Tuesday September 26, 2023

Indus River Canyon declared second Marine Protected Area of Pakistan

By our correspondents
January 08, 2018

The country’s second Marine Protected Area (MPA) has come into being after the Ministry of Climate Change declared the Indus River Canyon, Pakistan’s exclusive economic zone in the Arabian Sea, as one through a notification.

The Indus River Canyon MPA comprising 27,607 square kilometres is the second such area in Pakistan after Astola Island, which was notified on June 15, 2017 by the Balochistan government.

According to the notification issued on Saturday by Ministry of Climate Change Secretary Syed Abu Ahmed Akif, the Indus River Canyon has been declared an MPA under Pakistan’s national obligation under the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of the UN Convention of Biological Diversity.

The convention, to which Pakistan is a signatory, requires nations under Article 2 to designate, regulate and manage geographically defined areas (protected areas) to achieve specific conservation objectives.

By declaring the Indus River Canyon an MPA, Pakistan has achieved compliance to Aichi Target 11, which requires that by 2020 at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas of a country are conserved. The Astola Island MPA has an area of 400 square kilometres, thus by declaring Indus River Canyon an MPA, Pakistan has achieved 11.2 per cent of the Aichi Target 11 of its marine areas.

World Wildlife Fund-Pakistan congratulated the federal secretary Syed Abu Ahmad Akif on taking a proactive action in declaring the Indus River Canyon an MPA. According to Muhammad Moazzam Khan, WWF’s Technical Advisor on Marine Fisheries, the Indus River Canyon is a deep fissure located about 150 kilometres southeast of Karachi in the exclusive economic zone of Pakistan and southwest off the mouth of the Indus River.

It extends in the offshore waters with a maximum depth of about 1,800 metres. The Indus Canyon has unique physical features, with sloping margins falling steeply to a depth of 1,800 metres and then entering the deep Arabian Sea Basin.

The Indus Swatch is known to be rich in biodiversity including cetaceans, sharks, fish and different species of invertebrates. It is an important fishing ground especially for large sharks whose population has been dwindling due to uncontrolled fishing practices, the WWF-Pakistan official said.

The Indus River Canyon MPA is home to rich mega fauna including whales and dolphins. It is reported that about 19 species of cetaceans such as baleen whales, toothed whales, and other whales and porpoises are known to live in the area.

Moreover, some species including rough toothed dolphin (Steno bredanensis) and stripped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba) are only reported from this region along Pakistan’s coast. The Longsman’s beaked whale (Indopacetus pacificus) has also been found here.

Khan said this area is an important hunting ground for Russian whaling fleets, which hunted 164 Arabian humpback whales in 1966 from there. Most of the hunted females were observed to be pregnant indicating that this area is an important breeding ground of these rare whales.

In addition, this area was also an important feeding ground for these whales as most hunted whales contained sardines and pelagic shrimps in their stomachs, which indicates richness in productivity of the newly-formed MPA. Aside from the diversified cetacean and elasmobranch (sharks) fauna, the Indus River Canyon is known to have rich fisheries resources.

Khan pointed out that the declaration of the Indus River Canyon as an MPA ensures that the biodiversity of the area will be conserved. It will also ensure that protected, threatened and endangered species such as crustaceans, coral, mammals, sharks, turtles, whales, and mobulids will be conserved. Moreover, whale sharks, sunfish, guitarfish and seabirds will not be harvested or killed.

“This will ensure conservation of these species whose population is drastically declining along the coast of Pakistan,” he added. Dr Babar Khan, WWF-Pakistan regional head for Sindh and Balochistan, also appreciated the climate change ministry’s efforts in the declaration of the Indus River Canyon as an MPA.

“WWF considers that this initiative will help protect marine ecosystems, processes, habitats, and species, which can contribute to the restoration and replenishment of resources for social, economic, and cultural enrichment,” he said.

He maintained that WWF works around the world to ensure that critical habitats are protected and restored, and continue to provide multiple benefits to people and livelihoods.

“WWF-Pakistan started to collect information about the Indus River Canyon in 2012 especially about shark, cetaceans and other animals, which helped highlight the area’s rich biodiversity and the critical need for conservation,” he added.