Chilika Lake

Key Contact

Parikshit Gautam
(Director, Freshwater & Wetlands Conservation Programme)
WWF India,
New Delhi Main

T: +91 11 41504820

Chilika lake is actually an estuarine lagoon shallow throughout its spread. The lake is connected to the sea by a 29 km long irregular channel with several small sandy and generally ephemeral islands.

Its part freshwater and part saltwater character, very high productivity and the presence of a variety of habitats in and around the lake allow the proliferation of an amazing number of species. Chilika is one of the terminuses on the migratory flyways and some of the largest congregations of aquatic birds in India can be seen here, particularly in winter.

Brackishwater lagoon that sprawls along the coast of Orissa, Chilika attracts the largest concentration of migratory waterfowl found anywhere on the Indian sub continent. It is also famed for its fishery resources. It harbours an assemblage of marine, brackishwater and freshwater biota, a number of which are now listed in the endangered, threatened and vulnerable categories. On account of its rich biodiversity,Chilika was designated as a Ramsar site in the year 1981. While the marshy tract of Nalabana within the lake is a notified bird sanctuary, the entire wetland has also been identified as a priority site for conservation and management by the Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India.

Justification for Designation as Ramsar Site
Over a million migratory waterfowl and shore birds winter here and it comprises a substantial portion of the migratory flyway of several waterfowl.
Over 400 vertebrate species have been recorded.
As an estuarine lagoon, it supports a unique assemblage of marine, brackishwater and freshwater species.
Several endangered, rare, threatened and vulnerable species are found here;eg. Irrawady dolphin, dugong, green sea turtle, spoonbill.
Supports fisheries that are a lifeline to a community of over 100,000 fisherfolk and contributes significantly to India's international trade.
The lagoon is of great value in preserving genetic ecological diversity because of the variety of habitats, flora and fauna.

Chilika Lake
Biodiversity Values

A survey revealed an overall 706 species of flowering plants belonging to 488 genera and 119 families. This represents about one-fourth of the vascular plant species of Orissa where some 2700 species altogether are found. Fabaceae is the most dominant plant family followed by Poaceae and Cyperaceae. Certain species were found to be characteristic of specific islands.

A major survey by Zoological Survey of India (ZSI)in 1985-88, revealed over 800 species present in and around the lagoon excluding terrestrial insects. The fauna includes many rare, endangered, threatened and vulnerable species highlighting its importance as an internationally important wetland. Among the rare and threatened are green sea turtle, dugong, blackbuck and fishing cat. Among the endangered bird species are the, white bellied sea eagle and peregrine falcon. The ZSI survey has also identified some 217 fish species: sixty five species are known to breed within the lake and several other species migrate to the sea to breed. Some 37 species of reptiles and amphibians were also recorded during the survey apart from 24 mammalian species.

Wetland supports 27 species of freshwater fishes and two genera of prawns. The lake abounds in 21 species of herrings and sardines of the family Cupeidae alone. The most common fish in the lake is Callichrous bimaculatus and Wallago attu. The fish is so called because most of them are provided with whisker like barbels arranged round the mouth. Bonnet monkeys frequent the banks. Notable migratory birds are teals.

Social & Cultural Values
The rich fishing grounds support a large number of fisherfolk. Prawn culture is an important activity. Fish production has social, economic and cultural ramifications. After 1987, fish production has however gone down. But after October 2000, following opening of the Chilika mouth, fish catch showed a definite increase.

The past two decades have seen a lot of transformation in the ecological and social character of Chilika. Natural and anthropogenic problems include:

Changes in salinity level.
Increase in weeds and aquaculture activites. These had pushed Chilika into the Montreux Record - a comprehensive list of wetlands which have experienced changes in ecological character and need urgent conservation intervention.

Conservation Measures
The Chilika Development authority (CDA) set up in 1991 and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) along with other agencies initiated several eco-restoration mea sures with the participation of local community. A key reason for Chilika 'revival is the opening of the lake' outer channel near Maggermukh which helped the lake have a better exchange of water with the sea and helped improve its salinity level.

The conservation steps have made over 500 sq km area weed - free. The catch of fish has also shown significant improvement. Due to better management practices and significant improvement in the ecological condition of the Chilika lake, it has been removed from the Montreux Record in November 2002.

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