BY ASAVARI KULKARNI
Goa is a part of the Western Ghats, one of the world's most rich biodiversity hotspots. From time immemorial, people here have been living a sustainable life linked to biodiversity. The degree of intimacy that people share with nature can very well be seen in the etymology of Goan village names.
It’s interesting to note that the names of the villages are related to natural elements like trees, animals, water bodies, etc. Nearly fifteen villages in Goa are named after mango trees, some others after plants and trees such as kokum, banyan, tamarind and tulsi.
There are ten villages with names related to the tiger, three connected to peacocks, and five to snakes. You also have names associated with anthills, forest land, gardens, waterfalls and other water bodies.
Goa’s verdant flora and abundant fauna are also an integral part of its rich folklore and heritage. The popular term “susegad” also reflects the sustainable life of the people due to the availability of rich food and water resources.
The tradition of matoli decoration during Chaturthi, fests and jatras devoted to the harvesting season; various rituals involving the use of plants; different eco-theological practices like Maange Thapne (crocodile worship); and worship of the mother/earth goddess in the form of an anthill and a water pot (kalash) are ample evidence of the respect our ancestors had for nature.
From the beginning of life to the time of death, from sustenance to shelter, the people of Goa have been depending on their forest resources. Understanding this dependency, our ancestors conserved forests in the form of sacred groves.
While it is all well and fine to use our ancestors’ wisdom, only presenting it in academic settings, in books, at workshops and so on, we often forget to ask the most pertinent – what are we going to do with this knowledge?
We are aware of Goa’s biodiversity, however, do we have extensive records detailing information about it? Do we know how many species of life forms we have? We depend on news articles written by experts for figures.
In a small state like Goa, of 3702 sq km of area, we do not have an official document recording the exact species present in the state. It is only thanks to life scientists, research students, NGOs and some wildlife enthusiasts, who have out of their own interests documented various species in Goa, that we have collated some information.
Until recently, the official site of the Forest Department reflected only four species of snakes, a few mammals and some fish species. The discovery of new species and the documentation of existing species, including lesser fauna and flora, have now brought up-to-date our knowledge of what we have in terms of biodiversity.
But meanwhile, various threats posed by developmental activities, urbanisation, mining and land alteration have already led to the extinction of some of the species unknown to us. Recently there were episodes of forest fires in the deep forests of Goa. A huge area was burned to ashes, leading to great ecological loss. But could we quantify what exactly have we lost?
The government figures are all probabilities, with the inability to name species and calculate the numbers we must have lost. We often fail to recognise important species present right before our eyes. There is so little hope of knowing of species present in the deep forests.
Worldwide, the loss of biodiversity is always considered a matter of concern. Goan wildlife expert Dr Manoj Borkar, who is a treasure trove of knowledge on biodiversity, quotes in one of his articles that we often tend to underplay the scale of the damage we have done to our biodiversity. Biodiversity erosion is a key dent in the spectre of cumulative global damage the Earth has unfairly accrued due to human activities.
Parag Rangnekar, an expert member on the Goa State Biodiversity Board, says that at the pace at which we are destroying our plateaus, we are losing lesser-known fauna like butterflies and insects, which have not even been recorded by scientists so far.
Rajendra Kerkar, a well-known environmentalist, says that our ancestors lived happily with nature. Today, we are not only destroying the biodiversity of our state but also threatening the future of our younger generation.
We are celebrating World Biodiversity Day today, and the theme for this year is “From agreement to action: Build back biodiversity”. This theme is said to have brought a renewed sense of hope due to the Kunning-Monteral Global Biodiversity Framework.
This is an important framework that was adopted during the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 15), which supports the achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals, and sets out an ambitious pathway to reach the global vision of a world living in harmony with nature by 2050.
This bodes some promise amidst episodes of biodiversity loss all over the world. Fortunately, the Goa State Biodiversity Board in recent years is working relentlessly to plan and execute conservation methods for biodiversity, which is threatened because of various anthropological activities.
The formation of biodiversity management committees in all panchayats and the preparation of the People’s Biodiversity Register are some important steps towards biodiversity conservation. Some of the village-level biodiversity committees are voluntarily working towards the documentation and conservation of important species in their area.
The declaration of the state’s first biodiversity heritage site called Purvachi Rai at Surla, Sankhali; the conservation of windowpane oysters at Chicalim; the revival of salt pans in Agarwada; and the restoration of wetlands at various places are some examples of positive work by the BMC (Biodiversity Management Committees).
Another positive achievement by the Goa State Biodiversity Board is the preparation of the draft of the Goa State Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plan, for which data is being collected. This is based on the Kunning-Monteral Global Biodiversity Framework adopted by the UN last year.
A committee of 45 members was formed in the year 2022 for this work. The biodiversity plan for Goa will not only document the state’s biodiversity in minute detail, but Goa will be the first state in the country to initiate such documentation. This document will definitely help in conserving our rich biodiversity and may consequently allow our future generation to enjoy the susegad lifestyle.