Egrets, herons and their habitats in the city should be protected

Water birds play an important role in coastal ecosystem

May 17, 2014 01:05 IST India Infoline News Service

In a coastal city such as Mumbai water birds such as egrets, herons and cormorants play a vital role in the ecosystem. The recent reckless destruction of tree branches in Bandra that housed a thriving heronry (group colony of water birds) and resulted in the death of several young ones is a great cause of concern. Moreover, these birds are protected under the Schedule-IV of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and should be conserved.
Need for conservation
Coastal areas are a mosaic of vital habitats such as mangroves, creeks, mudflats, saltpans, paddy fields and terrestrial forests. Each of these habitats is interlinked and plays its role in maintaining the balance of nature. They are also crucial for the well-being of humans since they act as a buffer between the sea and land, prevent erosion by tidal waves, protect from cyclones and tsunamis, prevent soil erosion, are a breeding place for fishes and other marine fauna and provide eco-tourism and other livelihood opportunities.
Water birds such as egrets, herons, cormorants, ibises, storks, bitterns and spoonbills play a vital role in the coastal ecosystem. They prey primarily on certain fish species and other marine fauna and maintain a balance in the species composition in the habitat. They in turn form the prey base for raptors such as kites and Marsh Harrier. The droppings under the heronries also act as fertilizer for agriculture. Since, heronries are built on huge trees such as Tamarind, Mango, Peepal and Banyan even these trees tend to get protected by the locals on humanitarian grounds.
City egrets and their habitats in danger
However, the recent disastrous incident of lopping off the branches of a tree in Bandra where a heronry existed, along with the presence of young birds and eggs, has once again proved that the water bird habitat in the city is far from safe.
Commenting on the incident, Dr Asad Rahmani, Director, BNHS, said, “It is a criminal and inhuman act to destroy the home of birds and their young ones. I was out for field research for several days and was shocked to read about this incident on my return. Egrets and herons are protected species and play a vital role in the ecosystem. The culprits should be punished as per the law so that such incidents do not occur in future”.
It is being increasingly seen that on the one hand beautiful birds such as egrets are poached for their feathers and on the other their habitat is being destroyed. Insensitive actions such as cutting branches and trees where nests are located and habitat destruction in the form of mangrove reclamation, pollution in creeks and removal of terrestrial trees for unsustainable development activities, have put the survival of water birds in grave danger.
Water bird diversity
Mumbai is blessed with an amazing diversity of water birds such as Little Egret, Median Egret, Great Egret, Reef Egret, Cattle Egret, Pond Heron, Night Heron, Little Heron, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Indian Cormorant, Great Cormorant, Spoonbill and Black-headed Ibis (Near Threatened). It is important that we save these magnificent birds and their nesting sites.

- Atul Sathe, Manager-Communications, BNHS-India

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