Friday, September 7, 2012

Ministry bats for endangered island bird

NEW DELHI, September 7, 2012

The Environment Ministry has taken the side of conservationists fighting for the survival of 300-odd Narcondam hornbills, threatened by a Coast Guard plan to set up a radar surveillance system on the tiny island in the Andamans where the birds make their home.

On August 31, the Ministry of Environment and Forests issued an order rejecting the proposal, suggesting that the Coast Guard explore other options, "like installation of off-shore structures and several other viable options…which can spare the unique habitat of Narcondam Island from disturbance," pointing out that "there is no such option available for the hornbill whose survival may get seriously threatened if the establishment of proposed radar is allowed on the Narcondam Island."

The island in question spans less than seven square kilometres, and its mixed tropical forests are the only place in the world where these colourful birds are found. During the time of egg-laying and chick-rearing, the female birds shed their flight feathers, rendering them as vulnerable as the now-extinct — and similarly flightless — dodo.

Conservationists had raised a red flag after the Coast Guard asked for the diversion of a little more than half-a-hectare of forestland, to set up a static radar sensor unit as part of a chain of similar units all along the coast for remote monitoring.

When the proposal was taken to the National Board for Wildlife last year, member A. Rahmani was asked to carry out a site inspection. His report recommending that the Coast Guard's proposal be rejected was submitted in June. The final decision has now been announced by the Ministry, much to the delight of conservationists.

"Scientifically and ecologically, rejecting a project on Narcondam is fully and entirely defensible," says Neha Sinha of the Bombay Natural History Society. "But it is also the romantic notion — of helping an island endemic species with no 'other place to go' — that also seems to have triumphed."

The Coast Guard has now been asked to set up an expert committee to "study and explore other alternatives like aerial, satellite, off-shore, ship-based or land-based surveillance systems at other islands, for ensuring the defence and economic security of the country."
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