MANGALORE: In a bid to save the endemic freshwater fish in the Western Ghats, the Pilikula Nisargadhama near Mangalore has launched a conservation programme.
Nisargadhama, in Moodushedde village, was the first in the country to launch the conservation of the freshwater species in Western Ghats after the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released a red list on the depletion of freshwater fish in the Western Ghats. The habitat loss of the freshwater species in Western Ghats was due to various development projects like construction of roads, hydroelectric projects, expansion of agriculture, horticulture and plantations.
Whistle blowers in Hassan, Chikmagalur, Shimoga, Kodagu, Udupi and Dakshina Kananda districts have pointed out that projects like pipelines, highways and power lines and destruction of forests have had an adverse effect on the Western Ghats.
These activities have led to the fragmentation of minor rivers, rivulets, streams and the depletion of stagnant water bodies.
“This has led to the depletion of freshwater fish species. Many of them need flowing water to survive and breed. In the absence of flowing water, they will get compartmentalised, unable to breed and finally their numbers reduce and are pushed into extinction gradually,” said Jayaprakash Bhandary, a wildlife warden of the project at Pilikula Nisargadhama. However, there is hope as the Nisargadhama has drawn up plans to identify, sample and breed endangered species of freshwater fish, snakes and turtles.
The Nisargadhama was able to secure a grant of `98 lakh from the government and has started creating facilities to breed the Western Ghats endemic species in Moodushedde village.
“During a research expedition, we found sand mining, rock blasting, damming, infrastructure corridors, trenching and other divisive structures that have affected the aquifer system of a large area in Dakshina Kannada portion of the Western Ghats. We have found through various studies that there could be 300 varieties of freshwater fish, snakes and turtles. This region cannot be studied in isolation. The full picture will emerge when a large area in Western Ghats is marked for a research study on just freshwater species,” said Ashwin Rai, principal researcher of the project.
A few other sporadic studies indicate that there are more than 218 freshwater fish varieties. “We have already collected 28 varieties of freshwater fish from the Western Ghats and the challenge is daunting considering the number of fish we have to recover for conservation and breeding,” Rai told Express.
The Nisargadhama, which has its own Regional Science Centre, has also applied to the Central Zoo Authority for a grant of `55 lakh to re-create a Western Ghats live water stream flowing along the Nisargadhama wildlife enclosure which features live fish of Western Ghats origin living and breeding.
The IUCN reports show that freshwater fish are the most threatened group in peninsular India, with more than a third (37 percent) at risk of global extinction.
For example, the endangered Deccan Mahseer (Tor Khudree) is one of the most sought-after fish in peninsular India. Due to overharvesting, invasive species and pollution, it has declined in the past decade.