Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Brahmaputra's River Dolphins Threatened by Large Dams

Ganges River dolphin

One of India's three major rivers, the Brahmaputra, is under threat by the construction of large dams along its tributaries. In addition to that, this project is also posing a great threat to one of its rarest inhabitants, the Ganges River dolphin. According to dolphin expert Dr. Abdul Wakid, the Brahmaputra River is one of the last refuges for the dolphins compared to the Ganges River which is impeded by dams. Dr. Wakid, who is also the head of Aaranyak's Gangetic Dolphin Dolphin Research and Conservation Program, stated that the situation will change once the dams are put into place as proposed in Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya.

In his recent survey conducted in the Brahmaputra River system, Dr. Wakid and his team recorded 264 dolphins. Out of that, 212 were in the Brahmaputra mainstream, 29 in Kulsi river, and 23 in Subansiri river. He further pointed out that of the 168 proposed dams to be built in the Northeast, the Lower Siang, Dibang, and Lower Demwe, the Lower Subansiri and Kulsi dams have been seen as the most threatening for the dolphins' survival. Among the causes include reduction of sediment flow, which is necessary to the formation of strem channel islands and bars. Dr. Wakid believes that these changes will affect the dolphins by changing the prey type and seasonal availability, the geomorphology of dolphin habitat, and even disrupting the natural flow regime of the river. Also, the Siang, Dibang, and Lohit rivers are the main water sources of water for the Brahmaputra and that the construction will cause tremendous fluctuation in the water levels. Furthermore, this project may reduce the dolphins' upstream migration. One example was seen in the Ranganadi River in Assam's Lakhimpur district, which reduces the dolphins' summer distribution by about thirty kilometers.

I firmly agree with Dr. Wakid's observations and warnings about how the dams will affect the dolphins in the Brahmaputra. These magnificent species are highly endangered, and require great protection. With a total of 264 animals recorded in Brahmaputra, I feel that the need to protect them is crucial as the river happens to be the last refuge for them. So far, the tiger has been the center of attention as seen articles about the International Tiger Summit in St. Petersburg but it is also important to consider the protection of other endangered species in this world. The Ganges River dolphin is one of them.

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