May 22 is observed in world as ‘International Biodiversity Day (IBD)’. The 25th anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on Biological Diversity is being marked this year. Naturally, the IBD theme this year is ‘Celebrating 25 Years of Action for Biodiversity’. This is not time only for celebration in Goa but a real wake-up call for biodiversity stakeholders to audit at micro-level what has been lost in past 25 years and what biodiversity still exists.
Biodiversity is studied and understood at three levels – ecosystem, species and genes. Two distinct biomes or eco-regions define Goa – the Western Ghats towards the east and the Arabian Sea towards the west. The ecosystem diversity of Goa thus envelops – marine, continental shelf, intertidal, coastal, estuarine, freshwater, grasslands, forests and agroecosystems. Within these ecosystems exist thousands of habitats and microhabitats which support many species. Published data shows that more than 8000 species have been reported in Goa. But this number doesn’t include the known microbial diversity – phyto and zooplanktons, archaea, eubacteria, cyanobacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa etc.
Beyond species we have genetic diversity – an evolutionary endowment depending on geographical and environmental factors. This is mostly visible in local agrobiodiversity under heavy attack from multinational seed companies. Nowhere in world one would find a variety of edible tubers like the “kate kanagyos” of Keri, Sattari. These cylindrical, sausage shaped tubers with thin sticky skin and distinct spines are very rich in digestible starch and are highly recommended as probiotic food supplement. Multinational seed companies aim to introduce hybrid tubers to finish the spiny tuber cultivation culture. Local watermelons, local cucumbers, local chillies, local cucurbits, local tubers, local brinjals, local lentils and pulses are under attack by the hybrid seed promoters who aim to create a monoculture of crops by decimating 3500 years old agrobiodiversity.
There is stiff competition to steal or shop for beneficial genes from Goa’s diversity of crops which these companies insert to produce hybrid seeds. State and central government departments and agencies are dancing to the tunes of these powerful, resourceful, politically influential market forces. How much rice diversity Goa has lost in 25 years: almost 90 per cent or 55 strains. How much is the loss of local chillies or capsicum diversity: about 50 per cent or 15 strains. How many local varieties of mango were lost in past 25 years: more than 25 or 30 per cent. The most shocking is near extinction of ‘pipryos’ the local, crisp, spiny cucumbers- consumed raw. Farmers in Ponda, Bicholim, Sanguem, Canacona and Dharbandora talukas were brainwashed to replace the 3000 years old cucumber varieties with tasteless, smooth hybrid cucumbers.
Ten ‘biodiversity erosion forces’– irrational land use changes, unsustainable mining, unsustainable ecologically destructive tourism, irreversible habitat fragmentation, haphazard industrialisation, unsustainable urbanisation, entry of exotic invasive species, aggressive promotion of state subsidised hybrid crop varieties and ecological simplification by popularising crop monocultures are decimating biodiversity of Goa. The past 25 years are marked not by any positive, productive, protective action but by ‘inaction for biodiversity’.
At what rate whole ecosystems, habitats and species, their genetic pools are being destroyed in Goa? Why glamorous species like tigers are promoted and sharks, dolphins, otters, ant eaters/pangolins, toddy cats, fireflies etc are neglected? Huge amount of ecological and taxonomic work has been done on microbial biodiversity of salt pans in Goa but now these habitats are under threat. Goa had 80 springs and fountains 25 years ago, now less than 30 would be found. In the past 25 years botany department in Goa University has done phenomenal work in surveying and cataloguing local actinobacteria (about 23 species), micro and macrofungi (more than 800 species), ecologically important mycorrhizal fungi (more than 100 species), phytoplanktons (more than 80 species), cyanobacteria, red, brown, green algae, ferns (more than 50 species), seaweeds (more than 80 species), lichens, tubers, medicinal and insectivores plants, rice varieties, wildflowers etc. But if anyone visits the original sampling sites nothing would be found there now because of human interference.
Biologists of National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) have been documenting marine and estuarine biodiversity of Goa since 1973. They are consistently reporting man made pollution as biggest threat to biodiversity. It has already affected fish and shellfish diversity. Crab catchers in Agacaim, Cortalim, Sancoale, Bhoma, Kundaim, Amone used to report giant crabs, each weighing more than two kilograms 25 years ago. Now these giant crabs have almost vanished. ‘Kale khube’ or the tasty small black clams are found only in the Moira River, Bardez would soon vanish. Goa is one of the few places on earth where people consume edible estuarine fern- Acrostichum aureum, locally known as ‘ankur’ harvested from wild mangrove habitats from May to September. From more than 50 harvesting locations along the estuaries and creeks, 25 years ago now the availability has come down to 15 to 20 sites mostly along the Cumbarjua canal and few locations in Mandovi basin.
There is total inaction on biodiversity of inland freshwater fish because fisheries department is only promoting exotic predatory fish for inland aquaculture. Konkani scholar Prakash Porienkar in his ecoanthropological study (chapter 17, 229-276) (https://archive.org/details/Mhadei-kallzantlyanKagdar..anEcoanthropologicalStudyOfMhadeiRiverBasin) has reported how biodiversity of freshwater fish in upper reaches in Mandovi basin is being systematically destroyed by use of explosives, fish poisons and other illegal capture practices. Goa is actually fighting a hopeless losing battle to save and conserve what remains.