Sunderbans a World Heritage Site
Places of interest
Flora and Fauna
History of the Sundarbans
Vanishing Sunderbans delta
How to get Sunderbans
Contacts and accommodations
Noxious fumes in Sunderbans environment
Rs 200 crore grant for the Sunderbans
Sunderbans a World Heritage Site
Sunderbans is a World Heritage Site awarded by UNESCO in 1997 is the world’s largest delta covered
by mangrove forest and vast saline mud flats. Sunderbans, the world’s largest estuarine forest is a land of 54 tiny islands,
crisscrossed by innumerable tributaries of River Ganga (गगां) .
Sunderbans spread in an area of 9630 sq. km., where 70 percent is under saline water. Sunderbans was established as a National
Park on May 4, 1984. It had earlier been designated as a Tiger Reserve in December 1973.
Sunderbans, the place of a large flora population, the land that is inhabited by Royal Bengal Tigers is very near to Kolkata, West
Bengal. Sunderbans is the breeding ground of immense variety of birds and unknown wildlife of the world. The Sunderbans
Tiger Project was started in 1974 and has an area of 2585 sq. kms. The core area is 1330 sq. kms and is a national forest and UNESCO world
heritage site. Sunderbans is home to the largest number of wild tigers in the world.
Sunderbans is situated on the lower end of the Gangetic West Bengal, 22.00° N –
89.00° E, at an altitude 0-10 m above sea level and just south of Kolkata. Sunderban covers an area of 4262 sq. kms., where 70
percent is under saline water. Sunderbans is a vast tract of forest and saltwater swamp forming the lower part of the Ganges Delta,
extending about 160 miles (260 km) along the Bay of Bengal from the Hooghly River Estuary (India) to the Meghna River Estuary in
Bangladesh. Sunderbans spreads over 54 islands and two countries (West Bengal and Bangladesh) and is part of the world's largest
The Sunderbans are a part of the world's largest delta formed by the rivers
River Ganga , Brahmaputra River
and Meghna. The whole tract reaches inland for 60-80 miles (100-130 km). A network of estuaries, tidal rivers, and creeks intersected by
numerous channels, it encloses flat, marshy islands covered with dense forests.
Sundarbans, the world’s largest estuarine forest.
The total area of the Sunderbans is 9,630 sq km out of which 4,264 sq km
bears mangrove forest. The area of the Reserve is 2,585 sq km covering land area of 1,600 sq km and water body over 985 sq km.
The Sunderbans are a part of the world's largest delta formed by the rivers Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna.
Places of interest
The Sajnekhali Bird Sanctuary is situated on the confluence of Matla and Gumdi within the buffer zone that extends over an area of 885 sq km. Here you can have a
wide variety of birds, the most popular among them being the spotted billed pelican, cotton teal, herring gull, Caspian tern, grey heron, large egret, night heron, open-billed stork, white ibis, common kingfisher, brahmini kite and paradise flycatcher.
A rare winter migrant, Asian dowitcher, can also be found here.
Among the birds of prey are osprey (Pandion haliaetus), Pallas's fish eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus), white-bellied sea eagle (Haliaeetus leucogaster), grey-headed fishing eagle (Ichthyophaga ichthyaetus), peregrine falcon
(Falco peregrinus), Oriental hobby (Falco severus), northern eagle owl (Bubo bubo) and brown fish owl.
Tiger Reserve: Project Tiger was implemented in 1973 and later the Sundarban Tiger Reserve was demarcated over 2,585-sq. km. The core area of 1,330 sq.km
has been declared a National park and has been chosen as a world heritage site. The 1980 census put the population of tiger in this reserve close to 400.
The reserve has a tiger population of 287 (in 1984 census). The only mangrove species, the tiger here has adapted well to its habitat.
Bhagbatpur Crocodile Project: This is a crocodile breeding farm. Tours are organized by the WBTDC. This
place is accessible through Namkhana. Both the West Bengal Tourism Department and the West Bengal Tourism
Development Corporation organize conducted tours to the Sundarbans by their launches. Bhagabatput is a hatchery of the largest estuarine crocodile in the world.
Netidhopani: The ruins of a 400-year-old temple and legends lend mystery to the atmosphere.
Haliday Island: Last retreat of the Barking Deer.
Kanak: Nesting place of Olive Ridley Turtles.
Piyali: It is 72 kms from Kolkata and is a gateway to the Sunderban. It is being developed as a tourist complex.
Bakkhali: A well known beach resort, close to Frazerganj. It’s a bird- watchers’ paradise, where you
can spot casuarinas and Red Fiddle Carbs.
Ganga Sagar (Kapil Muni Ashram): Ganga Sagar is
a religiously important tirth and also has an exceptionally good beach for the tourists. Situated on an island in the
Sunderbans, it holds the charms of a completely unspoilt beach on the Frazerganj: It is a white sand beach is entirely different from the other beaches.
It can be accessed from Kolkata, and is a three hours drive. The destination is also famous for the migratory birds.
Mayadwip: The nesting place of the Olive Ridley Turtles
Flora and Fauna
The flora and fauna of
Sunderbans are the major attractions. Sunderbans consist of a large flora population like Genwa, Dhundal, Passur, Garjan and
Kankra. Impenetrable Goran trees covers almost the entire region. Here the bayonet like roots of mangrove forests that stick out above the water level.
In Sunderbans you can explore unknown wildlife as jungle cats, fishing cats, Axis deer, wild boar, Rhesus monkeys, mongooses and the largest estuarine crocodiles in the world.
Sunderbans is the breeding ground of immense variety of birds.
A wide variety of aquatic and reptile life forms that include Olive Ridley sea turtle, hardshelled Batgur Terrapin, Pythons, King cobra, Chequered killback, Monitor and lizards including the Salvator
lizards are found in Sunderbans.
Royal Bengal Tiger in Sundarban Tiger Reserve
A group of spotted deer.
Bhagabatput is a hatchery of the largest estuarine crocodile in the world.
Waterways: Approximate time taken between various points are :
1. From Namkhana - Bhagabatpur Crocodile Project (2.5 hours) Sagar Island (2.5 hours) Jambudwip (3.5 hours)
2. From Sajnekhali - Sudhanyakhali (40 minutes) Buridabri (Tiger Project Area) (5 hours) Netidhopari (3.5 hours) Holiday Island (3 hours)
3. From Sonakhali - Gosaba (1 hour)
4. From Raidighi - Kalas (5 hours)
History of the Sundarbans
The present tidal delta Sundarbans was originally occupied by vast stretches of grassland filled with saline marshes and tropical wetlands containing
one of the worlds' largest stretches of biodiversity-rich forests, The archeological evidence of human civilization dates to around 400-300 BC.
Post 1200 AD, the history of the Sundarbans is one of continuous conversion of forest tracts to wet-rice cultivation under the influence of pioneers professing an Islamic Sufi identity.
The process of bringing virgin forest under cultivation continued unabated in the Mogul era (1575 – 1765).
When river Ganges changed course from the original Hugli channel to combine upstream with the
Brahmaputra, most parts of the 24 Parganas Sundarbans faced increased salinity and this gradually affected the flora and fauna of the area. The era also witnessed devastating
cyclones, like the one in 1584, which is reported to have claimed about 2,000,000 living creatures.
The British East India Company set up their headquarters at Calcutta in 1757 at the edge of the Sundarbans. The forests at that time stretched uninterrupted for 19,200 square kms and retained much of their splendor and diversity.
In 1928 the British Government assumed proprietary rights to the forest and, in 1830, began leasing out tracts of the forests for reclamation ~ a process which continued until 1875-76.
By 1873 nearly 5,100 square kms of forests had been converted into agricultural land and the Sundarbans area forest cover had been effectively reduced to about 14,100 square
kms. In 1875-1876 the government declared un-leased forest reserved, and placed them under the jurisdiction of the Forest Department– a move which created today's Sundarbans forest.
A variety of wildlife survived till the latter part of the 19th century despite the rapid depletion of habitat. Hunter records:
"Tigers, leopards, rhinoceros, wild buffaloes, wild hogs, wild cats,
barasinga, spotted deer, hog deer, barking deer, and monkeys are the principal varieties of wild animals found in Sundarban" in 1875. But the events of the next few
decades led to the near complete destruction of the grasslands and rainforests, which coupled with the increase in salinity spelt the death knell for the
rhinoceros, leopard, wild buffalo, swamp deer and hog deer Only the tiger, wild pig and spotted deer survived the mass species extinction
From the early of the 20th century, the Sundarban forests were managed using Curtis's working plan which focused on scientific harvesting. This plan was in effect when partition divided the
administration of the Sundarbans between Bangladesh) and India. Both countries continued to protect the area after independence.
The Indian forests in the 24 Parganas by then had been seriously denuded by years of felling and the lack of
adequate fresh water. In 1963 and 1973 Sundarbans were allowed to clear reserve forests for
agriculture and settle in areas like Jharkhali and Herobhanga islands when refugees from Bangladesh came to India .
In 1973, management of a large portion of the Indian Sundarbans was passed on to Sundarbans Tiger Reserve, which was established in 1973 under "Project
Tiger. In 1977, it declared Sundarbans a Wildlife Sanctuary and elevated parts of it to the status of a National Park on 4th May 1984. UNESCO inscribed the Indian Sundarbans on the World
Heritage List in 1987 and the entire Indian Sundarbans area was recognized by UNESCO as a Global Biosphere Reserve in 2001.
Human settlements in Sunderbans are believed to have started at least 400 years
ago, and the area was mapped as early as in 1764 after the British gained
control of the delta from Mughal emperor Alamgir II. “Of the 102 islands that went to modern-day India, the British cleared and settled 54 by erecting mud embankments.
The islands of Sunderbans at present do not have any access to grid connectivity and solely depend on solar, biomass and renewable energy sources. Solar power has emerged as the primary source of electrification in most of
the inhabited islands in Sunderbans. Cyclone Aila which hit West Bengal on May 25, 2009 has devastated
the entire solar panel set-up in the Sunderbans island, leaving the island completely bereft of electricity.
Vanishing Sunderbans delta
Rapid deterioration in mangrove health is causing as much as 200 metres
of the vegetation-rich coast to disappear annually in the Sunderbans, according to zoologists. Thriving human development, rising global temperatures,
degradation of natural protection from tidal waves and cyclones is inevitably leading to species loss in this richly biodiverse part of the world, according
to a Zoological Society of London (ZSL) statement.
Sediment load: Tiasa Adhya focuses on one of the world’s largest river deltas, the Sunderbans, which gets a sediment load of 1.67 bn tonnes a year from the
Ganga, the Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers, and is yet eroding. The sediment stickiness is controlled in part by the amount and type of vegetation surrounding the river. Sunderbans delta is a
tide-dominated, cohesive delta. It has had no appreciable growth of new land along its coast during the last three centuries.
Eroding the land: “Delta-building is impeded by the action of destructive waves continuously eroding the land,” explained Kalyan Rudra, member of the
National Flood Disaster Management core group. “Increasing sea-level rise would drown deltas if the rate of sediment deposition on the delta is less than the rate of sea-level rise,” explained Goutam Ghosh, director of Geological Survey of India in
Kolkata. The waters in the Sunderban delta are fast changing in quality. The western waters are fresher, lighter and less
saline while the eastern sector is saltier and less transparent. Both are warmer—a sure consequence of climate change.
Solid waste disposal: Salinity decreased in the western sector but increased in the eastern Sunderbans during the last 30 years. The western rivers Hooghly and Muriganga dump waste discharges from the two biggest
cities—Haldia and Kolkata—into the Western sector, but they also get replenished by glacial meltwater from the Himalayas. Hence the western sector remains fresh. The eastern end is
not that lucky. Solid waste disposal and heavy siltation from the surrounding cities cut the eastern rivers off from the Himalayan water sources. The pH has decreased overall but stands higher at 8.25-8.33 than the global figure of 8.179 says Sharmila Kher, Down to Earth Features.
Fallout of global warming: A part of the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans may be lost in future
due to the rising water levels in the Bay of Bengal as a fallout of global warming, West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
cautioned on June 5, 2010.
"Areas in the Sundarbans like Basanti and Gosaba in our state have been
affected by the rise in the water level of the Bay of Bengal due to global warming. The same fate awaits a part of Bangladesh,"
Bhattacharjee said at a function organised by the state Pollution Control Board on the occasion of
Environment Day 2010. "If this continues, a part of the Sundarbans may be lost. This danger is knocking at the door," he said.
Sundarbans delta is now facing a fresh threat from large-scale construction of concrete embankments all over
the islands, environmentalists has warned. Doubting the feasibility of these embankments as coastal erosion is
constantly reshaping the islands, WWF's Anurag Danda said on December 26, 2012 the
engineering intervention will prove detrimental to the survival of unique flora and fauna of the UNESCO World Heritage site.
World's largest delta fast disappearing into sea
The world's largest delta, Ganga- Bhagirathi, is slowly disappearing into the sea, finds a study by river expert Kalyan
Rudra. The study launched on August 19, 2012 by union urban development minister Sougata Roy in Kolkata reveals that the Indian ocean
may soon lose the distinction of being home to the world's largest delta, the Ganges delta.
The research titled "Atlas of Changing River Courses in West Bengal", a
project of the Sea Explorers' Institute, was funded by the Union and the Bengal governments. The project was started by Rudra and his team in
November 2009 and was completed in March, this year.
"The delta is being swallowed by the sea at an alarming rate both from
its apex and the base," said Rudra. Of the 36 delta regions in the world, the Ganga delta which empties into the Bay of Bengal is the biggest one.
The Ganga-Bhagirathi delta spans 57,000 square km - known to be the largest delta in the world. While the sea is encroaching
inland, swallowing islands in the Sundarbans and adjoining areas at the bottom of
delta, the apex is also shifting southwards.
Sundarbans Dolphin sanctuaries
The Bangladesh government has declared three areas of the canals in the Sundarbans, covering 32 kilometres, as "dolphin sanctuaries".
Around 12 km from Ghagmari check-post of Chandpai Range to Karamjal check-post through Dhangmari canal and Pashur River, 15 km from Jongra
check-post to Andharmari check-post through Mrigamari check-post and
five km from Dudhkhali check-post to Supati canal through Bemara canal have been declared as safe havens for the valued species.
Fishing in the 32-km waterway has been prohibited with a provision of
sentence and fine in violation of the ban. An offender will have to serve in jail for six months to five years and pay penalty for violation
of the rules.
Meanwhile, plying of large vessels carrying goods such as oil and other
forms of cargo through the sanctuaries still poses a threat to the endangered cetaceans.
How to get Sunderbans
Sunderban is only accessible by waterways. Nearest railhead is Port Canning from where organized group trips
start. there are several other entry points but Port Canning is most popular.The other route is through Basanti which is connected by bus service to
Kolkata. From here one can take boats to Sajnekhali. One can also come via Port Canning and Gosaba or from Sonakhali to Sajnekhali.
For Bhagabatpur, Namkhana is an access point.
By Air: Dum Dum (166kms), is the nearest airport at Kolkata.
By rail: The nearest railhead is at Canning, 48 kms away. The nearest town is Gosaba, 50 kms away.
Sundarbans is accessible only by riverine waterways. From Kolkata there are suburban train to Canning and buses to Namkhana, Raidighi, Sonakhali
and Najat from where Motor launch services are available for Sundarbans.
Road: Above mentioned embarkation points from Kolkata are: Namkhana (105 km), Sonakhali (100 km),
Raidighi (76 km), Canning (64 km), Najat (92 km).
The best season to visit the Sunderbans is between October to
March. Rainfall is quite heavy during monsoon, which last from mid-June to mid-September. After the monsoons, fair weather prevails until mid-March.
Contects and accomodations
For Sunderbans you can contact the following centers
Kolkata: West Bengal Tourism Dev. Corpn. Ltd. (A Government of West Bengal Undertaking)1,
Kiran Sankar Roy Rd. Kolkata - 700 001
Tourism Centre 3/2, B.B.D. Bagh East, Kolkata – 700 001,India
.(033)248-5917/5168/8271/72/73, 210-3201/3199 Fax : (033) 248 5168
Chennai: West Bengal Information Bureau 18, Wallajah Road, Chennai, India.(044) 2841 1046
New Delhi: West Bengal Information Bureau State Emporia Building,1st Floor, Baba Kharak Singh Marg,
New Delhi – 110 001,India.(011) 2374 2840
Siliguri: Tourist OfficeHill Cart Road, Siliguri, West Bengal, India.(0353) 251 1974/1979
Darjeeling: West Bengal Tourism 1, Nehru Road, Darjeeling – 734 101,West Bengal, India.(0354) 2254-050/102
Tourist Information Centre (Cooch Behar) Zillla Parishad Atithi Niwas. Kachari More, Suniti Rd
Cooch Behar 03582-231527
Permission for river cruise : A general river cruise requires no approval. But to visit places outside the core area permission should be taken from the authorities.
Noxious fumes in Sunderbans environment
The study, conducted by Jadavpur University (JU) in collaboration with National Physical Laboratory, reveals alarmingly high levels of particulate matter at Kaikhali island, in the heart of the
Sunderbans. With a concentration of 86 microgram per cubic metre, it is higher than that of believe it or not Chennai (58) and Vadodara (66), two bustling cities.
"The particulate matter gets deposited on the leaves of the mangrove trees. This deposition prevents
photosynthesis of plants, leading to their gradual death," said Prof Niladri Chakraborty of Jadavpur University, the principal investigator of the study. "As a result," he said, "a large number of trees are dying out. Our finding is that
the mangroves are yet to adapt to the dense concentration of particulate matter. The impact of particulate matter must be worse on animals and living organisms. Since we never measure its impact
on wildlife, we cannot comment on it. But we also found that a large number of Sunderbans residents suffer from lung diseases."
The revelation is alarming. Not only does the Sunderbans have a rich and unique biodiversity, its mangrove ecosystem also helps to protect Kolkata its closest metropolis from the direct impact of
tropical cyclones and storms that originate in the Bay of Bengal. The extent of pollution and resultant concentration of particulate matter may well spell doom for the Sunderbans.
A thousand species of flora and fauna will become extinct from this ecologically sensitive zone, warn experts.
The study was carried out from 2003 to 2006 by Indranil Mukherjee of Hooghly Engineering and Technology
College, A Deb Sarkar of Jadavpur University and T K Mondal of National Physical Laboratory, along with Niladri Chakraborty. The University Grants Commission (UGC) and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research Institute (CSIRI) funded the study.
The Sunderbans, with such a high concentration of particulate matter, is extremely vulnerable, said Chakrabarty. "Kaikhali is one of the 54 islands of the Sunderbans with human settlement, only 100 km from
Kolkata. The site lies at the convergence of the river Nabipukur with the river Matla, finally merging with the Bay of Bengal. Since the area is open, with no obstruction, land and sea breezes freely disperse the air pollutants," said Prof
Chakraborty. But why has pollution reached such levels here? Experts said that in absence of electricity and cooking energy sources, a huge amount of
bio-mass is burnt rampantly in the area. This result in emission of particulate matter. During the period of study, there was a huge amount of dust in the area due to a lot of road construction
activity. This dust significantly contributed to particulate pollution. Also, the emission from bhatbhatis (diesel-driven country boats)
ferrying passengers is greatly contributing to particulate pollution, revealed the study. Chakraborty, however, felt that there should also be a complementary study on the impact of particulate matter on the region's wildlife.
Rs 200 crore grant for the Sunderbans
Jairam Ramesh, Union minister of state for environment and forests has announced a Rs 200 crore grant for the Sunderbans as part of the World Bank’s Integrated Coastal Zone
Management Project on January 13, 2010 during his maiden visit to the world’s largest mangrove biosphere reserve. This money will be utilised in the next five years starting
June 30, 2010. Ramesh also plans to set up a Sunderbans Eco-system Task Force to look into climate and environmental issues of the ‘critically vulnerable coastal area’.
The minister also announced Rs 2 crore for rainwater harvesting in villages around the core area. There are nearly two lakh people living in the buffer zone.
Ramesh will also set up an Indo-Bangla Sunderbans Eco-system Forum, the first meeting of which will be convened in March. “Nearly 60% of
the Sunderbans falls in Bangladesh. Our neighbouring country is very keen to work with India for protection and conservation.
Royal Bengal Tiger
Fast disappearing mangrove
forests of the Sunderbans pose a question mark over the future of the Royal Bengal Tiger, an endangered species,
The Sunderbans is a critical tiger habitat; one of only a handful of
remaining forests big enough to hold several hundred tigers. To lose the Sunderbans would
be to move a step closer to the extinction of these majestic animals.
A fresh survey has found that the largest habitat of the Royal Bengal Tiger has a population
between 64 and 90. The 2004 census had claimed that the tiger population in Indian
Sundarban was around 274 and the figure dropped to an estimated 70 in the 2010 census, prompting experts to cast doubts on its accuracy as
they claimed that scientific methods were not used for the head count.
The figure was put at 90-odd by certain agencies involved in the census
in the world's largest mangrove forest six months ago but the new survey puts the tiger population between 64-90.
"Population estimation of the Sundarbans tigers was done with a
combination of camera trapping and satellite telemetry. The total population for
Indian Sundarbans was estimated to be between 64 to 90 tigers," says the latest Environment Ministry
document. According to the new document, a tiger density of 4.3 tigers per 100 sq
km has been estimated at the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve and its surrounding areas.