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Sundarbans facing severe threat from pollution

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RAPIDLY increasing air and water pollution threw pollinators in the Sunderbans on the verge of extinction threatening the world's largest mangrove forest's flora. Severe air and water pollution caused by industrial activities in and around the Sunderbans together with habitat loss pose serious threats to honeybees and butterflies. Quoting zoologists, a daily reported that the Sundarban Crow Butterfly was facing greater threats for which it was declared as a 'critically endangered species' by the International Union for Conservation of Nature last year. The zoologists warned that reproductive and immune capacities of all the plant species in the Sunderbans would fall sharply if the major pollinators became extinct. The threat is not unexpected since the government's stubbornness to set up environmentally dangerous coal-powered power plant nearby the Sundarbans gets priority over the masses' demand to suspend the building of the plant.

Zoologists said that the indigenous honeybee species Apis dorsala, commonly known as Sunderban honeybee, suffers respiratory problems due to air pollution caused by industrial activities in the vicinity of the forest. The pollinators were being threatened by air and water pollution caused inside the forest mostly by motorized vessel movement using canals and rivers passing through the Sunderbans and allocation of an increasing number of industrial plots close to it.

 A recent survey done by the government shows that 822 trips were made by mother vessels using the Passur and the Shela channels, passing through the Sunderbans in fiscal 2014-15 up from 540 in 2010-11. In 2014-15,  the survey found 4,710 other trips were made by vessels under the purview of Bangladesh-India Inland Water Transit Protocol increasing from 4,168 trips in 2010-11. On August 6, the National Environmental Committee gave antedated approval to 304 industries that were set up near the Sunderbans since the late 1990s. On the same date, the environmental committee gave approval for setting up 16 more industries including a liquid bottling plant, which is categorized as 'red,' that is 'extremely harmful'.

Pollination of the major plant species of the Sunderbans including Sundri, Keora and Geoa is intensely dependent on the Sunderban honeybees or dense pollinators as they are known in the parlance of zoologists. Indiscriminate beehive harvesting in the Sunderbans between April and June destroys Sunderban honeybees' food stocks for the winter. At least 30 per cent of the beehives must be left un-harvested to keep the food stocks for the honeybees. But the honey collectors never follow this dictum.

Zoologists accused unscrupulous fishermen of poisoning waters of the creeks and canals inside the Sunderbans for catching fish, endangering bees and butterflies as the two pollinators are intensely dependent on water. Water pollution invariably disturbs puddling that affect food cycles as well as egg maturation and reproduction of butterflies. The government must not remain dumb and blind to those industries endangering pollinators and must put in place policies to retard the rapid industrialization in the once pristine beauty.

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