Pune garden, Ratnagiri beaches to become bio-heritage sites, have you visited them yet?

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The Anjarle creek in Ratnagiri

Here’s some good news for Maharashtra.

Three spots from the state – Pune’s historical Ganeshkhind garden, home to several medicinal plants, and turtle-nesting beaches of Anjarle and Velas in Ratnagiri district – will soon be declared protected biodiversity heritage sites (BHS).

Bio-diversity heritage sites are ecologically fragile spots with biological, ethnic and historical value. The Biological Diversity Act, 2002, recognises areas whose biodiversity is under threat to be marked as BHS for conservation.

Crested hawk and crab found at Velas. (Mohan Upadhye)

The country currently has eight such sites, including Darjeeling, Manipur, Bengaluru, Chikamagalur and Shimoga in Karnataka.

  • A site gets this title if it has richness of wild, domesticated species or intra-specific categories, high rate of endemic species (not found in other locations), or rare and threatened species that have cultural, ethical or aesthetic values
  • 22 species of mangroves, 27 species of wild flowers and 17 species of coastal invertebrates (crabs, lobsters, jellyfish, starfish etc.)
  • While Anjarle has 41 species of birds, Velas has 16
  • Both the locations have documented marine mammals, protected under schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, such as short-nosed common dolphin, Indo-Pacific humpbacked dolphin, common bottlenose dolphin and sperm whale

Allapalli – a six-hectare dense forest patch in Naxal-affected Gadchiroli district – was notified by Maharashtra in July 2014.

Officials from the state biodiversity board said the Pune Municipal Corporation proposed Ganeshkhind as a BHS site last month.

Anjarle and Velas were nominated by the state mangrove cell in March this year.

“Ganeshkhind has a rich history, along with a number of medicinal plants. It has been protected for centuries now. Velas and Anjarle both display the successful marine conservation practices demonstrated by local communities,” said Vilas Bardekar, chairman, Maharashtra State Biodiversity Board (MSBB).

Ganeshkhind in Pune.

“These locations currently have the tag of proposed BHS. The process of final notification takes some time, but we expect it to be completed by October.”

The 145-acre Ganeshkind garden, located in the campus of National Agricultural Research project (NARP) of the Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth, in the west of Pune, dates back to 1796.

“While this botanical garden was formally inaugurated by GM Woodrow of the East India Company in 1873, the garden’s actual date traces back to a time when it belonged to the Peshwas – the Brahmin prime ministers to Maratha kings,” said Bardekar. “History has it that the Peshwas planted the first mango tree (hapus), which still exists in this garden. The first fruit from the tree was exported and sent to then British monarch King George III.”

Anjarle in Ratnagiri. (Mohan Upadhye)

The garden has dense plantation of trees along a nullah runs that empties into the Mutha Mula River. “During the British era, the principal objective of this garden was to supply drugs to the medical department,” he said.

The beaches that will be declared as BHS are prime turtle nesting spots.

Velas beach saw 750 turtle hatchlings across 11 sites this year, while Anjarle beach had 400 turtle hatchlings across six nesting sites. Olive Ridley turtles are the dominant species that come here to breed.

“We are observing a drop in turtle hatchlings and nesting sites over the years due to destruction of their natural habitat and overfishing. There is an immediate need to protect these sites. The BHS tag will help tremendously,” said N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell.

Olive Ridley turtle hatchlings at Velas. (Mohan Upadhye)

He said both locations were studied under the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), an international agency Coastal Marine Protected Areas (CMPA) project, along with the mangrove cell from November 2016 to February 2017.

“Once it gets the heritage site tag, it will boost community-based conservation. The local people will get better impetus to protect these sites from impending dangers,” said Vasudevan.