Chilka Lake (Chilika Lake) is a brackish water lagoon, spread over the Puri, Khurda and Ganjam districts of Orissa state on the east coast of India, at the mouth of the Daya River, flowing into the Bay of Bengal, covering an area of over 1,100 sq km. It is the largest coastal lagoon in India and the second largest lagoon in the World. It is the largest wintering ground for migratory birds on the Indian sub-continent. The lake is home to a number of threatened species of plants and animals. The lake is an ecosystem with large fishery resources. It sustains more than 150,000 fisher–folk living in 132 villages on the shore and islands.
The lagoon hosts over 160 species of birds in the peak migratory season. Birds from as far as the Caspian Sea, Lake Baikal, Aral Sea and other remote parts of Russia, Kirghiz steppes of Mongolia, Central and southeast Asia, Ladakh and Himalayas come here. These birds travel great distances; migratory birds probably follow much longer routes than the straight lines, possibly up to 12,000 km, to reach Chilika Lake. In 1981, Chilika Lake was designated the first Indian wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.
According to a survey, 45 percent of the birds are terrestrial in nature, 32 percent are waterfowl, and 23 percent are waders. The Lagoon is also home to 14 types of raptors. Around 135 rare and endangered Irrawaddy Dolphins have also been reported. Plus, the lagoon supports about 37 species of reptiles and amphibians. The highly productive chilika lagoon eco-system with its rich fishery resources sustains the livelihood for many fisher men who live in and near the Lagoon. The water spread area of the Lagoon ranges between 1165 to 906 km2 during the monsoon and summer respectively. A 32 km long, narrow, outer channel connects the lagoon to the Bay of Bengal, near the village Motto, recently a new mouth was opened by CDA which has brought a new lease of life to the lagoon.
Flora And Fauna:
The ecological richness of the lake is of great value in preserving the genetic diversity because of the multiplicity of its habitat, flora and fauna. (Some are pictured in the photo gallery). The Zoological Survey of India (ZSI) surveyed the lake between 1985 and 1988 and identified 800 species of fauna, including many rare, endangered, threatened and vulnerable species, but excluding terrestrial insects. The rare and threatened animal species identified are green sea turtle (EN), dugong (VU), Irrawaddy dolphin (VU), blackbuck (NT), Spoon billed sandpiper (CR), limbless skink and fishing cat (EN). 24 mammalian species were reported. 37 species of reptiles and amphibians are also reported.
Recent surveys revealed an overall 726 species of flowering plants belonging to 496 genera and 120 families. This represents about one - fourth of the vascular plant species of the Orissa state where some 2900 species altogether are found. Fabaceae is the most dominant plant family followed by Poaceae and Cyperaceae. Certain species were found to be characteristic of specific islands. The flora is predominantly of aquatic and sub-aquatic plants. Overall 726 species of flowering plants belonging to 496 genera and 120 families have been recorded. Fabaceae is the predominant plant family followed by Poaceae and Cyperaceae. The species reported are leguminosae, poaceae, and cyperaceae; endemic cassipourea ceylanica; five species of seagrass, and more.
Chilika Lake is the largest wintering ground for migratory birds, on the Indian sub-continent. It is one of the hotspots of biodiversity in the country. Some species listed in the IUCN Red List of threatened animals inhabit the lake for at least part of their life cycle. White bellied sea eagles, greylag geese, purple moorhen, jacana, herons and flamingos, Egrets, Gray and Purple Herons, Indian Roller, Storks and White Ibis, Spoonbills, Brahminy Ducks, Shovellers and Pintails, and more. Migratory water fowl arrive here from as far as the Caspian Sea, Baikal Lake and remote parts of Russia, Mongolia, Lakah, Siberia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and from the Himalayas. A census conducted in the winter of 1997-98 recorded about 2 million birds in the lake.
Nalbana Bird Sanctuary:
Nalbana Island is the core area of the Ramsar designated wetlands of Chilika Lake. Nalbana means a weed covered island In the Oriya language. It is a major island in the center of the lake and has an area of 15.53 sq km (6.00 sq mt). The island gets completely submerged during the monsoon season. As the monsoon recedes in the winter, lake levels decrease and the island is gradually exposed, birds flock to the island in large numbers to feed on its extensive mudflats. Nalbana was notified in 1987 and declared a bird sanctuary in 1973 under the Wildlife Protection Act.
As per the Chilika Development Authority’s (CDA) updated data (2002), 323 aquatic species, which includes 261 fish species, 28 prawns and 34 crabs are reported out of which sixty five species breed in the lake. 27 species are freshwater fishes and two genera of prawns. The remaining species migrate to the sea to breed. 21 species of herrings and sardines of the family Clupeidae are reported.
Dolphins: The Irrawaddy Dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) is the flagship species of Chilika lake. Chilka is home to the only known population of Irrawaddy dolphins in India and one of only two lagoons in the world that are home to this species. It is classified as Critically Endangered, in five of the six other places it is known to live. A small population of Bottlenose dolphins, also migrate into the lagoon from the sea. Chilika fishermen say that when Irrawaddy Dolphins and Bottlenose Dolphins meet in the outer channel, the former get frightened and are forced to return toward the lake.
Some Irrawaddy dolphins used to be sighted only along the inlet channel and in a limited portion of the central sector of the lake. After the opening of the new mouth at Satapada in 2000, they are now well distributed in the central and the southern sector of the lake. The number of dolphins sighted has varied from 50 to 170. A 2006 census counted 131 dolphins and the 2007 census revealed 138 Dolphins. Out of the 138 dolphins, 115 were adults, 17 adolescents and six calves. 60 adults were spotted in the outer channel followed by 32 in the central sector and 23 in the southern sector.
Nalaban Island: The 15 sq km Nalaban Island is within the Lagoon and is the core area of the Ramsar designated wetlands. It was declared a bird sanctuary under the Wildlife Protection Act in 1973. It’s the heart of the park where one can seen thousands of birds descending during the migratory season. The island disappears during monsoon season due to inundation, and post-monsoon, the island emerges again. The vast lake harbours 225 species of fish, a wide variety of phytoplankton, algae and aquatic plants, and also supports over 350 species of non-aquatic plants. The other areas where high concentrations of birds are recorded are Gerasara, Parikud Island, and the western shores of the Northern sector. Chilka Lake is one of the best bird watching spots in India, and is also popular for fishing and angling.
- Puri: This holy city is famous for the late 11th century built Jagannath Temple. The other major attraction here is the beach, from where you can witness the glorious sunrise and equally mesmerising sunset. It’s said that a visit to Puri is incomplete without visiting Chilika Lagoon.
- The Nirmaljhar Waterfall: This is an ideal place for pitching your picnic tent. The beautiful waterfall is located nearly 12 km from Chilika Lagoon.
- Satpada: This place is located at a distance of around 55 km (34 mt) from Puri, on the eastern side of the Chilika Lake. This place is surrounded by lagoons from the three sides, which makes this place an amazing tourist spot for nature lover.
- Ramba Bay
- The Becon Island
- The Breakfast Island
- Honeymoon Island
- Somolo And Dumkudi Island
- Bird's Island
- Kalijai Temple
- Chourbar Shiva Temple
- Sand Bar and Mouth of the Lake
The lake is well connected by road to Chennai and Kolkata through National Highway No 5. Satpara town on the eastern bank of the lake is about 50 km (30 mt) by road southwest of the city of Puri and at a distance of 100 km (60 mt) from Bhubaneswar
, the capital of Orissa, which is also the nearest airport. A broad gauge railway line of the South Eastern Railway from Kolkata skirts along the western bank of the lake passing through Balugaon, Chilika and Rambha stations.
Within the lake precincts, Orissa Transport Development Corporation Ltd (OTDC) and the Revenue Department of the state government offer boat cruises. Private operators also provide country boats on hire to various islands in the lake. There are OTDC Guest houses at Barkul, Rambha, Satapada & several hotels at Balugaon. Before entering into the Nalbana Bird Sanctuary one has to obtain an entry permit. The entry permit has to be produced at entry/exit points, at check gates as and whenever requested by officials.