Sundarban is the largest deltaic region of the world and encompasses over hundreds of islands (105), with a maze of innumerable rivers, rivulets, and creeks. The name ‘Sundarban’ means “beautiful forest” and it is believed to be derived from a mangrove tree species ‘Sundari’ (Heritiera fomes). The Indian Sundarban is the southernmost part of the estuarine delta formed by the River Ganges and Brahmaputra, bordering the Bay of Bengal. It is located little south of the Tropic of Cancer between the latitudes 21°51’ and 22°31’N, and longitudes 88°10’ and 89°51’E, mainly in the coastal districts of West Bengal, i.e. South 24-Parganas and North 24-Parganas (Arbesi Block only). The Dampier-Hodges line separates the Sundarbans from the rest of West Bengal. There are villages in the fringe area all along the northern boundary of the Tiger Reserve. On the eastern boundary lies Bangladesh separated by the rivers Kalindi, Raimangal, and Harinbhanga. On the western boundary lies the territorial division of 24-Parganas south and towards the south lays the Bay of Bengal.
Legal Status and Administrative Units
Sundarban Tiger Reserve encompasses a total area of 2584.89 km2 (w.e.f. 23.12.1973). The legal status of the Reserve is as follows:
Sajnekhali Wildlife Sanctuary: 362.40 km2 (vide Notification No. 5396-FOR, dated 24.06.1976)
Sundarban National Park: 1330.10 km2 (vide Notificaton No. 2867-FOR, dated 04.05.1984)
Reserve Forest: 892.43 km2
Critical Tiger Habitat: 1699.62 km2 (vide Notification No. 6028-For, dated 18.12.2007)
Buffer Area: 885.27 km2 (vide Notification No. 615-For/11M-28/07, dated 17.02.2009
Significance of Sundarban Tiger Reserve
One of the first nine Tiger Reserves declared under the Project Tiger scheme in the year 1973.
The National Park area of the Tiger Reserve is a natural World Heritage Site, which was declared in the year 1987.
The Sundarban Tiger Reserve is a part of the Sundarban Biosphere Reserve, which is one of the few globally recognised Biosphere Reserves in the country. It was declared as a Biosphere Reserve in the year 1989.
It constitutes over 60% of the total mangrove forest area in the entire country and has 90% of the total Indian mangrove species.
The Sundarbans has been classified as a Tiger Conservation Landscape of global priority, as it is the only mangrove habitat (along with the Bangladesh), which support a significant tiger population.
The Tiger Reserve is home to a large number of endangered and globally threatened species like the tiger (Panthera tigris tigris), fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrina) and estuarine crocodile (Crocodilus porosus), Gangetic (Platanista gangetica) and Irrawady Dolphin (Oracella brevirostris), king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah), water monitor lizard (Varanus salvator) etc.
It harbours significant populations of the river terrapin (Batagur baska), which was once believed to be extinct.
viii. It is the nesting ground for marine turtles like Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) and Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata).
The mangroves serve as nurseries to shell fish and fin-fishes and sustain the coastal fisheries of the entire eastern coast.
It is known as a kingfisher’s paradise as out of the 12 species of kingfishers found in the country 8 species are found here.
Two species of horse shoe crabs (which are considered as living fossils as they are thought to be more than 400 million years old), i.e. Tachypleus gigas and Carcinoscorpius rotundicauda out of the four species found in the world are found here.
The mangrove forests act as a natural shelter belt and protect the hinterland from storms, cyclones, tidal surges, sea-water seepage and intrusion.