CHENNAI: The Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife (NBWL) has approved the proposal to reduce the boundary of Salt Water Crocodile Sanctuary in Andaman and Nicobar Islands by nearly 60 per cent.
The sanctuary declared in 1981 is spread over 100 sq.km and lies adjacent to the famous Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park. But, now the sanctuary boundary has been revised to 41.716 sq.km.
The Andaman and Nicobar Islands administration submitted before NBWL that the original sanctuary boundary stretching off shore Bay of Bengal and west coastline of South Andaman Island was based on rough estimates.
But subsequently based on verification, "it was found that the actual area as per the boundary description was only 22.21 sq.km and not 100 sq.km as appeared in the notification."
The administration, based on the recommendation of State Board for Wildlife of Andaman and Nicobar Islands had decided to revisit the boundary of the sanctuary by inclusion of an area of 19.97 sq.km of territorial waters having luxuriant growth of Stag Horn and Table Horn Coral and associated marine biodiversity with the sanctuary. "On realigning the boundaries of the Sanctuary, the revised area was arrived at 41.716 sq.km," the administration told NBWL.
A request was also made to approve renaming of the 'Salt Water Crocodile Sanctuary' as 'Lohabarrack Wildlife Sanctuary'. The proposal has been recommended by the Chief Wildlife Warden, Andaman and Nicobar Board for Wildlife and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Administration.
In the 63rd meeting of NBWL held on June 11, which was chaired by Union environment minister Prakash Javadekar, the proposal was discussed and decided to recommend it subject to conditions that Andaman and Nicobar Island administration shall submit a ground-truthing report to the Union environment ministry in respect of the old boundaries within 30 days and the condition as proposed by the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun that Forest Department, Andaman and Nicobar administration should develop a Management Plan for long term conservation of crocodiles and other associated marine life of the sanctuary as it has been identified as one of the critical crocodile habitat of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Pertaining to renaming of the sanctuary, the NBWL said the Andaman and Nicobar administration was free to take the decision.
However, wildlife conservationists have condemned the idea of reducing the crocodile sanctuary area saying it would lead to further increase in human-crocodile conflict in the area.
Romulus Earl Whitaker, noted herpetologist and founder of Andaman and Nicobar Environment Trust (ANET), told The New Indian Express that crocodile attacks are on rise and if the sanctuary area is reduced, it would allow more people movement in the conflict zone.
"Without conducting proper studies on crocodiles behaviour and its population size, such a drastic decision should not be taken. Reducing the size of a protected area is never a good option," he said.