Description, Geography, and Climate
The Sundarbans National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Indian National Park, Tiger Reserve, and Biosphere Reserve located in the state of West Bengal in India. The national park is located adjacent to the similarly named Sundarban Reserve Forest in Bangladesh. The National Park, covered by dense mangrove vegetation, currently houses one of the largest Royal Bengal tiger populations in the world, and also supports a great biodiversity of rare and unique flora and fauna of all kinds. The park, with an area of 1,330 square kilometers, is situated at an elevation of 7.5 meters above sea level on the Ganges Delta near the Bay of Bengal, and also encompasses 54 islands within its territory. The Sundarbans region experiences a hot, humid climate in the summertime, with an average maximum temperature of 34° Celsius. Heavy rainfall is received in the region during the monsoon season, which lasts from mid-June on into September. Winters are mild, with an average temperature of around 20° Celsius. Tropical cyclones that arise in the Bay of Bengal often impact the Sundarbans during the months of May and October. Mudflats are a characteristic feature of the region, which are exposed during low tides and submerged during high tides, changing their geomorphology within a single tidal cycle.
Realizing the ecological importance of the Sundarbans ecosystems, the Government of India declared the region as the Sundarban Tiger Reserve in 1973, and as a wildlife sanctuary in 1977. The mangrove forests received the status of a National Park on May 4th, 1984. In 1987, considering the fact that the Sundarbans National Park is one of the most biologically productive of all natural ecosystems in the region, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization declared it as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. One of the worst natural disasters struck the region on May 25th, 2009. It was the tropical cyclone named Aila, and one which devastated many villages on the fringes of the National Park and flooded large areas, forcing many people to flee. However, there were no reported tiger deaths in the disaster, and only two spotted deer were reported to have been found dead in the reserve.
Tourism and Administration
The Sundarbans National Park currently draws thousands of enthusiastic tourists from all across the world who visit the park to explore its forests and wildlife. However, since the forests are extremely dense and the land is very muddy, the only means to tour the park is by hiring a boat that floats through the maze-like system of rivers and creeks in the park. Walking on land is strictly prohibited, due to the presence of man-eating tigers in the forests. Tourists to Sundarbans need to strictly abide by the forest rules and regulations in order to stay safe and secure during their journeys there. Besides cruising through the waters of the Sundarbans and spotting wildlife along the banks, tourists to the park also visit the local villages bordering the park, where many village members have fallen prey to the man-eaters of Sundarbans. Visits to the Bhagatpur Crocodile Project, Sagar Island, Sajankhali Bird Sanctuary, and Kanak, a nesting place for Olive Ridley Turtles, are other activities enjoyed by tourists visiting the Sundarbans. The Sundarbans National Park receives financial aid from the State Government of West Bengal, from the central Ministry of Environment and Forests, and from Project Tiger. The park is administered by the Directorate of Forests and the Chief Conservator of Forests (South), while the Director of the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve serves as the administrative head of the Sundarbans National Park.
Habitat and Biodiversity
The Sundarbans National Park hosts many species which are on the brink of extinction. The park has an amazing biodiversity of rare and unique plants comprising of 64 species which are well adapted to grow in the saline, estuarine conditions. The Park receives its name from the Sundari mangrove trees, with "Sundari" meaning "beautiful" in the local language. Other plants growing in the forests are inclusive of genwa, garjan, kankra, goran, and dhundal. More than 200 Royal Bengal tigers wander the forests of the Sundarbans, with the interesting characteristic of swimming in the saline waters of the reserve. These tigers are also known as the “Man-eaters of Sundarbans” due to numerous past incidents involving the deaths of villagers in the jaws of these tigers. Other than tigers, fishing cats, Wild boars, Common grey mongooses, Flying foxes, chitals, and pangolins are some of the other mammals of the Sundarbans. The park also has rich avian fauna, including such birds as the Spotted doves, Brahminy ducks, Golden plovers, Herring gulls, Pintails, Paradise flycatchers, and many other unique and exotic species. The rivers and creeks of the Sundarbans National Park thrive with a large number of fish species like the Butter fish, Electric rays, Star fish, and Silver carps. Estuarine crocodiles, Gangetic dolphins, and endangered Olive Ridley turtles also inhabit the waters of the region. A large number of amphibians (such as tree frogs and skipping frogs), reptilians (including such creatures as Russel's vipers, King cobras, common kraits, rat snakes, monitor lizards, and pythons) and insect species are also found in this Indian National Park. Endangered Bryde's whales, Irrawady dolphins, finless porpoises, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, and other threatened species of marine fauna are found in the coastal waters off of the coast of the Sundarbans area.
Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes
Climate change is the worst enemy of the Sundarbans National Park under the present environmental conditions. The global warming-induced rise in sea levels is threatening to erode large areas of forest land, and consequently wash away the vegetation of the forest. One of the largest islands of Sundarbans, extending into the Bay of Bengal, could disappear completely in the next 20 years. Adding to the problems induced by climate change, the clearance of vast tracts of forest land due to agricultural and human habitat expansion also further threaten to reduce the forest cover neighboring the Sundarbans. However, due to the inaccessible nature of the forests and the fierce reputation of its tigers, few dare to invade the forests, Still, the aquatic fauna of the region is often subject to exploitative fishing practices and damage from offshore oil spills.