Monday, 18 February 2008


The Chilika lagoon is a picturesque marine brackish and freshwater ecosystem which was designated as a Ramsar Site in 1981. Ensconced along with the bay of Bengal, its blue waters spreads across 1165 square kilometers touching the districts of Ganjam, Khordha, and Puri of Orissa, India. About 35 rivers, streams and rivulets join the massive lake that shelters more than one million migratory birds, apart from the numerous local birds; who regularly visit it from far away places like Siberia, Iran, Mongolia, middle South-east Asia, Japan, America, Russia, Kazakhstan, the Rann of Kutch, Caspian and the Himalayas, among others. Starting from October every year, the in-migration season continues up to the month of February end as a matter of ritual. A survey conducted by the Kolkata based Zoological Survey of India in 1985 had identified about 800 faunas in the lake.
The highly productive ecosystem of the lagoon, having extremely rich biodiversity and natural resources supports about one million people including 0.2 million fisher folks round the year. Chilika is also the darling of the poets- the literati and lives as a fabled legend in the minds and hearts of the people of Orissa. And who does not know the presiding goddesses of Chilika—Kalijai, a newly wed bride, by a quirk of fate, who died inside the lake while sailing away to her in-laws house situated on the other far end of the waters? She ultimately became the guardian angel of the lake ceaselessly protecting the people in the lake, even today.
The Ramsar Bureau in 1993 added the name of Chilika to the list of the Montreus Records’ threatened list. To arrest the negative changes in the ecological character of the lake such as siltation, shifting of the inlet channel, fall in salinity, abnormal shoal formation along the outer channel, decline in fish landing, proliferation of freshwater weeds and other invasive species, poor discharge of floodwaters that precipitated water logging in the peripheral farmlands, and heightened shrimp cultivation through artificial hatcheries and enclosures and its resultant pollution; the Goa based National institute of Oceanography and the Central water & Power Research Station, Pune carried out diagnostic and applied research studies on the state of the affairs of the ailing lake. Subsequently, they recommended a number of scientific intervention measures to restore the equilibrium of the lagoon, including the social actions and strategies.
In order to reduce the length of the inlet channel up to 18 kilometers, an artificial mouth was opened in September 2000 that was supplemented and reinforced by the community supported treatment of the western catchments as micro watersheds. Further, the local non-government organizations, community based organizations and self-help groups, etc were enlisted and roped in to educate and sensitize the people near the lake’s catchment areas about the importance and ways and means to save the lake through outreach programmes and activities like village level meetings of the stakeholders. To monitor the key physiochemical and biological indices of the lake to determine the about the pace and process of restoration, monitoring hubs numbering 30, were established. Valuable research inputs such as silt deposits and inflow of fresh waters into the lake system, level of nutrients load, fish stock and distribution of Irrawaddy dolphins, regeneration of sea grass were regularly collected and analyzed; helpful for maintaining the optimum health level of the lake and to initiate rejuvenation actions.
Slowly, Chilika is now recuperating and regaining its natural luster and glory, though the anthropogenic causes still remain the main causes of concern. For the time being, the slow death of the wetland/lake has been largely averted because of timely intervention and it has been delisted from the Montreux Record by the Ramsar Bureau in November 2003.