The Sundarbans area is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, and the population is increasing. As a result, half of this ecoregion’s mangrove forests have been cut down to supply fuelwood and other natural resources. Despite the intense and large-scale exploitation, this still is one of the largest contiguous areas of mangroves in the world. Another threat comes from deforestation and water diversion from the rivers inland, which causes far more silt to be brought to the estuary, clogging up the waterways.
The Directorate of Forest is responsible for the administration and management of Sundarban National Park in West Bengal. The Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF), Wildlife & Bio-Diversity & ex-officio Chief Wildlife Warden, West Bengal is the senior most executive officer looking over the administration of the park. The Chief Conservator of Forests (South) & Director, Sundarban Biosphere Reserve is the administrative head of the park at the local level and is assisted by a Deputy Field Director and an Assistant Field Director. The park area is divided into two ranges, overseen by range forest officers. Each range is further sub-divided into beats. The park also has floating watch stations and camps to protect the property from poachers.
The park receives financial aid from the State Government as well as the Ministry of Environment and Forests under various Plan and Non-Plan Budgets. Additional funding is received under the Project Tiger from the Central Government. In 2001, a grant of US$20,000 was received as a preparatory assistance for promotion between India and Bangladesh from the World Heritage Fund.
A new Khulna Forest Circle was created in Bangladesh back in 1993 to preserve the forest, and Chief Conservators of Forests have been posted since. The direct administrative head of the Division is the Divisional Forest Officer, based at Khulna, who has a number of professional, subprofessional and support staff and logistic supports for the implementation of necessary management and administrative activities. The basic unit of management is the compartment. There are 55 compartments in four Forest Ranges and these are clearly demarcated mainly by natural features such as rivers, canals and creeks.
A map of the protected areas of the Indian Sunderbans, showing the boundaries of the tiger reserve, the national park and the three wildlife sanctuaries, conservation and lodging centres, subsistence towns, and access points. The entire forested (dark green) area constitutes the Biosphere Reserve, with the remaining forests outside the national park and wildlife sanctuaries being given the status of a reserve forest.
The Bangladesh part of the forest lies under two forest divisions, and four administrative ranges viz Chandpai (Khulna District), Sarankhola (Khulna), and Burigoalini (Satkhira District) and has sixteen forest stations. It is further divided into fifty-five compartments and nine blocks. There are three wildlife sanctuaries established in 1977 under the Bangladesh Wildlife (Preservation) Order, 1973 (P.O. 23 of 1973). The West Bengal part of the forest lies under the district of South & North 24 Parganas.
Protected areas cover 15% of the Sundarbans mangroves including Sundarbans National Park and Sajnakhali Wildlife Sanctuary, in West Bengal, Sundarbans East, Sundarbans South and Sundarbans West Wildlife Sanctuaries in Bangladesh.
In May 2019, the local authorities in Bangladesh killed 4 tiger poachers in a shootout in the Sunderbans mangrove area where currently 114 tigers dwell.
Sundarban National Park
Main article: Sundarbans National Park
The Sundarban National Park is a National Park, Tiger Reserve, and a Biosphere Reserve in West Bengal, India. It is part of the Sundarbans on the Ganges Delta, and adjacent to the Sundarbans Reserve Forest in Bangladesh. The delta is densely covered by mangrove forests, and is one of the largest reserves for the Bengal tiger. It is also home to a variety of bird, reptile and invertebrate species, including the salt-water crocodile. The present Sundarbans National Park was declared as the core area of Sundarbans Tiger Reserve in 1973 and a wildlife sanctuary in 1977. On 4 May 1984 it was declared a National Park.
Sundarbans West Wildlife Sanctuary
Main article: Sundarbans West Wildlife Sanctuary
Sundarbans West Wildlife Sanctuary is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The region supports mangroves, including: sparse stands of Gewa (Excoecaria agallocha) and dense stands of Goran (Ceriops tagal), with discontinuous patches of Hantal palm (Phoenix paludosa) on drier ground, river banks and levees. The fauna of the sanctuary is very diverse with some 40 species of mammals, 260 species of birds and 35 species of reptiles. The greatest of these being the Bengal tiger of which an estimated 350 remain in the Bangladesh Sundarbans. Other large mammals are wild boar, chital horin (spotted deer), Indian otter and macaque monkey. Five species of marine turtles frequent the coastal zone and two endangered reptiles are present – the estuarine crocodile and the Indian python.
Sundarbans East Wildlife Sanctuary
Main article: Sundarbans East Wildlife Sanctuary
Sundarbans East Wildlife Sanctuary extends over an area of 31,227 hectares (77,160 acres). Sundari trees (Heritiera fomes) dominate the flora, interspersed with Gewa (Excoecaria agallocha) and Passur (Xylocarpus mekongensis) with Kankra (Bruguiera gymnorhiza) occurring in areas subject to more frequent flooding. There is an understory of Shingra (Cynometra ramiflora) where, soils are drier and Amur (Aglaia cucullata) in wetter areas and Goran (Ceriops decandra) in more saline places. Nypa palm (Nypa fruticans) is widespread along drainage lines.
Sundarbans South Wildlife Sanctuary
Main article: Sundarbans South Wildlife Sanctuary
Sundarbans South Wildlife Sanctuary extends over an area of 36,970 hectares (91,400 acres). There is evidently the greatest seasonal variation in salinity levels and possibly represents an area of relatively longer duration of moderate salinity where Gewa (Excoecaria agallocha) is the dominant woody species. It is often mixed with Sundri, which is able to displace in circumstances such as artificially opened canopies where Sundri does not regenerate as effectively. It is also frequently associated with a dense understory of Goran (Ceriops tagal) and sometimes Passur.
Sajnakhali Wildlife Sanctuary
Main article: Sajnakhali Wildlife Sanctuary
Sajnakhali Wildlife Sanctuary is a 362-square-kilometre (140 sq mi) area in the northern part of the Sundarbans delta in South 24 Parganas district, West Bengal, India. It is mainly mangrove scrub, forest and swamp. It was set up as a sanctuary in 1976. It is home to a rich population of different species of wildlife, such as water fowl, heron, pelican, spotted deer, rhesus macaques, wild boar, tigers, water monitor lizards, fishing cats, otters, olive ridley turtles, crocodiles, batagur terrapins, and migratory birds.
In popular culture
Idol of Manasa, the deity of snakes
Bonbibi, the goddess of Sundarbans
The Sundarbans is celebrated through numerous Bengali folk songs and dances, often centred around the folk heroes, gods and goddesses specific to the Sunderbans (like Bonbibi and Dakshin Rai) and to the Lower Gangetic Delta (like Manasa and Chand Sadagar). The Bengali folk epic Manasamangal mentions Netidhopani and has some passages set in the Sundarbans during the heroine Behula’s quest to bring her husband Lakhindar back to life.
The area provides the setting for several novels by Emilio Salgari, (e.g. The Mystery of the Black Jungle). Sundarbaney Arjan Sardar, a novel by Shibshankar Mitra, and Padma Nadir Majhi, a novel by Manik Bandopadhyay, are based on the rigors of lives of villagers and fishermen living in the Sunderbans region, and are woven into the Bengali psyche to a great extent. Part of the plot of Salman Rushdie’s Booker Prize winning novel, Midnight’s Children is set in the Sundarbans. This forest is adopted as the setting of Kunal Basu’s short story “The Japanese Wife” and the subsequent film adaptation. Most of the plot of an internationally acclaimed novelist, Amitav Ghosh’s 2004 novel, The Hungry Tide, is set in the Sundarbans. The plot centres on a headstrong American cetologist who arrives to study a rare species of river dolphin, enlisting a local fisherman and translator to aid her. The book also mentions two accounts of the Bonbibi story of “Dukhey’s Redemption”. Manik Bandopadhyay’s Padma Nadir Majhi was made into a movie by Goutam Ghose.
The Sunderbans has been the subject of a detailed and well-researched scholarly work on Bonbibi (a ‘forest goddess’ venerated by Hindus), on the relation between the islanders and tigers and on conservation and how it is perceived by the inhabitants of the Sundarbans, as well as numerous non-fiction books, including The Man-Eating Tigers of Sundarbans by Sy Montegomery for a young audience, which was shortlisted for the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Children’s Book Award. In Up The Country, Emily Eden discusses her travels through the Sunderbans. Numerous documentary movies have been made about the Sunderbans, including the 2003 IMAX production Shining Bright about the Bengal tiger. The acclaimed BBC TV series Ganges documents the lives of villagers, especially honey collectors, in the Sundarbans.