Conservationists Worry About the Effects of the World's Longest River Cruise on Ganges Dolphins

Conservationists Worry About the Effects of the World's Longest River Cruise on Ganges Dolphins

Earth has been blessed with numerous wonders that will take your breath away, especially in person. You'll be overwhelmed and grateful for the chance to live and experience its beauty. For this reason, tourism became a significant industry in society. Each country has tourist spots that a lot of people include in their itineraries whenever they go on a visit. You don't want to miss out on those majestic attractions, such as the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Amazon Rainforest, Sahara Desert, Mount Fuji, or the Great Barrier Reef.

Seeing the world with your own eyes can make you appreciate it more — you may wish you had extra time to visit more captivating sights one by one. That's why it's only right to maintain nature's beauty and the natural resources found in those attractions. Businesses that heavily depend on the environment for tourism must protect what was given to them. However, some tourist activities are deemed dangerous by conservationists. Recently, they have warned about the world's longest river cruise in India.

The river boat MV Ganga Vilas started its voyage on January 13, 2023, and was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. According to reports, the river cruise will journey through 3,200 kilometers of water in India and Bangladesh. The MV Ganga Vilas will pass through the Ganges river to take its guests to five states in Western India. Tourists will have the chance to see national parks, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and other city attractions. Prime Minister Modi has a lot of expectations for the program, especially since it can play a huge role in developing the country's tourism. He said, "This will be an unprecedented cruise of its kind in the whole world. It will also be a reflection of the growing cruise tourism (industry) in India."

Many people might anticipate the 51-day river cruise, but environmentalists are not too happy about it. Life in the river could be immensely affected, primarily Ganges dolphins. The cruise's route includes Kaithi Village, 30km from Varanasi at the Ganges and Gomti Rivers' junction. Around the area is the habitat of the Ganges dolphins, which is highly protected due to the threats the creatures are facing. Before the MV Ganga Vilas cruise, the dolphins were in a perilous state due to pollution, water extraction, and poaching.

 width= Photo: Youtube/The Hindu

Back in the 1990s, Ravindra Kumar Sinha took action to persuade the government to protect the lives of the Ganges dolphins. Until now, he has been part of the movement and believes that the river cruise is an additional risk factor that must be prevented. Their efforts to maintain and increase the population of the underwater mammal will be all in vain if it continues. Ganges dolphins are almost blind and utilize echolocation clicks to swim through the rivers and find food. The MV Ganga Vilas will only disturb the sanctuary, especially because the dolphins are sensitive to noise.

Along with three researchers, ecohydrologist Jagdish Krishnaswamy conducted a study regarding the response of Ganges dolphins to underwater noise produced by motorized vehicles. The team used cetacean and porpoise detection devices to record and log data for their observation. They discovered that dolphins show a negative response when exposed to noise. It increases stress, alters foraging behavior, and causes fatigue. Furthermore, dolphin injury and death are often a result of navigational confusion due to underwater noise making them crash into water vehicles and get caught up in propeller blades.

Before the MV Ganga Vilas began its voyage, there was an existing cruise between Varanasi and Kolkata. However, the Jal Marg Vikas Project, or National Waterway-1 in the Ganges, was funded by the World Bank and utilized by the Bharatiya Janata party government. It was a project to promote tourism and cargo movement, which they claimed was eco-friendly. And now, with MV Ganga Vilas, Kashif Siddiqui, marketing director of Antara Cruises, also assured that they are being environmentally considerate. "We are following all the environmental precautions and government guidelines," he stated. The team also marketed the longest river cruise with the statement, "With sustainable principles at its heart, the Ganga Vilas incorporates pollution prevention and noise-control technologies to honour the ancient rivers traveled through."

 width= Photo: Youtube/SSIS Official

Apart from the threats of the 51-day cruise, 100 other cruise ships also sail in the inland waterways of the NW-1 Ganges and NW-2 Brahmaputra routes. The government is still planning to add more than 10-fold, which worries environmentalists. If the project pushes through, it may put the riverine ecosystem in a more problematic situation. But according to an environmental assessment conducted by the Inland Waterways Authority of India, the effects of noise on underwater species are trivial, and the mortality rates will not increase, because the animals will avoid the affected area.

Despite the assurance stated by the government, conservationists remain bothered by the tourism project. "Unlike the ocean, river landscape is restricted, and dolphins do not have a vast area to maneuver at the time of dredging activity," Sunil Kumar Chaudhary explained, which negated the statement of the Inland Waterways Authority. "If precautionary conservation principles are not applied today, waterways will not be sustainable in the long term. You cannot promote cruises on Ganga as eco-tourism while endangering the habitat and the existence of Gangetic dolphins," says Avli Verma from Manthan Adhyayan Kendra.

Ergil Ermeno

I strive to learn and excel more in content creation, including blog writing, graphic design, social media posts, and video editing. Photography is one of those skills that I take an interest in. However, I do not use my photography skills for work as I treat the activity as my hobby. My usual subjects are my pets and loved ones. The lovely fur babies at home make photography even more fun, especially now that I am in a remote setup for work.

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