It’s that time of year when flamingos fly from afar for hours before descending into Mumbai’s cooler climate to paint the beaches pink. After the monsoon withdrawal has been delayed for the past four to six weeks, the beauty birds have started congregating in large numbers in the Mumbai Metropolitan Area (MMR).
Since construction of the Trans-Harbour Link began in early 2021, their presence has declined somewhat close to the shore at Sewri on the city’s eastern shore, but there are still plenty of spots across Thane Creek (and beyond). Citizens can catch a glimpse of these colorful creatures.
Rahul Khot, deputy director of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), who is leading the first long-term survey to assess flamingos’ behavior and populations in Thane Creek, said the seasonal peak of flamingos populations was imminent. . “It takes about 12 to 17 hours for the birds to reach Thane Creek, and only after th monsoon rivers have dried up and food is scarce before they start leaving Gujarat’s breeding grounds. We arrived later than usual this year due to the prolonged rainy season,” said Khot.
“Mid-February to mid-April and early May are the best times to see them in the largest congregations. Also, many flocks fly farther south from Tamil Nadu and Kerala, stopping at Thane Creek on the return journey. Depending on the time of day, it can be seen from a few thousand distances even from Seri Pier, but at some distance,” Khot added.
Currently, mangrove cell officials at the State Forestry Department estimate that about 30,000 individuals have already arrived in the larger area of the Tane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary (TCFS). In 2021-2022, their numbers will reach a record 133,000 individuals, most of them greater flamingos.
MMR has been quick to incorporate its annual immigrants into local lore (Navi Mumbai has officially adopted the name ‘Flamingo City’), but the future isn’t rosy.
Not so long ago, the landscape around Uran, the fishing village of Navi Mumbai, was considered a bird-watching hotspot. In winter, flocks of flamingos and other migratory birds could be seen along the 30km-long wetland in the villages of Panje and Funde in Uran, south of the Jawaharlal Nehru port.
About three years ago, flamingos began to explode in numbers at the TSC-NRI wetland complex near Palm Beach road in Belapur, recently abandoned wetlands at Uran, yielding some of the most striking flamingo footage in MMR. It is speculated that there is a direct link between the Covid-19 lockdown and the explosion in flamingo numbers, and that the birds may not have been disturbed in the first place due to reduced human activity.
But the real reason is more complicated. Locals and environmental experts claim that Uran’s wetlands have been systematically reclaimed and dried. This is because dumping of mud and construction debris into water bodies and mangrove swamps has been a regular occurrence in the region for about a year. 10 years due to industrial and urban expansion.
At least four major wetlands – Panje, Belpada, Bhendkhal and Dastan Phata – have dried up completely in recent years either due to mud dumping or deliberate intertidal shutdown by the authorities. National Green Tribunal (NGT).
“The importance of these satellite wetlands cannot be overemphasized. The bridge across Thane Creek itself may not pose a threat to the future of these birds, but the destruction of these satellite wetlands certainly does,” said another researcher at BNHS.
There are six “Important Satellite Wetlands” identified by the Bombay Society for Natural History (BNHS) and proposed to be declared Conservation Reserves or Community Reserves to alleviate development pressures. This includes Bhandup (11 ha) in Panje, Mumbai. (124 ha), Belpada (30 ha), Uran’s Bhendkhal (8 ha), Navi Mumbai’s Chanakya training ship (13 ha) and NRI complex (19 ha). Proposals to protect these wetlands are pending with the Ministry of Forestry from 2020.