Hope for the hornbill
The Hindu reports:
The Environment Ministry has taken the side of conservationists fighting for the survival of 300-odd Narcondam hornbills, threatened by a Coast Guard plan to set up a radar surveillance system on the tiny island in the Andamans where the birds make their home.
On August 31, the Ministry of Environment and Forests issued an order rejecting the proposal, suggesting that the Coast Guard explore other options, “like installation of off-shore structures and several other viable options…which can spare the unique habitat of Narcondam Island from disturbance,” pointing out that “there is no such option available for the hornbill whose survival may get seriously threatened if the establishment of proposed radar is allowed on the Narcondam Island.”
The island in question spans less than seven square kilometres, and its mixed tropical forests are the only place in the world where these colourful birds are found. During the time of egg-laying and chick-rearing, the female birds shed their flight feathers, rendering them as vulnerable as the now-extinct — and similarly flightless — dodo.
A little more about the island can be gleaned from Wikipedia:
The island is formed from a volcano, which had not known to have been active in recent times, until on June 8, 2005 there were reports of “mud and smoke” being ejected from the volcano. The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake is thought to have caused magma to move underground and may be related to the current activity. If the reports were accurate this would alter the scientific status of Narcondam to active. Further to the south west (approximately 150 km) lies the active volcano island of Barren Island. Narcondam Island is about 160 miles from Burma, is about 160 miles from Port Blair, and is almost 800 miles from Vishakhapatnam.
Narcondam Island holds the easternmost point of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Until 1986 Burma claimed sovereignty over the island. This claim was given up on reaching agreement with India on the delimitation of the maritime boundary between the two nations in the Andaman Sea, the Coco channel and the Bay of Bengal.
Narcondam Island’s mountain, at 710 meters is the second tallest point in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the first being Saddle Peak, North Andaman Island at 732 meters.
There is a police outpost and a lighthouse on the island. Goats were introduced in recent times, causing changes to the ecology. The current step is probably in the right direction, but the short attention span of conservation bodies probably dooms the island ecology anyway. As increasing numbers of cruises and tour groups pull into anchorage, this single act will not suffice to save the island.
One is reminded of the MoEF’s decision to ban the Indian neutrino experiment from a forest site which already had a hydro-electric power project and a large number of illegal hotels. As long as the conservation movement in India banks on attention deficit media attention, there will be cause celebres, but no cause for celebration.