Sitting idle at the shores of Nal Sarovar are 300 odd boatmen, a little over fifty kilometres the west of Ahmedabad. Last season they ferried tourists from one side to the other meandering through the flocks of migratory birds – a total of nearly 200 species as per a forest official on site.
The lake has dried up completely, laying bare its cracked bed. An eerie reminder of the lost ecosystem and its livelihoods.
As per the trend, the new year would have rung hordes of tourists to the lake as lakhs of migratory birds made the natural wetland
From lesser and greater flamingos to herons and white storks, white-tailed lapwing to rosy pelicans, over 200 species of bitterns and grebes
Abdulbhai, a boatman tells, “During the tourist season, we usually earn Rs. 600-700 on weekdays, whereas making Rs. 1000-1500 on weekends.” Some of his family members have now moved to the city to work as daily wage
But this January, there is none – neither the swarming tourists nor the birds.
“The last time the marshes experienced a drought like this was in 2002,” said Rameshbhai, the driver, as a consolation to my disappointment of not being able to see the bird sanctuary famous for its flamingos.
He further added, “There is another lake not far from here that might have some birds near Kalol on our way back to Ahmedabad.”
For a little more money and a ton of my gratitude, Rameshbai drove to the Thol lake near Mehsana. This lake, however, is an unwarranted product of the construction of an irrigation tank built in 1912. It was declared the Thol Bird Sanctuary in 1988. It is now known for its flocks of flamingos and
Birds, which remain in this region, prefer this once artificial lake in Thol. Amidst the loss of livelihood and biodiversity around Nal Sarovar, there are calls from the Nauka Vihar Nalsarovar Mandali, an association of boatmen and the sarpanch of Vekariya village to replenish the fresh-cum-brackish water wetland distributing water through the Narmada canal.
While the authorities are considering the option in lieu of restoring livelihoods in the concerned region; Ketan Tatu, the founding editor of the e-periodical Jalaplavit and a senior scientist from the University of West Virginia argues against any such unnatural replenishment of the concerned wetland. In a satirical email addressed to the “Almighty” itself, he puts:
“The wetlands created by you (i.e. natural wetlands) are destined to go through an extended period of dryness once or twice in a decade or so… God, please give insight to my folks that Nal Sarovar is a special, fresh-cum-brackish water wetland. It is not a conventional man-made waterbody wherein waters from any external water sources can be “dumped” for satisfying recreation or economic needs of man. For satisfying such human needs, we can create an artificial reservoir.”
His observations are supported by a study conducted by the department of life science, Hemchandrachaya North Gujarat University, which concludes that the migratory birds prefer Thol over Nal Sarovar due to underlying anthropogenic pressures and increased tourism.
These activities have deterred the birds from using the wetlands and any other man-made interference may just worsen the situation.
For now, Thol remains as
Originally published here, this story is part of the Milaap Fellowship Program. It is a unique opportunity, providing young professionals with a six-month fellowship to contribute to a cause and cover inspiring stories of change.