There is wonderful wildlife news in India’s smallest state. Last week,
this newspaper first reported that a family of smooth-coated otters
(Lutrogale perspicillata) has taken residence in the spring-fed Saulem
lake of Pilerne. This much-abused water body has been plagued by
widespread garbage dumping, piped-in sewage, and the same menace of
haphazard construction that blights so much of the rest of Goa. But
there is obviously still some life in the once-pristine habitat, as it
obviously contains enough oxygen for sufficient fish to sustain
amphibious mammals. And so hope continues to flare for Goa’s
spectacular but gravely imperilled biodiversity.

Almost exactly the same time this exciting development filtered to the
public, members of the outstanding Goa Bird Conservation Network
( reported sighting black-legged kittiwakes in
the wetlands of Morjim. This would generally be considered an extreme
ornithological rarity, as there have been just around 10 confirmed
historic sightings in India, but this is the third year in a row the
small gulls have been spotted on the state coastline. They are just
one of several dozen species, literally birds of passage,  which
recuperate for a few days in Goa before resuming their annual
migration on the great “flyway” from Northern Europe and Russia to
more hospitable climes in the southern hemisphere.

Savio Fonseca, the author of ‘Birds of Goa’ along with Bikram Grewal,
says the continued seasonal return of migrant species is a strong
indication “all is not lost” for Goa’s environment, which still
manages to provide a crucial resting place for birds like the Amur
Falcon, which wing all the way from Siberia to South Africa and back
each year. Besides the predictable visitors, he points out that
several notable stragglers have been spotted recently, including the
bar-headed goose, pelicans, flamingos and – again sighted just this
week – the pied avocet, a most striking wader that adorns the logo of
the UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

There is considerable irony - with concomitant tragedy - that Goa
consistently ignores, overlooks and neglects its spectacular bounty of
environmental riches, while pursuing the fast buck in the worst
possible way via extraction, construction, and bog-standard tourism.
There are few places anywhere in the world as blessed, with a densely
packed array of micro-environments that range from coastline to
wetlands all the way to 600 square kilometres of the Western Ghats,
one of only eight “hottest hotspots” of biodiversity in the world. On
paper almost 20% of the state land mass is ring-fenced against
exploitation, but all those safeguards are under constant assault.

In her searing, superb ‘The Vanishing: India’s Wildlife Crisis’,
former member of the National Board of Wildlife and its core standing
committee, Prerna Singh Bindra wrote passionatedly about what is at
stake in Goa, where she used to return to “soothe my weary soul. I
would vanish into its less-visited interiors, trek its forests, kill
time in sleepy villages, stroll beaches more visited by turtles than
humans.” But over the years, “I have seen the ravages: Beaches and
villages covered in rotting trash, mountains flattened, forests
stripped bare and replaced by mounds of red dust of mined ore, green
fields, ponds and wetlands razed for hotels and gated colonies,
turtle-nesting beaches overrun by resorts, shacks, cafes, bazaars.”

Bindra makes it clear we are at a point of no return for the state
environment, with the likely last straw being the grotesquely
ill-conceived “second airport” project. She writes, “Prime Minister
Modi laid the foundation stone of the Mopa Greenfield Airport in
November 2016. The foundation stone was laid remotely, from a stadium
in Goa’s capital, Panjim, safely away from the actual site and
uncomfortable issues. He did not see the lush landscape, its natural
wonders or fecund fields that the airport will decimate…In laying that
stone, the prime minister endorsed not just a shoddy and inept EIA
[Environmental Impact Assessment report] but also sent a message that
wildlife, environment and people’s concerns are of little consequence
in the trajectory of India’s economic growth.”

This strikes home particularly hard in Goa, as we are only beginning
to tabulate the immensity of the threat. Bindra reiterates, “the scale
of the problem is enormous, dwarfing us with its harsh reality. And
burying our head in the sand only means we dig ourselves in deeper.”
This is a call to action, for the otters and kittiwakes, and all of
Goa’s singularly remarkable biodiversity bonanza. It took just a few
days of  2018 for there to be multiple signs that force is to
recognize and realize exactly what is at stake, in jeopardy of being
lost forever to future generations. Now it is up to both state and
civil society to work together to draw back from the brink to avert

Reply via email to