In India, protecting ecosystems as a business priority
At the mouth of India’s Godavari River lies a delta that teems with life. Beautiful and vulnerable species such as olive ridley, leatherback, and green turtles and the elusive water-loving fishing cat make their homes in the Godavari River Estuary, along with more than 200 bird species.
Nearly 600 square kilometers of mangrove forests also lie within the region: the second-largest concentration on India’s east coast.
A Global Environment Facility-funded initiative implemented by the UN Development Programme in collaboration with the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department has made major strides in raising awareness about the benefits of protecting this ecologically sensitive area from a growing roster of threats.
The project centered on the potential of biodiversity mainstreaming, which means working with business and government to ensure that the preservation of nature becomes a core priority in all the policies and activities that affect it.
This is the thinking behind the creation of the EGREE (East Godavari River Estuarine) Foundation, which works to make sure coastal and marine biodiversity is factored into local decision-making.
The cross-sectoral body includes officials responsible for everything from fisheries and aquaculture to tourism and industry – plus representatives of the public – and has worked with several sectors to reshape their strategic goals to prioritize nature protection alongside growth.
For example, the EGREE Foundation helped the fertilizer company Coromandel International set up a bird sanctuary on its grounds to safeguard local and migratory species.
Factoring the environment into commercial and economic decisions makes sense, and not just because human activities have triggered a massive and accelerating species loss.
All the benefits that humanity derives from nature – including crop pollination, carbon sequestration, and flood protection – underpin our ability to generate economic growth.
According to estimates from the OECD, these ecosystem services are worth $125 trillion to $140 trillion each year – or 1.5 times the size of total global economic output.
The highly biodiverse Godavari River Estuary offers its inhabitants everything from food to flood defenses.
Within the region lie a number of ecologically important zones, including the Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary, which encompasses 235 square kilometers of mangroves. There is also Hope Island. A teardrop-shaped land mass with a 16 kilometer sand spit, Hope Island provides both natural storm protection for the Kakinada Coast and a vital nesting site for olive ridley turtles.
By working to make these delicate ecosystems a consideration in industrial policy and planning, the GEF-funded UNDP project “Mainstreaming Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Conservation into Production Sectors in the Godavari River Estuary in Andhra Pradesh State” has aimed to safeguard them from dangers posed by rapid economic growth in the area.
The estuary is home to petrochemical refineries, aquaculture facilities, and factories that produce everything from ceramics to pharmaceuticals. The discharge of effluents and pollutants from these operations into the Godavari River and Kakinada Bay has long damaged fish stocks and coastal ecosystems.
Subsistence and commercial fishing has also created pressure points. With fish stocks reduced by such factors as pollution and overfishing of juvenile fish, some of those who depend on the sea for income have resorted to unsustainable methods such as fishing out of season or using nets with non-regulation mesh.
The GEF project set out to reduce such pressures on ecosystem health by working across the industries and sectors, helping to raise sensitivities among all those living and working in the area.
By training local people to act as turtle base camp watchers, the project team created a network of committed allies in the fight to save the olive ridley turtle. Thousands of olive ridley nests now lie under the network’s protection.
Turtle watcher Sangani Veera Venkat told the GEF there were no protections in place for the gentle beasts until the project was implemented.
“The turtles would come to lay eggs, of course, but almost all the eggs were eaten by jackals or poached by the local communities,” he said, estimating that of the 70 to 100 eggs laid by a typical mother turtle, only four hatchlings would make it safely to the sea.
“Thankfully, there is increased awareness among the local communities now, ever since the project engaged locals like us to take up turtle conservation activities,” Sangani said. “People watch us and they understand that it’s illegal to poach the turtles. Some villagers have even volunteered to help me and at times, when I’m out patrolling, they help carry the sticks, nets, buckets, and things that I need for protecting the turtle nests.”