What is the Wildlife Protection Act? (WPA)
Wildlife Protection Act No. 53 was established on 9th September, 1972, which states :
‘An Act to provide for the protection of wild animals, birds and plants and for matters connected therewith or ancillary or incidental thereto with a view to ensuring the ecological and environmental security of the country’
The Act was created mainly for protection of a country’s wild plant and animal species to ensure environmental security and stability. It also encompasses many restrictions and rules for hunting of these wild species. It also included a crucial aspect of identifying, creating and notifying areas as “protected areas” for the wildlife of India.
With increasing awareness about India’s unique and diverse biological diversity and its importance, the Act came into place. There was a rapid decline in the population of wildlife in India due to unregulated hunting and clearing of forested regions. A naturalist named Edward Pritchard Gee, brought to notice the rapid decline in the number of India’s national animal- The Bengal tiger which reduced from 40,000 tigers in the turn of 20th century to only 1872 by 1972. This was a drastic decline and this was occurring all over India to various other plant and animal species which in turn was affecting the ecosystem.
The Need for Amendment of the Wildlife Protection Act
Oceans make up about 70% of our world in terms of surface area and constitute more than 90%of the planet’s biologically useful habitat. Marine and Coastal protected areas have been identified to protect biodiversity, encourage sustainable use of components of biodiversity as well as help in managing conflict, enhancing economic well-being and improving the quality of life.
While the definition of “wildlife” remained limited to forests and terrestrial ecosystems, India’s coastline stretches over more than 7500 km, spread across seven union territories. For many years India’s coasts have been neglected. The need to protect the marine flora and fauna was specifically recognized and reflected in the statement of objects and reasons of the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Act, 1991.
Only at the Eleventh Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in October 2012 did the Government of India express interest in also working to conserve coastal and marine life. India is a country rich in biodiversity, terrestrial and aquatic.
MPA’s of India
India has a coastline of more than 7500km , with an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 2.02 million km2 and a continental shelf area of 468,000 km2, spread across 10 coastal states and seven union territories, including the islands of Andaman and Nicobar, and Lakshadweep. There are no legally defined categories of MPAs in Indian law. Currently, existing MPAs are either declared as sanctuaries or national parks. Significantly, in India, MPAs are designated for conservation and preservation of the ecosystem, and not for fisheries management.
Currently, there are 31 MPAs along India’s coastline (including the islands) that have been officially declared for conserving and protecting coastal and marine biodiversity (SCBD 2006). There are another 100 protected areas that have terrestrial or freshwater components, which partly contain the marine environment.
Importance of Marine and Coastal Protected Areas
At the Conference of Parties (COP) to the Convention on Biological Diversity, at its seventh meeting, in 2004 on marine and coastal biological diversity the rapid destruction of marine and coastal biodiversity due to anthropocentric activities was identified as a major concern. It was observed through scientific data that marine and coastal ecosystems are severely underrepresented as protected areas, and these protected areas probably protect a very small proportion of marine and coastal environments globally and consequently make a relatively small contribution to sustainable management of marine and coastal biodiversity
The current legal framework for “protected areas” is highly fragmented. By simply labelling a region as a ‘protected area’ isn’t enough. By assessing the overall effectiveness to protect the unique and fragile coastal and marine ecosystems, proper and specific demarcation of these ‘Marine Protected Areas’ needs to be carried out. Including local communities that live around and depend the coastline for their livelihood is equally important for any conservation action to be successful. The need for marine and coastal protected areas, developed in the context of specific scientific and management challenges, has been recognized by the international community.
Are the current legal framework for MPA’s enough?
Various studies conducted in and around MPA’s have identified these protected areas as essential tools for conservation of the unique marine and coastal biodiversity present in our country. Along with conservation of wildlife species, these regions also benefit humans by providing various livelihood activities such as fisheries, tourism and other such economic activities.
However, Aichi Target 11 has been created which focuses specifically on coastal and marine protected areas. It states that ‘By 2020, at least 17 percent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape’. Having such initiatives and goals in place will drive a country like ours to do better to conserve these fragile and biologically diverse ecosystems for current and future generations.
Special thanks to Umeed Mistry, Reef Watch, and WCS-India for allowing us to use there wonderful images for this site