Over the past week or so, social media has been rife with mesmerizing photos of thousands and thousands of flamingos occupying the creeks and wetlands around Navi Mumbai in Maharashtra, India.
Contrary to popular belief, however, the ongoing coronavirus-influenced nationwide lockdown isn’t solely responsible for this phenomenon.
According to Deepak Apte, director of the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS), a combination of four factors—not all of which are positive—had led to the ongoing congregation of flamingos around the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), reveals a report in the Hindustan Times.
For starters, BNHS estimates that the flamingo population visiting the MMR is 25% higher as compared to last year. This spike is being attributed to the successful breeding of flamingos that was documented back in 2018, which has resulted in large flocks of juveniles visiting the sites this year.
Using grid technique, the Society estimates more than 1.5 lakh flamingos were seen in the MMR in the first week of April 2020.
The BNHS also believes there has been an overall increase in flamingo population in the range of 23-25% since 2019, but an accurate count will only be taken once the lockdown is called off.
Destruction of habitats around Mumbai
Secondly, a combination of developmental activities across several areas of Mumbai’s eastern seafront, and the destruction of wetlands in and around the city, has rendered Navi Mumbai as one of the few remaining locations for these birds to migrate to.
Therefore, scenes of flamingos forming an endless sea of pink in these areas is partly a result of the birds getting squeezed into the smaller, still-intact pockets in the Mumbai Metropolitan Area.
The lockdown itself
Even the ongoing lockdown has also made a notable impact in ensuring these birds are left undisturbed while they roost, attempt to obtain food, and thrive in an overall encouraging habitat.
Wetlands near Sewri and Thane Creek, along with Talawe wetlands, which comprise of NRI Complex, Seawoods, and TS Chanakya in Navi Mumbai, are areas that typically witness a lot of construction work and continuous movement of people. Amid the lockdown, however, these areas are much quieter, with negligible human activity.
And while a pause on industrial activity has led to a decline in industrial waste generation, the consistent influx of domestic sewage has allowed the formation of planktons, algae and microbenthos to continue undisturbed, thereby producing sufficient food for flamingos and other wetland birds.
According to Rahul Khot, assistant director, BNHS, flamingos start migrating from the Gujarat region, their breeding area, after the conclusion of monsoon, when water-filled regions in the state start drying up.
The birds then fly southwards to visit the MMR wetlands—the second-largest flamingo habitat along the west coast of India after Kutch, Gujarat—from November to May, primarily for feeding purposes.
However, thanks to the abundant availability of water through last year’s winter, flamingos’ arrival to Mumbai was delayed in 2020, and now, incidentally coinciding with the ongoing lockdown.
All in all, a combination of these aforementioned factors has brought to light the magic and beauty of this bird congregation in and around the financial capital of the country. Further, it also highlights the need to protect this bird species and conserving the wetlands they inhabit—something that can be achieved by declaring these areas as flamingo sanctuaries, says the BNHS.
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