The current decline in biodiversity represents a serious threat to human development. Biological resources constitute a capital asset with great potential for yielding sustainable benefits. Protected areas that are created to preserve biodiversity are in critical condition due to excessive anthropogenic pressure.
Urgent and decisive action is needed to conserve and maintain genes, species and ecosystems for sustainable management and use of biological resources.
The United Nations has proclaimed May 22 as the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) to increase understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues. Water is essential for life. No living being on planet Earth can survive without it.
It is a prerequisite for human health and wellbeing as well as for preservation of the environment. ‘Water and Biodiversity’ is the theme for International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB) in 2013. The theme has been chosen to coincide with the United Nations designation of 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation.
Designation of IDB 2013 on the theme of water provides parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and to raise awareness about this vital issue and to increase positive action.
Biodiversity is the degree of variation of life forms within a given species and the ecosystem. The greater the variety of species, the healthier becomes the biosphere.
Human activities have altered the world’s terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems throughout history. Over the last 50 years, there has been a substantial and largely irreversible loss in the diversity of life on Earth. The number of species at risk of extinction is 16,306 species of plants and animals listed as threatened globally. This clearly reflected the loss of biodiversity.
The biodiversity of an area influences every aspect of the lives of people who inhabit it. Their living space and their livelihoods depend on the type of ecosystem.
The quality of water we drink and use, the air we breathe, the soil on which our food grows are all influenced by a wide variety of living organisms, both plants and animals, and the ecosystem of which each species is linked within nature.
Biodiversity conservation and management are a worldwide concern. In India, there is increasing interest and concern for biodiversity conservation in biosphere reserves.
These biosphere reserves have been set up by expanding and merging the isolated, preexisting national park and sanctuaries under the control of Forest and Wildlife Departments to meet the objectives of biodiversity conservation and management.
These biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems promoting solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use. The idea of `Biosphere Reserves’ was initiated by the UNESCO in 1973-74 under its Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme. Biosphere reserves constitute the main goal of the whole programme.
The Indian National Man and Biosphere Committee identifies and recommends potential sites for designation as Biosphere Reserves, following the UNESCO’s guidelines and criteria. The Biosphere Reserves are different from wildlife sanctuaries and National Parks as the emphasis is on overall biodiversity and landscape rather than on specific species.
In a biosphere, there are three different zones: core area, buffer zones and transition zones. The core areas are the most heavily protected sites where the ecosystems remain relatively untouched. They are the areas designated mainly for conservation, and the only human role in these areas is for observation and nondestructive research. The buffer zones surround the core area and are open to people to visit. However, people cannot inhabit these areas.
They are mainly used for recreation and ecotourism. Transition zones are the areas in the biosphere where towns would be located if there were any. The people living in these towns are usually management agencies, scientists, cultural groups native to the area and farms and fisheries (biosphere). The people who live in the towns are usually responsible for managing, sustaining, and developing the biosphere.
The State of Odisha is quite rich in natural resources and has several biodiversity hotspot areas. It has varied and widespread forests harbouring dry deciduous, moist deciduous forests as well as mangroves with several unique, endemic, rare and endangered floral and faunal species.
Odisha ranks fourth amongst State/Union Territories of the country in terms of area under forest cover. The total forest area of the State is 58, 135 sqkm, which is 37.34 per cent of the State’s geographical area and about 7.66 per cent of the country’s forests.
Similipal located in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district, with its dense green forests, hilly terrain, broad open valleys, plateaus, grasslands and rich biodiversity, has the unique distinction of being a Tiger Reserve, a National Park, a Wildlife Sanctuary, an Elephant Reserve and a Biosphere Reserve. Semi-evergreen to dry deciduous forest types (1,076 species of plants including 94 varieties of orchids) provide suitable home for a variety of fauna. Important and rare wildlife include tigers, elephants, leopards, Sambars, spotted deer, peacocks, pythons, cobras, lizards, etc. It is the richest watershed in Odisha, giving rise to many perennial rivers. Gorgeous Barehipani and Joranda waterfalls are of great attractions. The Barehipani waterfall is located at the centre of the National Park. It is one of the tallest waterfalls in the country, at a height of 399 m. The falls are the most beautiful sites at the National Park. The rich biodiversity, the physical and topographical features of Simlipal constitute a unique and delightful destination for scientists, nature-lovers and tourists.
The Biosphere Reserve is an international designation by the UNESCO for representative parts of natural and cultural landscapes extending over large areas of terrestrial or coastal ecosystems or a combination thereof.
The Government of India initiated a Centrally-sponsored scheme on Biosphere Reserve in 1986. The goals for biosphere reserve management are to facilitate conservation of representative landscapes and their immense biological diversity and cultural heritage.
These are the most appropriate means of protecting the landscape with its total biodiversity. So far, 15 Biosphere Reserves have been established all over the country across different bio-geographical regions. Similipal was notified as the eighth Biosphere Reserve in 1994.
This biosphere reserve is unique in terms of its varied topography, geologic formation and rich biological diversity.
The forest ecosystems of the Similipal Biosphere Reserve are experiencing disturbances of various magnitudes.
People affect biodiversity in both direct and indirect ways. Agriculture and animal husbandry alter the biological diversity by destroying or modifying the native biota. Activities of these people may generate threats that cause major obstacles in biodiversity conservation in Similipal. The specific threats are the loss of biodiversity due to collection of timber, firewood, fire and hunting of wildlife. Special attention should be given to different components of the biosphere reserves like landscape, habitats and species.
The Similipal Biosphere Reserve is also an ideal habitat for approximately 600 plant species. The illegal and unscientific collection by local people has led to a drastic reduction in the number of medicinal plant species. and many species of such plants are becoming rare and are included in the list of endangered plants.
The best way to protect Similipal’s biodiversity is to protect its habitats. In order to facilitate and coordinate the research programmes and identify the critical gaps in research efforts on the Similipal Biosphere Reserve, the State Government enacted the Odisha Biological Diversity Rules, 2010.
The implementation of the rules and the biosphere programme would seek to make a sustained impact on the overall scenario of biodiversity conservation. The conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity also requires full and effective participation of local communities.