Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lohachara Lost And Found

[For the first-timers: As the name suggests, this blog is about islands of the world heritage site of the Sunderbans -- a vast archipelago in the eastern India -- which are gradually getting wiped out because of certain geomorphological reasons. A section of media, however, has been highlighting the issue as a fallout of global warming and sea level rise. But there hasn't been any significant study to prove that. If we want to save the islands, we have to try and find out the real reasons behind the disappearance of these islands. In our first post, we had written about some experts' views on the issue. In the present post, we will visit an emerging island in the Hooghly estuary which, according to the media, had been permanently inundated by the rising sea waters.]

In the early 1970's, there was an island in the western Sunderbans (India) called Kakdwip Char. It was on the river called Muriganga, between Kakdwip and Sagar island. The small island was an uninhabited one, covered with thick mangroves and the woodcutters from Kakdwip used to visit the place quite often to fell trees illegally and sell the wood in the mainland.
Today, the Kakdwip Char does not exist. Only a handful of old-timers in Kakdwip know about it. The island just eroded away in course of time. It was just around two to three kilometres from Lohachara, "the world's first inhabited island that was permanently inundated by the rising sea waters" (or so it was claimed by some people).

Nobody ever claimed that Kakdwip Char had fallen prey to global warming. In fact, the warming enthusiasts across the world havn't even heard its name. They have however heard about Lohachara, which was "submerged by the rising sea" (despite the fact that the island is a good 35 kilometres away from the Bay of Bengal), leaving thousands of people homeless.
There is actually no doubt about the fact that the island of Lohachara vanished from the map like the Kakdwip Char in the late 1990's. But the reason was NOT global warming. It's just some geomorphological changes in the Hooghly estuary and some amount of human intervention that had caused the erosion of the island. We will discuss in detail about the changes in some later post. But for now, I can give some good news to those interested about the fate of Lohachara. And the news is that the LOHACHARA ISLAND IS EMERGING AGAIN. So, does it mean that the sea level is falling down? Not really. It's the very complicated and interesting geomorphology of the Hooghly estuary that is behind the re-emergence of the island. Anybody can go to Google Map or Wikimapia and can find out that emerging island in the south-west of Ghoramara (another endangered island). This blogger had physically gone to the place and walked upon the nascent island. And here is a news report that was published in the Kolkata edition of The Times of India (April 3, 2009) on that trip:

"2007. Kodak Theatre, Hollywood. The list of Oscar presenters includes Jack Nicholson, Meryl Streep, Leonardo Di-Caprio, Jennifer Lopez. Instead of the usual million-dollar goodies, each of them receives a small glass model called the Lohachara sculpture after an island which “in December, 2006, became the first inhabited island to be lost to rising sea levels caused by global warming”.

A little more than two years later, Lohachara island is emerging again. This was first noticed by Jadavpur University scientists in satellite images. This island in the western part of the Sunderbans — it was claimed — was the first inhabited one in the world to be inundated because of global warming. Along with this to go under water was the nearby island of Suparibhanga or Bedford, a land mass which was uninhabited, officially.

According to Tuhin Ghosh, senior lecturer, School of Oceanographic studies, JU, “Lo hachara and Bedford were there in 1975 satellite data. In 1990 pictures, a small portion of Lo hachara is visible. There’s no sign of Bedford. In a 1995 satellite picture, Lohachara had vanished. But in satellite pictures of 2007, you can see Lohachara coming back... It’s a revelation.”

An on-the-spot survey showed that the vanished islands are indeed emerging. One can walk around on it during low tide and just before high tide, the land mass rises around three feet above the water.

The emergence of this island is such a new phenomenon that even many residents of Ghoramara don’t know about its existence. “You will find nothing. Lohachara is not there. It has been eaten up by the river,” says Arun Pramanik.

But hiring a trawler to around one kilometre south-west of Ghoramara gives a different picture. The island is there in front of one’s eyes. Says boatman Mukunda Mondal (41), “Yes, the island is emerging. I have noticed it for the past one year. It’s clearly visible in winter.”

Judhisthir Bhuian, now a resident of Jibantala colony on the Sagar island, had his home on the Lohachara . He still goes back to the place where their house once stood. “A huge landmass is coming up, covering Lo hachara and Bedford,” he says.

According to Tuhin Ghosh, it is not unlikely. “The island can reappear because of different geomorphic reasons,” says Ghosh, who has worked in the area for around nine years and done his PhD on the Ghoramara island, around a kilometre north of Lohachara."