Vanishing wetlands change bird flight pattern, pose threat to aircraft

WMBD event focus on conserving migratory bird destinations

Pic: The spraling 300 ha wetland at Panje in Uran across Mumbai harbour remains mostly dry with the blocking of tidal water flow

BNHS warns - If the birds continue to miss their usual destinations, they would get attracted to the vast high grounds of the Navi Mumbai airport for nesting and roosting

NAVI MUMBAI, Oct 9: As apprehended several times, the five ‘vanishing wetlands’ of Navi Mumbai have begun to show a telling impact on the migratory bird flight pattern and this could increase the bird-hit threats to the aircraft at the upcoming Navi Mumbai International Airport (NMIA), a top BNHS scientist said quoting latest studies.

BNHS scientist Mrugank Prabhu expressed concern over the landfill of wetlands at Belpada, Bhendkhal and Panje in Uran and said the migratory birds have been flocking to the DPS Lake, the NRI and TS Chanakya water bodies in Nerul.

If the birds continue to miss their usual destinations, they would get attracted to the vast high grounds of the Navi Mumbai airport for nesting and roosting and this could definitely pose a risk to flights, Prabhu said delivering the keynote address at an online discussion organized by NatConnect Foundation on the occasion of the World Migratory Bird Day. The theme of the NatConnect’s campaign was “Save Ambassadors of Environment”

Another key factor that has to light during the BNHS studies is that birds from the Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary also take refuge on the Navi Mumbai wetlands, apart from the mudflats at Mankhurd, to when the creek gets flooded during high tides. BNHS study report has, therefore, called for conserving the five wetlands of Navi Mumbai.

Asked about the CIDCO stand against the wetlands often quoting a BNHS recommendation against the presence of birds in the vicinity of the NMIA, the scientist asserted that the advice was given in a different context altogether. BNHS gave this opinion when CIDCO had planned a mangrove park near the airport. It was not against the wetlands. In fact, BNHS had in its Baseline Study for NMIA way back in March 2015 itself cautioned against the landfill on wetlands. Ever since, BNHS has been periodically alerting CIDCO, he said.

NatConnect Foundation director B N Kumar pointed out that it is significant that the BNHS had also recommended conservation of the Panje, NRI and TSC wetlands, along with Mahul-Sewree stretch, as an environmental mitigation measure for the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL). “All in all, it is high time that we paid attention to these vanishing wetlands t,” he said.

In a fresh missive to the Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya M Scindia, NatConnect has drawn his attention to these study reports and the need to instruct the State to conserve the five wetlands listed by BNHS to avert bird-hit crisis that could endanger flights.

Speaking as the chief guest at the WMBD event, Divisional Forest Officer Adarsh Reddy of Mumbai Mangrove Conservation Unit said the department planned to restore mudflats in the Thane Creek where new mangroves have grown due to the silt etc. This will be done on an experimental basis to see if birds would start using these places for nesting and roosting. Initially, 30 hectares would be cleared of the newly grown mangroves for which the High Court permission would be sought, he said.

Reddy also explained that the process of taking over 1,900 hectares of mangroves for conservation together from CIDCO and JNPT is already on as per the Bombay High Court directive to protect the sea plants as reserve forests.

The migratory birds, apart from a host of fish, thrive on mudflats – the flat, wet areas in the hightide zones. Environmentalists have been expressing concern at the excessive growth of mangroves on mudflats in TCFS area as it hindered the water retention capacity of the creek.

NandaKumar Pawar, head of Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan, regretted that the wetlands in Uran have been under constant attack. “Despite the government and NGT orders, the tidal water flow that has been blocked at Panje is yet to be restored,” he said.

Sunil Agrawal of Save Navi Mumbai Environment regretted out that CIDCO had given a wrong statement that the NRI and TSC waterbodies are not wetlands despite they figuring in the National Wetland Inventory and Assessment (NWIA). It was on the basis of this statement that the Maharashtra Coastal Zone Management Authority (MCZMA) had cleared the proposal for a golf course on these wetlands. Subsequently, on Agrawal’s petition, The Bombay High Court scrapped the golf course project. CIDCO had since moved the Supreme Court.

Activist Jyoti Nadkarni’s requested BNHS to include Kharghar wetlands for the latter’s studies. A large number of different species of birds visit these wetlands which also face threats from illegal shrimp farming and reclamation, she said.