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Centre For Ecological Sciences (CES)
Indian Institute of Sciences(IISc), Bangalore
The proposed tourism projects involving biologically rich habitats like Kanur and Nagara would hamper the ecology of the Sharavathi region which should be conserved and not marketed.

The Sharavathi river valley nestled in the central Western Ghats, Shimoga district has been an ecological tutor for the last 30 months to a team of scientist and naturalists from the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The Sharavathi River, rising at Ambuthirtha in Thirthahalli taluk flows north-west and drops down in the Ghats at the world famous Jog falls. A dam was constructed to meet the power requirement of the state which also resulted in large-scale submergence of wetlands along with forest areas. This resulted in unrecorded and probably massive loss of biodiversity. The undulating terrain created pockets of island (125 islands) within the reservoir, which though rich in bio-diversity are the surviving fragment of the earlier existence.

The wildlife here, not habituated to humans, will perish or migrate if trekking or cycling is introduced in these regions. The resulting noise will definitely disturb the bird and animal communities. Birds such as warblers, babblers and larks living in the under-growth of the forests will be directly affected due to such activities. Creation of trekking routes or walk-paths will disturb the species. Camping in specific plots repeatedly would be extremely dangerous, as it will degrade the soil physically and chemically, increasing erosion levels. Camping in islands or anywhere among the proposed areas will not only involve clearing of trees and undergrowth but will also result in the chopping of trees for firewood and destroying microclimate habitats (e.g., thick leaf litter) as well. This will affect a variety of arthropods and soil dwelling organism and eventually disrupt the food chain. Most of the rare, sensitive and unique species of this region will disappear from these forest if tourist are catered for. A comparative study of species composition in disturbed and undisturbed ecosystem revealed a decline of species with specific requirements as the intensity of disturbance increased. For instance the Great Indian Hornbill, a regular visitor at the viewpoint (on the way from Jog to Gersoppa) has disappeared due to the construction activities around the region.

The influx of tourist will also result in sudden occupancy of certain new species which can dominate and compete for resources with the native species. Since it is impossible to monitor each tourist, the wasted food and other leftovers will initiate the arrival of crows, and other omnivorous fauna, absent till recent times. The native species will eventually be wiped out of the region while the dominants species will establish themselves, occasionally predating on the native's offspring as well. Such an occurrence has been documented in some parts of the region and we need to ensure that this is not frequent. Field and laboratory studies else where in the world have proven the hatching success of birds decreases by more than 50 percent in human intervened habitats, signifying disturbance to be an important threat to the bio-diversity. Marginal vegetation will get damaged in areas used extensively for sliding down boats or canoes and also by people traversing along the banks for activities, such as swimming and scuba diving. This will directly affect the floral and faunal communities occupying these micro - niches. Assuming that only boats with paddles (if not then devastation of fish life is certain) are proposed for the water sports, it will still create panic among the birds.

Birds which may be affected include shore birds like Cormorants, Lapwings, Darters, Purple herons, White necked storks and Waders. Upsets in algal population and likely eutrophication in the lakes caused by pollution, left over food, will be of serious concern, which promoting recreation in these waters.

Evergreen to semi-evergreen forest along with moist deciduous type of forests dominate the entire basin along with scrub savannah, grasslands, marshy areas and plantation of acacia, cash crops like areca and rubber providing diverse niches for a variety of taxa. Rare evergreen species such as Dipterocarpus, Syzygium, Cinnamon, Diospyros, Aglaia, endemic Palms along with the globally endangered Myrist-icasps makes this an ecologically sensitive region to be conserved and not marketed. Most of the islands are covered with moist deciduous forests while those with evergreens and semievergreen vegetation are clustered only at Menskar region (south to Madenur), also where the largest islands are seen. The islands supports mammals like Gaur, Sambhar, Spotted deer, Boars Pangolins and Porcupines along with the Malabar Gaint Squirrel. The region is home to more than 140 species of birds provides niches to the threatened and endemic Grey headed Bulbul, endangered Great Indian Hornbill, and endemic species as Black necked stork, White Ibis, Blue bearded Bee-eater, Great Black Woodpecker and Slatyheaded Scimitar babbler.

Nearly 134 species of butterflies, including the Fluffy tit, Monkey Puzzle, Malabar Raven, Redspot Duke, have been documented; 84 species of ants (including the jumping ants, leaf litter specialists) were recorded from the Sharavathi river basin, along with 180 species of beetles. The presence of endemic and sensitive mammals such as Lion-tailed Macaque and Slender Loris makes it imperative to conserve these forest. This can be achieved by connecting the fragments thus providing contiguous forests for these species. Also there being a wide distribution of Peafowl and Tiger (National bird and animal) it should be one's ultimate concern to conserve and protect these region.

The most specialised species composition is present in undisturbed evergreen forest spanning Kodachadri, Kollur, along with fragments towards the south-east at Kavaledurga and some regions close to Hosanagara in the South. It is in these high bio-diversity regions that trekking corridors have been envisioned.

The authorities agencies should address agencies should address issues of wildlife conservation in these regions instead of developing it as a tourism centre. With inverse relations evident between hawkers at the Jog falls and the vegetation cover around it, it is risky to experiment with yet another ecosystem (in the same region!). The proposed tourism projects involving Kanur, Nagara and others are one of the most bio-logically rich habitats and slight disturbance would hamper the ecology of that region. Islands are known to be ecologically sensitive and more fragile than the main land. They are prone to invasion and take more times (compared to the mainland) to recover from any adverse ecological changes or catastrophes. Species of this region would still be in a process of evolving to such unique habitats after the ecological changes brought about during the submergence period. Their coping with the changes will receive a major setback if the habitats were intentionally tampered with again. Introduction of recreational ecology into the islands which are wonderful enigmas of evolution would result in their succumbing to human pressures, once again in this parts of the world.

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