Home to rare flora and fauna and locally revered as a “mother” — provider of life to all — loktak lake in Manipur is facing serious ecological threats due to intensive human activities, siltation and pollution, environmentalists have cautioned.
In a study published in the latest journal of the Current Science, they said North-East’s largest lake, spread over 287 square km area needs urgent conservation, being one of the most productive ecosystems that support livelihood of locals as well as diverse and unique habitats, including that for Sangai, endemic and endangered deer found only in Manipur.
The most unique feature of the loktak lake is the presence of a series of floating islands locally known as phumdis — the massive heterogenous masses of soil, vegetation and organic matter in different stages of decay and present in various sizes. locals use these structures for agriculture purpose and even build houses on them. On one of the largest phumdis lies world’s largest floating park, Keibul lamjao National Park.
However, the researchers have noted that the construction of the Ithai barrage without proper planning has led to uncontrolled proliferation of Phumdis, thus reducing the open lake area.
“This has blocked the migratory pathways of a number of fish species and degradation of catchment areas. Thus, owing to versatility of this natural habitat of diverse groups of micro and macroflora, there is an urgent need for conservation of this fragile ecosystem.
“The life of thousands of people living in this area is dependent of the lake itself. The destruction of this lake will ultimately result in the loss of natural habitat for birds, fishes, wild animals, livelihood and also industrially and agriculturally important microbes,” said the team of researchers including Komal Salkar, Milind Mohan Naik and Vishwanath Gadgil from Goa University, Santosh Kumar Dubey from BHU and Radha Raman Pandey from Manipur University.
The lake is home to a rich ecosystem harbouring 81 species of birds, 25 species of reptiles, six species of amphibians and 22 species of mammals, migratory fish from Chindwin-Irrawaddy basin of Myanmar, migratory waterfowl and an endangered species of Eld’s deer, the Sangai.
People of Manipur are dependent on loktak lake and phumdis for different economic activities like fishing, agriculture, fish farming, trading of lake products, traditional handicraft made of lake products such as mats, baskets and other woven goods, etc. The ethnic group of Manipur, Meitei see the lake as a mother-provider of life to all.
The lake has been included under the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.
The study has been supported by SERB-DST Fast track Young Scientist Project, Science and Engineering Research Board - Department of Science and Technology.