The Ganges River Dolphin Conservation Project

Enhancing conservation of the endemic and endangered Ganges river dolphin.

Sarah Levine

Age 27, Nepal

PROJECT: Enhancing conservation of the endemic and endangered Ganges river dolphin.

Contact Sarah with any questions or to get involved at sarah@dolphinconservation.org.

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Tell us about the work you are doing to create a wilder world.

I am the Primary Investigator of a project that enhances conservation of the endemic and endangered Ganges river dolphin (Platanista Gangetica) through the engagement of local communities in citizen science-based data collection and livelihood enhancement; simultanteously, project partners lobby policymakers in order to develop effective GRD conservation policies. Finally, project partners will engage experts and stakeholders in Nepal and India to develop a bi-national GRD Trans-boundary Conservation Action Plan, which is essential to the long-term conservation of the migratory species.

This initiatives proposed under this project are critical to revitalizing and conserving the understudied and highly endangered Ganges river dolphin; recent studies, riddled with inconsistencies as they are, estimate that fewer than 50 Ganges river dolphin individuals exist in Nepal (and it is likely that this is a generous estimate). If threats to the species – including regional and localized habitat degradation, water pollution and competition for fish – continue, it is expected that the small remaining population will continue to dwindle.

Through our project, IUCN-Nepal collaborates with the locally based NGO, the Dolphin Conservation Centre (DCC), to engage local fishing communities and high school students from socio-economically marginalized groups and castes within the Karnali-Mohana in the data collection using a tailored mobile phone application that enables even those that are illiterate to collect data. The data will be submitted and analyzed with support from the Government of Nepal’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation and the IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group.

The Ganges River Dolphin Conservation Project also conducts a series of livelihood enhancement and diversification training programmes for the fishing-based communities within the Karnali-Mohana watershed, in order to promote sustainable use of riverine resources as well as the surrounding land in the watershed.

While important chemical, biological and dolphin abundance surveys are being carried out by local citizen scientists and students, the project partners are empowered to lobby policymakers at the local, regional and national levels to develop policies that address the root causes of Ganges river dolphin decline and support Nepal’s School and Teacher’s Association in implementing a watershed-based environmental education curriculum. Further, the project partners engage a binational team of conservation biologists and freshwater ecologists to work towards developing a Ganges river dolphin trans-boundary conservation action plan; funding received under this grant will be used to bring stakeholders together in a bi-national policy planning workshop and produce a white paper for dissemination among policymakers in both Nepal and India.

 

What are five (5) of your short term goals to accomplish in the next 1-2 years?
The overall project objective is to conserve the Gangetic river dolphin by engaging local communities in critical data collection, increasing awareness at local and policy-making levels, and strengthening stakeholder inter-relationships to promote GRD conservation at the watershed and trans-boundary levels. We are working to:

1. Acquire an annual count of fish species richness and diversity based on location and correlation with human activity
2. Acquire an annual count of aquatic insect family richness and diversity based on location and correlation with human activity
3. Establish a water quality baseline to use as a platform for the development of a bi-national Ganges River Dolphin Conservation Action Plan between India and Nepal
4. Establish and follow a baseline method for dolphin population counting, by assessing the minimum abundance of GRD at high, medium, and low river volumes
5. To bring our research and conservation objectives to fruition we must educate and empowerm the local indigenous community.

 

What are some of your long term goals to accomplish in the next 5-10 years?
The long-term conservation results are the following:
1. Development of a trans-boundary GRD Conservation Action Plan between India and Nepal utilizing baseline water quality and dolphin abundance data to provide a guideline for improved conservation of the GRD and its freshwater habitat.
2. Dissemination of conservation results through various forms of media to local, regional and international audiences/ stakeholders to share project progress, communicate lessons learned and galvanize additional GRD conservation action.
3. Strengthened ties with relevant entities in both Nepal and India; enhanced conservation efforts through the establishment of a research and conservation hub for Gangetic river dolphin conservation in the Karnali-Mohana
4. Empower minimal level literacy local communities to push change in legislation and influence advocacy of sustainable development with regard to their region and beyond; support them as liaisons for marginalized indigenous people with regard to access to healthy watershed, and beyond.

 

How can others help you accomplish these goals?
1. Promote Tourism in Nepal: The main driver for the community to conserve the local ecosystem is tourism. This brings forth environmental stewardship and generate income for the local community. Contact us about linking with local homestays to support our culturally rich indigenous communities. If you would like to stay in a luxurious jungle lodging and still support dolphin tourism, that is also a fantastic way to promote and advocate GRD conservation with your wallet. The tourism industry will listen to your requests and continue to support our partnerships.

2. Raft for River Dolphins Annual Fundraiser: Through a partnership between some of Nepal’s 5-star hotels and lodges, IUCN, Nepal Rafting Association, WWF and local stream ecology and cetacean experts, we are inviting the pub main fundraising event:Raft for River Dolphins. Should you have any interest in promoting or participating in our event, please reach out to us.

3. Riparian Afforestation Programme: Plant local trees in memory or honour of loved ones. Your donation of a tree will help us adapt to and combat climate change as well as provide an oasis for our lower energy level acquatic insects to flourish before being brought up the food chain to GRD. We’ve experienced over a 40% loss in fish species within the Karnali-Mohana due to unsustainable development practice and them moving up north for cooler waters.

4. In-Kind Donations of Equipment/ Supplies: If you would like to make an in-kind donation, please email sarah@dolphinconservation.org.

Some of the items we could greatly benefit from (new/ gently used) are the following…
-Digital Camera (GoPro is preferred)
-Kayaks/ Rafts and paddling gear (new/ used)
-Refurbished Smartphones (androids are compatible with our mobile app.)
-Refurbished Laptops or tablets
-Satellite phones or walkie talkies
-Life jackets
-Handheld VHF radios

 

How can the public get involved with your project/work?
Volunteer from your home: If you are interested in volunteering for dolphins remotely and have over 5 years of experience in editing; data analysis; computer programming; economics and another skill-set that you see fit for our work, please email sarah@dolphinconservation.org.

Support Dolphin Tourism: VISIT US anytime of the year. If you have an interest in volunteering with us and supporting local homestays, contact us and we’d love to hear how you’re able to contribute. Also, to learn more about supporting our efforts on the ground while experiencing the majestic Wild West of Nepal through our annual Raft for River Dolphins Trip, email: sarah@dolphinconservation.org

International support for Watershed Monitoring: Since the founding of the Dolphin Conservation Centre in 1994, tens of thousands of locals have united for the protection of this vulnerable flagship species. Our community enjoys seeing and learning about watershed monitoring programs throughout the world. Let us know if you’re interested in forming a partnership between our schools and yours! Send us videos of your team out in the field and we would love to facilitate dialogues between our students.

 

What are some lessons you have learned/what would you have done differently?
Stewardship is established through locals seeing the value in conservation. We, like most conservation initiatives, focus a substantial amount of energy and time on research. The research and numbers are meaningless without local action. This is why we are making the promotion of dolphin and riverine tourism a top priority of ours. We want the local community to feel the economic gains and investments made by conserving their biologically diverse and rich watershed.

 

Any words of advice or wisdom?
In Western Nepal, I spend a great deal of time in the fishing and farming village of Dhungana Tol. Despite living under a dollar a day, falling annually victim to floods, this community teaches me that everyone has the ability to give. For over 3 decades, the entire village has played an active role in Ganges river dolphin conservation and education throughout their district at a cost of their valuable time and many instances money that would have been used for their sustenance. It’s about garnering that connection between the giver and the cause, noticing their potential, and empowering them. I have seen and believe this continuum of giving extends to all economic levels and am in-turned empowered and motivated by their lessons on generosity.

Conserving the Ganges river dolphin through the engagement of local communities in citizen science-based data collection and livelihood enhancement

Project partners also lobby policymakers in order to develop effective GRD conservation policies.

We are working towards developing a Ganges river dolphin trans-boundary conservation action plan between Nepal and India.

The main driver for the community to conserve the local ecosystem is tourism.