Survey sees increase in Indus River Dolphins

from The Daily Times

ISLAMABAD: Results of a recent survey have revealed an increase in the Indus river dolphin population, which is a highly endangered species in Pakistan. The survey was conducted under the Pakistan Wetlands Programme, a joint initiative between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Royal Netherlands Embassy, Global Environment Facility, Ministry of Environment and the World Wide Fund (WWF). Findings of the survey were revealed at a press briefing on Wednesday.

According to the survey report 1,200 dolphins and 150 calves were reported to inhabit the areas between Guddu barrage in Punjab and Sukkur barrage in Sindh, which the survey teams termed as an encouraging trend as only 725 dolphins were recorded in these areas in the 2001 survey. Indus river dolphins are one of the only four freshwater dolphin species in the world. These rare and beautiful creatures are also high on the world’s endangered species’ list.

According to experts the barriers formed by irrigation barrages are among the many possible reasons for the decline of the species in recent decades. Reports indicate that the construction of barrages, restrict the movement of the dolphins, which has also affected their breeding and capacity to find food

While briefing reporters UNDP Programme Officer Abdul Qadir shared the opinion of UN Resident Coordinator Jan Vandemoortele. He acknowledged the efforts of the Indus Dolphin Survey team in numerating the dolphins. The rising trend in the dolphin population is an indication of the growing awareness in local communities and the general public regarding the significance of the species, he said. He said that if repeated surveys rendered similar results in the future, this would proudly present Pakistan on the global map as a country that cared for its natural resources and took targeted action when it came to the protection and conservation of unique species.

The UNDP in partnership with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), Royal Netherlands Embassy, Federal Ministry of Environment and WWF embarked on a seven-year Pakistan Wetlands Programme in April 2005. The Indus dolphin survey is part of the baseline activities that will establish the scientific basis for designing the management plan of the Central Indus Wetlands Complex.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment undertaken by the United Nations (UN) between 2001 and 2005 concludes that wetland ecosystems have provided a diversity of services vital for social welfare and poverty alleviation. It has established that services from wetlands, such as food and fibre are essential for the general well-being of surrounding communities.

Supporting and regulating services (such as nutrient cycling and flood flow retention) are critical to sustaining vital ecosystem functions that deliver many benefits to people. In addition, wetlands have significant aesthetic, educational and cultural values, thereby providing invaluable opportunities for recreation and eco-tourism.

The wetlands provide many marketed and un-marketed benefits to the people of surrounding areas and the total economic value of unconverted wetlands is far greater than wetlands that are lost or altered.

Both inland and coastal wetlands significantly influence the nature of the hydrological cycle and therefore the supply of water used for irrigation, energy and transport. Physical and economic water scarcity and limited or reduced accesses to water are major challenges facing the society and are key factors in limiting economic development in several developing countries. The continued degradation of water quality increases with the prevalence of disease, especially for people dependent on the water supply and for species such as the Indus dolphin that dwell in these waters.

Major policy decisions in the next decades will need to address trade-offs among current and future uses of wetland resources. Particularly important trade-offs between competing users of water, water quality, land use and biodiversity. On this account, the Pakistan Wetlands Programme is a welcome opportunity and can provide a scientific basis not only to the leadership of the Environment Ministry, but also to development practitioners in taking informed decisions when it comes to the long-term sustainability of the wetlands in the country.

In addition to the Pakistan Wetlands Programme, the UNDP is also involved with its partners in the implementation of the Mountain Areas Conservancy Project, Sustainable Land Management Programme and Conservation of Species in Arid and Semi-arid Regions of Balochistan.

The State Environment Minister Malik Amin Aslam highlighted the importance and implications of the Indus River Blind Dolphin to the ecosystem. He also informed the media that budgetary allocations had been committed to monitor water quality throughout Pakistan and re-emphasised the need for protecting such endangered species.