Defiling Our Own Eco-System

Ferruginous Duck - they are listed at Loktak Lake as Near-threatened The species is known colloquially by birders as "Fudge Duck".

Every year particularly during the winter months of November, December and January, every day flocks of Uroks (white fowl) and geese would fly over crossing our house, which is located very close to Sangaipat in Imphal East, now Sangaipat Seri-Project. Whenever a flock of Uroks passed through our house across the clear winter sky, we used to say “Sham shango sham shango” (make my hair longer) by pulling a bunch of hair. This was a way of seeking blessings from Urok to make our hair longer when we were very young. No more migratory birds are now seen visiting the pat (lake or wetland) mainly because of the development activities being taken up there.

The recent field survey conducted under the supervision of Wild Life Wing of the Forest Department, Government of Manipur to count the number of migratory birds visiting the Loktak Lake revealed that there has been a sharp reduction in the number of migratory birds in the lake. It has been reported that in the field survey, the team which includes environmentalists and ornithologists, spotted a few migratory birds numbering less than 200. Some experts observed that the ongoing clearance exercise of phumdis is one of the major factors, which resulted in significant decline of migratory birds this year. Gradual decrease of the habitat and the climatic changes are also the reasons behind the reduction of migratory birds.

A number of migratory birds from Siberia, mainland Russia and the Himalayan range visit Loktak, the largest lake in the North-Eastern India. Many birds fly high when migrating because of prevailing winds at higher altitudes and also because the cold at these altitudes helps them disperse all the heat being generated by their flight muscles. Ornithologists say not all birds from a summer breeding site over winter at the same area. When a male bird meets a female bird in the breeding grounds, the pair bond breaks up at the end of the breeding season, but some like swans mate for life. In the case of Bewick’s Swan the male decides where to fly to for the winter and the female follows him. However, the female decides when it is time to travel back to the breeding ground for another year’s breeding.

A large population living around the Loktak Lake depends on the lake resources for their sustenance. Fishermen residing in the surrounding areas like Thanga, Karang, Khordak, Naranseina, Komnaokhong, Moirang and other parts of the lake are now worrying about their livelihood as there is no rehabilitation program for the communities in the phumdi clearance exercise being carried out by the State Government with the financial aid provided by the centre. It has been reported that the Union Public Commission earmarked a total amount of Rs. 224 crores for the purpose.

The overall objective of the phumdi clearance exercise is to protect the lake from environmentally unsound activities that continue to harm the lake. The aquaculture on the lake has caused proliferation of phumdis and it directly impact on its pollution thus the clearance of phumdis is a must. Athaphums, artificial circular phumdis were built by villagers as enclosures for fish farming. The building materials used to build huts on the phumdi block sunlight from reaching the lower depths of the lake water, which resulted in formation of vertical profiles of the lake water body and decomposition. Pesticides and insecticides are also used for catching fish or as insect repellent.

Fishermen of Loktak used Chinese fish nets importing from neighboring Myanmar. These nets are available only in black markets. So, Chinese nets are often caught by police on the way from Moreh to Imphal. Fisherman builds Phumgoi (enclosure of Athapum) and cast happa (net) to catch fish.

After luring fish for about 15 days, they clean up the entire area completely. When the fish inside the phumgoi once swum deep into the water they spread nets circling around it so the fish cannot escape from the enclosure. It is said that they invest about Rs. 30,000 to build such one phumgoi. The size of each phumgoi is measuring about 30-40 diameters.

Fish yield from the lake is reported to be about 1,500 tonnes every year. Local fishes like ngamu, ukabi, ngaril, pangba, tharak and ngashep are stated to be under serious decline. These old local varieties of local fish, including the new fish varieties like grass carp, silver carp were introduced in the lake in the recent past by the State Fishery Department.

The Keibul Lamjao National Park, which is the last refuge of the endangered brow-antlered, the Sangai, is the largest of all the phumdis in the lake. With the assistance provided by the Wild Life Institute of India, a rescue team for the endangered species Sangai is being developed inside the park. It has been reported that the rescue centre is expected to be completed and commissioned by March this year.

*The article is written by Balu Thongam.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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