Chilika Lake is a shallow lagoon with estuarine character, located in the Puri, Khordha, and Ganjam districts of Odisha in eastern India. With a salinity level that varies based on the region and tidal influence, Chilika Lake covers over 1,100 square kilometers and is fed by 52 rivers and rivulets. It has been recognized as a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site, making it one of the most important wetlands in the world.
Chilika Lake is pear-shaped and is about 64.5 km long, with a width that varies from 5 to 18 km. It is connected to the Bay of Bengal by a 32 km long and 1.5 km wide channel, mostly running parallel to the Bay, separated by a narrow spit, whose width varies between 100 m to several kilometers. The lake can be divided into four ecological sectors, namely the southern zone, the central zone, the northern zone, and the outer channel, based on salinity and depth. A number of islands are present in the lake, including Krushnaprasad, Nalaban, Kalijai, Somolo, and Birds Islands.
Chilika Lake is home to over 800 species, as recorded by the Zoological Survey of India in 1985-87, including a number of rare, threatened, and endangered species, such as the Barakudia limbless skink. It is considered to be the largest wintering ground for migratory waterfowl in the Indian sub-continent and supports some of the largest congregations of migratory birds from large parts of Asia, particularly during the winter months.
Designation as a Wetland of International Importance
Chilika Lake has been designated as a “Ramsar Site”, a wetland of international importance, on account of its rich bio-diversity. It has also been identified as a priority site for conservation and management by the National Wetlands, Mangroves, and Coral Reefs Committee of the Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India. The Nalaban Island within the lake has been notified as a Bird Sanctuary under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.
Livelihoods and Heritage Value:
The rich fishing grounds of Chilika Lake sustain the livelihood of more than 200,000 fisherfolk who live in and around the lake. It also has a great heritage value and was used as a hub for maritime trade to the far east countries.
Justification for Outstanding Universal Value:
Chilika Lake is a unique and highly productive ecosystem, with rich fishery resources and a high level of biodiversity. It supports important communities of plants and animals, including the largest population of Irrawaddy dolphins in the world and a large number of migratory birds. The lake represents significant ongoing ecological and biological processes and is considered to be of estuarine character in an ephemeral environment. The lake’s hydrological system comprises of inflow of freshwater on a perennial basis from the Mahanadi river and several other rivers, and the Bay of Bengal on the east side.
Chilika Lake is a magnificent wetland that is of great ecological and cultural importance. It is a unique and complex ecosystem that supports a rich and diverse range of flora and fauna, and is vital to the livelihoods of the local community. The lake is in need of protection and conservation, and its recognition as a potential UNESCO World Heritage Site is a step in the right direction.
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