Chilika Lake - the largest brackish water lagoon in Asia and one of India’s 26 sites included in the Ramsar list of wetlands of international importance - is facing threats to its existence because of increasing human interferences, including large-scale cutting down of forests that guard the lake against high tidal inundation.
Known more for its alluring scenic beauty, the picturesque lake with several islands boasts a unique biodiversity that supports thousands of fishermen living on its banks.
Stretching from Ganjam district in the south to Puri and Khurda district in coastal Odisha, the water body, according to reports, is steadily losing its rich collection of fish, crabs and other aquatic resources due to large-scale deforestation. Deforestation has created six new breaches on the 50-km long natural sand embankment.
Previously, the lake had two natural mouths at Bali-Harichandi and Arakhakuda, which allowed a limited volume of saline water into the lake, making its biodiversity unique.
With nearly a dozen islands and a bird sanctuary located inside it, the lake has always attracted the attention of nature lovers and researchers.
In 2001, the natural ecosystem of the lake was disturbed when the two natural mouths got silted due to deforestation. The Odisha government had to undertake dredging activity and open a new artificial mouth at Sipakuda to maintain the minimum salinity level of the lake.
However, the occurrence of the new breaches after 2001 have led to a huge volume of saline water gushing into the lake, thus affecting the balance of its natural ecosystem. The lake normally receives fresh water from a number of perennial rivers and a controlled flow of sea water through the natural mouths.
What has added to the apprehension that the is lake losing its identity is the increasing pollution of its water. Unchecked dumping of plastic materials by tourists, solid-waste disposal by hotels and restaurants has made the water inhospitable for the fish species, crabs and dolphins.
“We have a dedicated agency called Chilika Development Authority and there are many laws in place to protect this water body. However, nothing happens on the ground and the lake is very likely to lose its identity in the near future if it is not protected in an effective manner. The natural embankment should be restored, afforestation activity must be taken on a war-footing and those polluting the water must be taken to task,” said Dillip Subudhi, a researcher.
Recognised as one of the most important wetlands in the world, Chilika is home to a phenomenal variety of birds. It hosts over 160 species in the peak season between November and February.
The large Nalabana Island (Forest of Reeds) covering about 16 sq km in the lagoon area was declared a bird sanctuary in 1987.
The lake and its reed islands teem with nesting birds-white bellied sea eagles, ospreys, golden plovers, sand pipers, flamingos, pelicans, shovellers, gulls, include migratory ones flying great distances from Iran, Central Asia and Siberia.
The core area of about 9 sq km attracts around 400,000 waterfowls of different species. Often underwater, the island gradually emerges with the outset of summer. It is literally a paradise for bird-watchers.
Another major attraction at Chilika is Irrawady dolphins which are often spotted off Satpada Island. Facts about Chilika Lake, Odisha
Water Spread Area 1100 sq km
Max length 64.3 km
Max breadth 18 km
Stretches from Puri district to Ganjam
Over 160 species birds visit Chilika in winter
Major challenges to existences
Deforestation due to large-scale felling of trees by mafia
Breaches on the natural sand embankment
Best time to visit Chilika Lake November-February
Entry Points: Satpada, Barkul and Rambha-110 km, 97 km and 120 km respectively from Bhubaneswar
Chilika is home Irrawady dolphins which are often spotted off Satpada Island inside the lake.
Chilika is recognized as one of the most important wetlands in the world because it is home to a phenomenal variety of birds.
Nalabana Island (forest of reeds) inside the lake covers about 16 sq km in the lagoon. It was declared a bird sanctuary in 1987. The core area of about 9 sq km attracts around 400,000 waterfowls of different species in every winter.