Satapada, Orissa: The critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins here in the Chilika Lake which are a tourist attraction generating Rs 80 crore in annual revenue may be coming to harm from increasing noise pollution from private tourist boats.
"We make sure that the 18 boats we operate make little noise lest it disturb the dolphins. But around 250 private boats operating in the lake throughout the day make a lot of
noise," said B P Praharaj, a tourist officer at Puri.
Dolphins being slow-moving are prone to injuries in collisions with mechanised tourist boats and their propellors, B C Choudhury, a scientist with the Wildlife Institute of
India, told reporters.
Tourists trying to have a closer look at the mammals urge boatmen to move close to them, while the hundreds of mechanised boats operating in the dolphin habitat also create
noise pollution, he said.
Tourists are also known to interfere in social activities of dolphins like mating, hunting and suckling.
"During their reproduction period from July to January, special care needs to be taken to keep at a distance from them," Choudhury said.
The population of 158 dolphins attracts 150,000 tourists each year at the dolphin watch point here, 50 km from Puri, generating around Rs 80 crore in annual revenue.
"The state has gone overboard with the projection of dolphins as a tourist attraction. Now the responsibility to safeguard them also lies with them. It would be foolish to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs," Choudhury said.
"Restrictions should be imposed on tourists. Allowing tourists to enter all areas of the habitat should be stopped," he said.
He said that propeller guards should be made mandatory for all boats plying in the lake.
Ritesh Kumar, regional coordinator of Wetlands International (South Asia) said, "tourist pressure has increased over the years in the Chilika Lake after the success of the conservation programmes. The involvement of the local community is important for safeguarding dolphins."
Wildlife activist Biswajit Mohanty, however, said "Dolphins get killed due to unwanted human intervention." He stressed on the need to have a study on the population
dynamics, habitat utilisation and threats to the dolphins.
The Chilika Development Authority (CDA), however, claimed that guidelines are in place for the safety of dolphins.
"We have set guidelines for tourists and boatmen operating in the area. We have also trained boatmen on how not to negatively impact the movement of dolphins. Tourists are
also sensitised," said Dr Ajit Kumar Pattnaik, chief executive officer of CDA.
During the peak tourist season, the CDA also patrols the dolphin habitat to ensure that tourists boats keep at distance of 50 metre from the dolphins.
"The increase in population of the dolphins over the past few years is an indicator that our programme has been a success," Pattnaik said.