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Chilika Lake

Date of Submission: 15/04/2014
Criteria: (ix)(x)
Category: Natural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Odisha State
Coordinates: N19 28 to 19 54 E85 05 to 85 38
Ref.: 5896
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Description

Chilika Lake is a brackish water lake and a shallow lagoon with estuarine character spread across the districts of Puri, Khurda and Ganjam in the state of Odisha in eastern India. Fed by 52 rivers and rivulets, the waterspread area of Chilika varies between 900 to 1165 sq. km. during summers and monsoon respectively. The pear shaped lagoon is about 64.5 km. long and its width varies from 5 to 18 km. It is connected to the Bay of Bengal by a 32 km long and 1.5 km wide channel that mostly runs parallel to the Bay separated by a narrow spit whose width varies between 100 m to several kilometres.

The lagoon can be broadly divided into four ecological sectors based on salinity and depth, namely the southern zone, the central zone, the northern zone and the outer channel. A number of islands are present in the lagoon, prominent among which are Krushnaprasad, Nalaban, Kalijai, Somolo and Birds Islands.

A survey of the fauna at Chilika by the Zoological Survey of India in 1985-87 recorded over 800 species in and around the lagoon. The list includes a number of rare, threatened and endangered species including the Barakudia limbless skink.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Chilika Lake is the largest brackish water lake with estuarine character that sprawls along the east coast of India. It is considered to be the largest lagoon in India and counted amongst the largest lagoons in the world. It is the largest wintering ground for migratory waterfowl found anywhere on the Indian sub-continent. It is one of the hotspot of biodiversity in the country, and some rare, vulnerable and endangered species listed in the IUCN Red List of threatened Animals inhabit the Lake area for atleast part of their life cycle. On account of its rich bio-diversity, Chilika lake was designated as a "Ramsar Site", i.e. a wetland of International Importance. The Nalaban Island within the lake is notified as a Bird Sanctuary under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. The National Wetlands, Mangroves and Coral Reefs Committee of the Ministry of Environment & Forests, Government of India, have also identified the lake as a priority site for conservation and management. The Lake is a highly productive ecosystem, with rich fishery resources. The rich fishing grounds sustain the livelihood of more than 0.2 million fisherfolk who live in and around the lake. It has a great heritage value and maritime trade to the far east countries used to take place from here.

It is also the largest wintering ground for migratory birds on the Indian sub-continent and supports some of the largest congregation of migratory birds from large parts of Asia, particularly during the winters that arrive from as far as the Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Aral Sea, remote parts of Russia, Kirghiz steppes of Mongolia, Central and South East Asia, Ladakh and the Himalayas to feed and breed in its fertile waters.

Criterion (ix): The Chilika lake is of estuarine character in an ephemeral environment. It has been indicated in the geological studies that in the Pleistocene era, the north-eastern region was lying under the sea and the coastline extended along the western shore of the lake. It is supported by the fact that the Konark Sun Temple which was originally built on the seashore is now about 3 km away from the coast. A fossil found on the south-western edge of the respect indicates the formation of the lake about 3500 to 4000 years ago.

The lake has several islands and form important habitat for the birds and animals. The hydrological system of the lake comprises of inflow of freshwater on a perennial basis from the Mahanadi river, and several rivers which are not perennial. On the east side the lake has the Bay of Bengal. The unique ecological system of the lake represents significant ongoing ecological and biological process and supports important communities of plant and animals on its freshwater coastal and marine ecosystem.

Criterion (x): Chilika lake is a assemblage of marine, brackish and freshwater ecosystem, that support amazing biodiversity. It is a home to highly endangered Irrawaddy dolphin. As per the 2013 census, about 150 dolphins are found here and is, therefore, considered as the largest lagoon supported population of the World. It is the largest wintering ground of migratory birds in Indian sub-continent and support about 225 species at different part of their life cycle. The rich fish fauna comprising of about 317 species sustain the livelihood of more than 0.2 million fishermen.

The health of the ecosystem as per the assessment made by Chilika Development Authority in collaboration with Maryland University, USA, is considered as excellent. The sea grass meadows of the lake are expanding in spite of anthropogenic pressure, which is a sign of healthy ecosystem. Thus the lake contains the most important and significant actual habitat for in situ conservation of biological diversity including rare species of birds and animals. Thus it is an outstanding example representing significant ecological and biological process in evolution of marine, brackish and freshwater ecosystem.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The lake is a unique habitat that comprises of Marine, brackish and freshwater ecosystem and supports any biodiversity comprising of birds and aquatic animals. The migratory birds of the lake are protected under Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 and the part of the lake comprising important habitat has been notified as a Sanctuary for protection of the migratory birds. The lake is also regulated under Coastal Regulation Zone Notification – 2011. The lake has also been designated as a Ramsar site since 1981. The lake was included in the Montreux Record (Threatened list) in 1993 by Ramsar Secretariat due to the change in the ecological character of the lake ecosystem. Susequently, however, due to successful restoration of the lake ecosystem by Chilika Development Authority it was removed from the Montreux Record in 2002 (first site from Asia).

Chilika lake is in the priority list of Government of India and the State Government of Odisha for conservation and maintenance of its unique ecosystem and life form. The successful restoration of the lake by Chilika Development Authority has emerged as a global example.

Comparison with other similar properties

There are several lakes and lagoons inscribed as World Heritage, some of these being the Rock Islands Southern Lagoon (Palau), the Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems (France), Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley (Kenya), Lake Turkana National Parks, (Kenya) and Lake Malawi National Park (Malawi). However, Chilika is comparable to each for a select aspect only, and not it totality.

Rock Islands Southern Lagoon is a Mixed site and consists of numerous forested limestone islands within a marine lagoon supporting rich biodiversity. Lagoons of New Caledonia represent diversity of coral reefs and associated ecosystems. The Kenya Lake system comprises of 3 interlinked alkaline shallow lakes and supports some of the highest bird diversities in the world, including many endangered species. Lake Turkana comprises the largest saline desert lake in the world surrounded by an arid landscape often devoid of life but serves as a stopover for migratory birds and as major breeding grounds for the Nile crocodile, hippopotamus and a variety of venomous snakes. Lake Malawi with its deep clean waters is renowned for its fish biodiversity.

Chilika shares some attributes with each but in itself presents a unique case, as one of the largest lagoons in the world, brackish in nature with estuarine character. It is the largest winter ground of migratory birds in Indian sub-continent and home to more than 150 highly threatened Irrawaddy dolphin, which is the largest lagoonal population globally. Apart from its amazing biodiversity, it is unique in its aesthetic and rich cultural heritage with the highly productive fishery resources of the lake sustaining the livelihood of more than 0.2 million fisher-folk.