Situated on the eastern coast of Odisha, Chilika Lake is the largest shallow water lagoon in Asia. Each year the lake hosts nearly 2 million migratory birds belonging to more than 150 species. Mangalajodi wetland, located on the north-western bank of Chilika Lake, is one of the important sites where migratory birds congregate in large numbers during winter months.
Purple Heron in Mangalajodi wetland © Paromita Ray, WCS-India
It is also a popular eco-tourism destination that attracts thousands of birdwatchers, wildlife photographers and tourists. The uniqueness of the Mangalajodi wetland lies in that the entire eco-tourism industry is managed by the villagers of Mangalajodi. Considering the rising popularity of this site as a birding destination and recognizing the fragility of the wetland, WCS-India, with the support of Indian Grameen Services and the local communities, has initiated a study to estimate the carrying capacity of ecotourism activities in the wetland.
In this regard, a team from WCS-India comprising Ms. Paromita Ray (Program Associate) and Mr. Vishal Rasal (Research Assistant) made a preliminary visit to Mangalajodi from 26th May to 6th June, and held discussions with different stakeholders. The Mangalajodi wetland primarily lies in the freshwater zone of Chilika Lake.
A glimpse of the Mangalajodi wetlands © Paromita Ray, WCS-India
The team took a short boat ride into the wetland for a quick visual assessment of the physical expanse and ecological status of the area that is being utilized for tourism activities. Nearly 25 species of birds were recorded during this preliminary visit.
Bird survey during the preliminary visit to Mangalajodi wetland © Paromita Ray, WCS-India
The team interacted with local villagers, and different groups involved in eco-tourism to get an understanding of the activities, the number of tourist boats operating in the wetland, and annual tourist footfall in the wetland. Issues of waste management and route management of the boats were rigorously discussed. A meeting was also arranged with the Sarpanch of Mangalajodi village to understand the role of the Gram Panchayat in coordinating between the various stakeholders and government bodies.
Purple Moorhen recorded during the preliminary visit © Paromita Ray, WCS-India
The team also met with Dr. A.K Mohapatra, IFS (Chief Wildlife Warden, Odisha Forest Department) as well as Shri Bikash Ranjan Dash (Divisional Forest Officer (WL), Chilika) to apprise them of the goals and objectives of this study. A visit was also made to the office of the Chilika Development Authority (CDA) in Bhubaneshwar, which is the nodal agency of the Government of Odisha mandated to protect the biodiversity and regulate different activities in Chilika Lake. The team members met Shri M.K Jana (Assistant Conservator of Forest, CDA) and discussed on-going conservation activities carried out by CDA and future plans on eco-tourism in other parts of Chilika Lake.
The wetland area used for eco-tourism activities in Mangalajodi © Paromita Ray/WCS-India
Today three groups from the village are primarily engaged in eco-tourism providing an alternate livelihood directly to over 100 villagers. This village has come a long way – from a chequered history as a major hotspot of bird poaching, to being the strongest advocate of protecting the wetland and its avian denizens; its community-based eco-tourism model is now being emulated in other villages of Chilika Lake.
Boat trips into the wetland are organized for the tourists during winter season © Mangalajodi Ecotourism
The community-based eco-tourism model in Mangalajodi wetland is a great example of how a local community if empowered, can play a crucial role in conservation and better management of the natural ecosystems. The local villagers (who are now poachers-turned conservationists) with support from RBS Foundation India and Indian Grameen Services (IGS) formally initiated the community-based ecotourism activities in Mangalajodi in 2009. Since then, the ecotourism activities have not only provided the local villagers with an alternate source of livelihood but also a strong incentive for conserving the wetland and birds of Mangalajodi.