London, Jan 11 (IANS) Fast-disappearing mangrove forests of the Sundarbans pose a question mark over the future of the Royal Bengal Tiger, an endangered species, say scientists.
Rapid deterioration in mangrove health is causing as much as 200 metres of the vegetation-rich coast to disappear annually in the Sunderbans, according to zoologists.
Nathalie Pettorelli, from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and senior study author, said: "Our results indicate a rapidly retreating coastline that cannot be accounted for by the regular dynamics of the Sundarbans. Degradation is happening fast, weakening this natural shield for India and Bangladesh."
'Sundarban' meaning 'beautiful forest' in Bengali, is the largest block of continuous mangrove forest in the world, native to nearly 500 species of reptile, fish, bird and mammals, including the world famous Royal Bengal Tiger, the journal Remote Sensing reports.
Thriving human development, rising global temperatures, degradatin of natural protection from tidal waves and cyclones is inveitably leading to species loss in this richly biodiverse part of the world, according to a ZSL statement.
Sarah Christie, ZSL's tiger conservation expert, says: "The Sundarbans is a critical tiger habitat; one of only a handful of remaining forests big enough to hold several hundred tigers. To lose the Sundarbans would be to move a step closer to the extinction of these majestic animals."
Although mangroves are rare, they are an important barrier against climate change, providing protection to coastal areas from tsunamis and cyclones. They are also the most carbon-rich forests in the tropics with high carbon sequestration potential, meaning their degradation and loss substantially reduce our ability to mitigate, and adapt to, predicted changes in climatic conditions.
Mangroves comprise less than one percent of all forest areas across the world, amounting to roughly half the size of the UK. It is essential that the protection of mangroves becomes a priority, particularly for the charismatic species which will disappear with them if no action is taken to preserve their habitat.