Background of WCS
WCS that stands for Wildlife Conservation Society was founded in 1895 and expanded in India is 1988. The organization ‘envisions a world where wildlife thrives in healthy lands and seas, valued by societies that embrace and benefit from the diversity and integrity of life on earth”. WCS has various programs which work towards saving wildlife and wild habitats through science, conservation action and education. The goal of WCS India is to “protect and conserve the natural environment, its flora and fauna and in particular the preservation of wildlife and wild places in India”. This is done by combining wildlife conservation action along with strategic policy interventions with the help of productive partnerships between government and non-government agencies. The major conservation action WCS addresses are: habitat fragmentation, poaching, wildlife trade and human-wildlife conflict.
WCS-India is currently working across 20 states in India to address a diverse range of conservation issues, one of which includes conservation of the marine and coastal ecosystems in India by strengthening the marine protected area network, improving the conservation status of sharks and rays in India, and mitigating bycatch of marine megafauna.
Marine Conservation work done by WCS India
India has an extensive and unique coastline of over 7,500 kms. with the oceans containing a wide variety of flora and fauna making it one of the 17 megadiverse countries in the world. The water bodies of India include ranging habitats from salty lagoons, estuaries, mudflats, marshes to mangrove forests, seagrass meadows, coral reefs and both sandy and rocky beaches. These habitats add not only to the biodiversity of flora and fauna but also support 30% of India’s local communities living in these coastal areas.
With increasing human population, overexploitation of resources, and climate change has added pressure on these coastal habitats which are steadily declining. WCS along with local communities is working in these regions to address these conservation concerns by focusing of 5 main themes:
- Strengthening the existing Marine Protected Area (MPA) network
- Mitigating marine megafaunal bycatch
- Strengthening shark and ray management
- Helping incorporate sustainability into marine-centric tourism and
- Promoting and supporting sustainable fisheries.
Let’s have a look at each theme closely.
1. Strengthening the existing Marine Protected Area (MPA) network
136 MPA’s exist in India which make up only a fraction of India’s territorial water. WCS is working actively with coastal communities and government organisations to achieve the target of protecting at least 10% of its marine regions by 2020 and create more MPA’s across the country. This is being done by notifying MPA’s in the form of community reserves, sanctuaries, national parks, and conservation reserves. This helps in enforcing the rules and regulations of protected areas to these marine ecosystems and also help benefit local stakeholders through sustainable benefits from these resources.
2. Mitigating megafaunal bycatch
The fish or marine animals, that get trapped unintentionally in commercial fishing nets is known as bycatch. Many marine mammals, turtles, sharks and even rays get caught in these fishing nets putting pressure on these species populations. WCS India is working on identifying ‘bycatch hotspots’ and conducting monitoring programs to reduce bycatch in Indian waters. They are focused on tacking this issue and finding a solution for this bycatch problem by using a ‘bottom-up’ approach where they work with local communities and small scale artisanal fisheries to reduce bycatch.
3. Strengthening shark and ray management in India
Sharks and Rays belong to a globally threated group of marine organisms known as ‘Elasmobranchs’ . These species face a wide variety of threats including habitat loss and more dangerous issue of illegal hunting for their parts. WCS India is working with local fisherman to address the gaps is conservation of these species by spreading awareness amongst local communities through education programs and finding alternate livelihood programs, policy changes and working towards reducing the demand for these species by changing consumer behaviour for these sharks and rays.
4. Assessing the impact of dive tourism on coral reefs
WCS is working in Lakshadweep Islands to assess the impact of marine tourism and water sports on the local biodiversity of the region. Often these activities are not in compliance with accepted norms for responsible and ecologically sustainable tourism activities, resulting in damage of these fragile marine ecosystems. Coral reefs are already facing major damage due to coral bleaching and climate change, and irresponsible tourism can worsen the situation. WCS team is working to record and assess the impact of tourism and in turn provide guidelines on how to conduct sustainable tourism.
5. Promoting and supporting sustainable fisheries
Fish is an important source of protein all over the world, and India is the world’s largest exporter of seafood after China. With increasing demand globally, there has been increased pressure on the fish populations all over the world leading to a major decline. In India, 61% fish stocks are completely fished and 29% are overfished. WCS India is working with local communities and fisheries to promote sustainable fisheries as well to promote local sustainable livelihoods of people depending on these resources for their survival. We aid small-scale fisheries by assisting in securing vital fishing grounds, thereby mitigating conflict with the mechanized fishing industry. WCS does this by facilitating vocational training to help provide supplementary income to marginalized communities. Further, the program aims to work towards strengthening fisheries legislation to ensure fish stocks are conserved while meeting community livelihood concerns. Finally, to help consumers make better, informed decisions, WCS also is working on promoting responsible seafood consumption initiatives.
Turtle Survival Alliance, India
Another main project by WCS India is the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA).
TSA, India is dedicated towards conserving non-marine chelonians, crocodilians and cetaceans, and functions as a field program of WCS-India through five field-based projects across the country in the Ganges and Brahmaputra River systems.
The extirpation of turtle populations in many regions of Asia has been driven by increased market demand for turtles as food, traditional medicine, or pets, resulting in unprecedented trade and trafficking of wild turtle populations. The WCS-TSA-India team have been supporting the Forest Department to effectively address the challenges by employing a suite of conservation actions including ex-situ measures, and capacity building of enforcement agencies to minimize illegal turtle trade. Some of their programs include:
- Laboratory for Aquatic Biology (LAB) project at Kukrail Center, Lucknow
- Red-crowned Roofed Turtle Recovery Program in Chambal
- River Conservation Center along the Terai Arc Landscape
- Nature Discovery Center on Brahmaputra River
- Northern River Terrapin Recovery Project in Sunderbans
The work being done by WCS on conservation of marine habitats and biodiversity is crucial in preserving the diverse and fragile marine ecosystem of India. Working along with the government agencies, organisations as well as local communities is essential for the success of any conservation project in India. WCS also supports various volunteering positions for people who are interested in doing their part for conservation by volunteering their time and effort.