Habitat and Biodiversity Conservation

 A priority for the Living Ganga Programme was conserving aquatic biodiversity and habitats in the Ganga river system. The river supports around 2000 aquatic species, including the threatened river dolphin and gharial. The Ganga river dolphin, gharial and riverine turtle are the indicator species used to develop conservation strategies; hence, they have become species of special concern for WWF-India.

Industrial actions and intensive agriculture along the course of the river have introduced new threats for the Ganga river dolphin and its habitats. With barrages on the river increasing, dolphin communities are isolated. The threatened ecosystem is forcing such as the Ganga river dolphin to extinction.

Past Work :
WWF-India adopted the Ganges river dolphin and initiated Ganges River Dolphin Conservation programme in 1997. Since then, it has been working closely with the communities for awareness generation about the Gangetic river dolphin.

The initiative began with a series of surveys and field visits to specific stretches and to surrounding villages in some of the well-known habitats of the dolphin. WWF-India helped set up the Dolphin Conservation Action Group in collaboration with the Asian River Dolphin Committee and initiated several projects for the conservation of the river dolphin in its distribution range. The WWF-India team decided to concentrate its comprehensive work in the upper Ganga river, in the stretch between Bijnor and Narora in Uttar Pradesh, India. The total length of the stretch is 165 kms.

This stretch has its own importance as it is the uppermost distribution range of the species in the Ganges river, and the dolphins in this stretch are trapped in between two barrages (upstream at Bijnor and downstream at Narora). WWF-India has regularly monitored this stretch in a bid to get a holistic understanding of Ganges river dolphin’s behaviour.

The gharial, a freshwater crocodile endemic to the Indian subcontinent, has survived from the great reptilian age. In the 1940s its population stood at between 5000 and 10000. By 2006, breeding adults plummeted to 182. WWF-India has worked with the UP Forest Department to re-introduce 500 captive-bred gharials in the Hastinapur Sanctuary in the Upper Ganga.

Excessive riverbed farming all along the Ganga has destroyed turtles’ nesting sites. WWF-India, with the UP State Forest Department ensured that the farmers return eggs found in the farms to instituted enclosures for conservation.

More details about WWF-India’s aquatic conservation initiatives could be found in ‘For a Living Ganga’

Progress under Rivers for Life
Under the Rivers for Life programme, the habitat and biodiversity conservation component will focus on strengthening the regulation and its enforcement for controlling fishing, sand extraction and eliminating riverbed farming in important freshwater biodiversity habitats. The programme aims to influence the state government policy to regulate sustainable fishing and sand extraction, improve the river flow, reduce pollutants entering the river through various interventions, generate support from stakeholders (including political leaders), increase awareness among the farmers to reduce the use of chemical inputs (fertilizers and pesticides) in riverbed and riverbank agriculture and arresting riverbed farming. These initiatives aim to improve the habitat of aquatic biodiversity in the “critical stretch” of the river. WWF-India’s experience of working with the local stakeholders including farmers, villagers and line departments in the previous phase of the project will be used to strengthen the lobbying and policy work.

Strategic partnership with premier technical institutions to strengthen the research on aquatic species during this phase will contribute to an enhanced knowledge base. Scientific research and regular monitoring will help in creating the database for knowledge-based advocacy with the government departments and other stakeholders for conservation of important habitats of key endemic biodiversity.

WWF-India’s long-standing experience with research on aquatic biodiversity and monitoring will strengthen this work. In order to generate the baseline on key aquatic species joint campaigns with government departments are envisaged.

My Ganga, My Dolphin campaign was rolled out during October 2012 to commemorate the third anniversary of declaration of Gangetic river dolphin as the national aquatic animal of India. The first three-day comprehensive Gangetic dolphin survey in partnership with state government of Uttar Pradesh (UP) and state forest departments of UP, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, using unified methodologies was organized as part of the campaign.

More details about the campaign can be found in ‘Celebrating Dolphins, reviving hope for the Ganga’
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