Most people will agree that the river bodies of India like the Ganga and Yamuna are today a shrunken image of their past glory. With everything from industrial effluents to bodies dumped in these rivers; apart from canals, dams, hydro power projects, drinking water usage drastically altering river beds, it is surely a surprise to find that these marine systems are still teeming with biodiversity. But a wildlife research led by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in collaboration with the Thames River Trust, UK has documented rare species including the Gharial and endangered turtle residing in the Yamuna.
The team of researchers wanted to find out the faunal diversity of a 194km river stretch from Bateshwar Ghat in Agra to Dibholi Ghat in Etawah. The team found that the freshwater habitat was inhabited by many aquatic species including the threatened Gangetic dolphin, gharial and also the black necked stork.
Diverse Aquatic Life
The study was conducted between July 2011 and February 2013 by a team of four researchers including a boatman to record biodiversity, threats to habitat and perception of communities to river biodiversity in the region.
“Most reports on Yamuna are related to water quality but there is complete lack of information on biodiversity. The study is going to help develop a ‘biodiversity conservation action plan for Yamuna’ says Asghar Nawab, project coordinator (River Basin) Freshwater and Wetlands Programme, WWF.
According to him, the most rewarding find of the study was to see Gharials basking in the sun near Gohani village, approximately 10km upstream from the Chambal-Yamuna confluence. The gharials (Gavialis gangeticus) are a critically endangered species will less that 200 mature individuals estimated to be present in India today as per a 2006 census.
“This is the first succesful nesting record of Gharial since 1980’s when the species was said to be locally extinct. The sighting is very important because historically there are many references to the Yamuna being a thriving habitat for gharials,” adds Asghar.
The scientists were also delighted to find Ganges river Dolphin (Platanista gangetica), a critically endangered freshwater mammal, frolicking around the stretch between Hamirpur and Panchnada.
Other species documented by the team included turtles like the Indian Narrow-headed Softshell Turtle (Chitra indica) birds like egyptian vultures, pelicans and spoonbills among many others.
The researcher also says that the environmental challenges in different stretches of the river Yamuna are different depending on which region is in focus. Near New Delhi, the national capital, the river and its inhabitants’ biggest enemy was water pollution, making it almost impossible for any kind of aquatic life to thrive well.
On the other hand near the stretch that they currently studied the current threats were river bed cultivation, overfishing, sand mining and presence of exotic species like the Chinese carp.
“Upstream in Delhi and other parts there is huge threat from pollution. Our project can be replicated in other reaches of Yamuna including Delhi to understand possibilities. However, in Delhi it’s going to be really difficult to recreate similar biodiversity,” explains Asghar.
The team is trying to look at alternative livelihoods for the fishermen community too, so that the pressure on the river systems can be lessened a bit. The fishermen are also being trained in spinning of rope and jute material so that the stress on fish extraction is reduced.
One of the key recommendations that the team has made is to recognize some parts of the river as conservation units.
“Peripheral areas of the National Chambal Sanctuary fall in the Yamuna which are used as seasonal migratory routes by endangered species like gharial need protection measures on an urgent basis,” says Asghar.
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Image via cc/Flickr by Collin harvey