Sambhar Lake needs faster restoration, says expert study

It is shrinking with degradation of soil and water quality

The world famous Sambhar Salt Lake in Rajasthan, which is constantly shrinking with the degradation of soil and water quality and a decline in the population of migratory birds, needs a faster restoration for conservation of its wetland and salt brine worth $300 million, an expert study on the lake’s ecology has said.

The lake, situated 80 km south-west of Jaipur, is the country’s largest inland saline water body which attracts thousands of migratory birds every year. The death of more than 20,000 birds belonging to about 10 species which migrate annually to the lake had made international headlines in 2019.

The birds foraging in the Sambhar marshlands had died due to avian botulism. The study, undertaken by a research team of the Central University of Rajasthan’s School of Earth Sciences, has recommended an urgent action to restore the lake’s ecosystem for protecting the birds and biodiversity as well as the salt production.

‘Mining menace’

Laxmi Kant Sharma, associate professor in the Department of Environmental Science, who led the research, told The Hindu on Tuesday that 30% of the Sambhar Lake’s area had been lost to mining and other activities, including the illegal salt pan encroachments. It has also threatened the livelihoods of local people who have always lived in harmony with the lake and its ecology.

The study team conducted geospatial modelling for 96 years, from 1963 to 2059, at a decadal scale with the integration of ground data on birds, soil and water. The satellite images were classified to cover Aravalli hills, barren land, saline soil, salt crust, salt pans, wetland, settlement and vegetation.

Dr. Sharma said while the past trends showed a reduction of wetland from 30.7% to 3.4% at a constant rate with its conversion into saline soil, which increased by 9.3%, the future predictions had depicted a loss of 40% of wetland and 120% of saline soil and net increase of 30% vegetation, 40% settlement, 10% salt pan and 5% barren land.

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