been recorded. Rare and endangered plant species of the reserve are Acanthus volubilis(Acanthemolle), Nypafruiticans(Nipah palm), Sonneratiaalba(Mangrove apple), Soneratiacasaeolaris (Crabapple mangrove), Aegialtisrotundifolia (Nilarixora manila), Xylocarpusgranatum (Cannonball mangrove), Heritierafomes (Sundari), Ceriopstagal (Tagal mangrove) and Lumnitzerarecemosa (Sandy mangrove). As per 2004 census, the tiger population in Indian Sundarban is 274, out of which Sundarban Tiger Reserve and South 24-Parganas Forest Division have 249 Tigers and 25 tigers respectively. 58 species of mammalsand 55 species of reptiles are found in sunderbon area. The area also harbors a good number of rare and globally threatened animals like Estuarine Crocodile ( Crocodilusporosus ), Fishing Cat ( Felisviverrina ), Common otter ( Lutralutra ), Water Monitor lizard ( Varanussalvator ),Gangetic Dolphin ( Platinistagangetica ), Snubfin dolphin ( Orcellabrevirostris ), River Terrapin (Batagur baska ), Olive Ridley ( Lepidochelysolivacea ), Green Sea Turtle ( Cheloniamydas ), Hawksbill Turtle ( Eritmochelysimbricata ) are some example. Six species of Shark and Ray, which are found in sunderbon area, are included in Schedule I of Wildlife (Protection) Act. These indicate that Sundarban Reserved Forest is a natural biodiversity hot spot. 248 species of birds including a large number of migrants from the higher latitudes that visit the area in winter. It consists of Herons, Cormorants, Storks, Green Pigeons, Sand Pipers, Large and Small Spoonbills, Darters, Seagulls, Teal, Partridges, great variety of Wild Geese.

Extinct species

A number of species like Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus), water buffalo (Bubalusbubalis), swamp deer (Cervusduvauceli), hog deer (Axis porcinus) and marsh crocodile (Crocodiluspalustris) became extinct during the last 100 years from the Sundarban. It provides In-situ conservation of biodiversity of natural and semi natural ecosystems and landscapes and contribution to sustainable economic development of the human population living within and around the biosphere reserve.

Fish and Fisheries

Fisheries play a significant role in the socio-economy of the communities of the Sundarbans. It is diverse, comprising estuarine and coastal fisheries, brackish water aquaculture and a variety of freshwater aquaculture techniques. Over 120 species of fish are reported to be commonly caught by commercial fishermen in the Sundarban. Freshwater species are alarmingly decreased day by day.The nutrient-rich waters of the Sundarban also yield a considerable harvest of shrimps, prawns, crabs and lobsters. Crab harvesting is also practiced in Sundarbans with at least five species being regularly caught. The estimated crab landing from this area is about 1200 to 1500 tonnes per year. Some of the economically important species are Scylla serrata, Portunuspelagicus, P. sanguinolentus, etc. The total number of estimated fishermen families in Sundarbans 24- Parganas (South) is about 41,040. The average monthly income per family as estimated during 1990-1995 was around Rs. 2500.00. A large number of fishermen are also engaged in other occupation related to fishing such as marketing of fish, repairing of nets, processing of fish, etc. A large number of fishermen in groups of fishing parties migrate mainly from different areas of the Hooghly - Matla estuary during winter season to suitable areas near the sea in the lower zone and establish fishing camps and remain engaged in bag net fishing from the end of October to early February. The main areas of activity of this type of fishing (Migratory bag net fishery) are Sagar Island, Frasergunj, Bakkhali and Kalisthan.

A wide variety of gears are operated round the year in the estuary for commercial fishing. The major groups are trawl nets, seine nets (large and small), purse or clap nets, drift gill nets, lift nets, cast nets, bag nets (stationary/migratory), set gill nets, set barrier nets, hooks and lines and traps.

Threats to Biodiversity

  • Anthropogenic impacts like reclamation, human encroachment and influence

  • Geomorphic stress caused by the neo-tectonic tilting of the Bengal basin

  • Recurrent coastal flooding due to climate change (global warming), changes in sea level (raise in sea level)

  • Huge silt deposition, biodiversity loss and regeneration problems of obligate mangrove plants

  • High salinity, low water table and acidity problem, loss of soil fertility, coastal erosion and a steep fall in fishery resources

  • Conversion of mangrove tracts for aquaculture and agriculture

  • Extension of other non-forestry land use into mangrove forest

  • Increasing demand for timber and fuel wood for consumption

  • Poaching of tiger, spotted deer, wild boar, marine turtles, horse shoe crab etc

  • Uncontrolled collection of prawn seedlings

  • Uncontrolled fishing in the water of Reserve Forests

  • Continuous trampling of river/creek banks by fishermen and prawn seed collectors

  • Organizational and infrastructure deficiencies

  • Lack of public awareness.


Conservation of the Sundarban mangroveis supposed to have started with its declaration as a reserve forest, under the Indian Forest Act in 1878, after Schlich (1875) raised concern over its conservation (Presler, 1991). However Soon after independence, India declared Lothian Island (3,800 ha) as a Wildlife Sanctury, and later, in 1960, another 35,240 ha were brought under the Sajnakhali Wildlife Sanctury. The hunting of tigers was banned completely in 1970, after the IUCN listed the Bengal tiger (Pantheratigristigris) as an endangered species. Later, under Project Tiger, the Government of India established a Tiger Reserve in the Sundarban covering 2,585 km2 in 1973. Another 241 km2 area was demarcated as a subsidiary wilderness area. The core area of 1,330 km2 was later designated as a National Park. Another wildlife sanctuary was established in 1976 on Haliday Island (595 ha) to protect the spotted deer (Axis axis), wild boar (Susscrofa) and rhesus macaque (Macacamullata), which are dominant animals in a forest type consisting mainly of Ceriopsdecandra.The entire Indian Sundarban area south of the Dampier-Hodges line including 5,366 km2 of reclaimed lands has also been designated as the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve. Sundarban Biosphere Reserve (SBR) has been classified into a core zone, manipulation zone and restoration zone that conform to the buffer zone and transition areas.

a. Core zone (1700 sq. km) — This zone is coincides with the Project Tiger Area. The core area is bounded by Matla River in the west, Haribhanga on the east and by Netidhopani and Gosaba rivers in the north. 1330 sq. km of this core area constitutes the Sundarbans National Park. Only the Core Zone is under strict conservation measures.

b. Manipulation zone — This zone is consists of 2225 sq. km of mangrove forest area where restoration of mangrove vegetation and silviculture activities are carried out along with research, education and training. This zone also comprises 5460 sq. km of agriculture area where eco-development activities are carried out with local communities. Income generating activities such as the collection of seeds of black tiger prawn (Penaeusmonodon), the culturing of oysters and crabs, mushroom cultivation and bee-keeping for honey production are allowed in the Manipulation Zone.

c. Restoration zone — Restoration zone is consists of 245 sq. km where restoration of mangroves and other conservation works are carried out.Efforts are being made, however, to also rehabilitate certain degraded areas through afforestation. Among faunal species, the estuarine crocodile and the Olive Ridley turtle are receiving some attention by way of captive breeding.


  1. R.Saidul.Md, Ecology and management of Sunderbon: A Rich Biodiversity of theWorld's Largest Mangrove Ecosystem[http://srmilan.tripod.com]

  2. Published report on Sundarban Biosphere Reserve, West Bengal; Published by Ministry of Environment and Forests, Govt. of India, New Delhi

  3. Biswas N.; The Gulf of Kutch and Marine National Park and Sanctuary- A case study, International Collective Support of Fish workers, Chennai.

  4. Protection, Development, Maintenance and Research in Biosphere Reserves in India; Guidelines and Prorma; Published by Ministry of Environment and Forests, Govt. of India, New Delhi, October, 2007.

  5. BrijGopal* and MalavikaChauhan, Biodiversity and its conservation in the Sundarban Mangrove Ecosystem, School of Environmental Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi 110067, India

  6. Naskar, K. R. and R. N. Mandal, 1999. Ecology and Biodiversity of Indian Mangroves. Day Publishing House, Delhi, 754 pp.

  7. Naskar, K. R., N. S. Sarkar, A. Ghosh, M. Dasgupta and B. Sengupta,2004. Status of the Mangroves and Mangrove Ecosyste, Sundarbans in West Bengal: Its Impact on Estuarine Wetland Fisheries. Bulletin 134, Central Inland Fisheries Research Institute, Barrackpore, W.Bengal, 53 pp.

  8. Pal, U. C., K. R. Naskar and S. C. Santra, 1988. A check-list of algal flora of Sundarban delta, West Bengal, India. Phykos, India 27: 48—53.

  9. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundarbans_National_Park

  10. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12787629

  11. www.indiantiger.org —Tiger Reserves in India

  12. www.kolkatabirds.com/sunderbans.htm


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