Idyllic Habelikhati Island at Bhitarkanika readied for nature lovers

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Kendrapara: Good news for nature lovers and explorers as they can now rejoice the splendid beauty of the idyllic Habelikhati Island at Bhitarkanika National Park (BNP), prepped up by the Odisha government as part of its eco-tourism initiative.

According to a forest official, three well-furnished guest houses have been readied on the island to host visitors from November 1.

“Habelikhati, an unpopulated region in Kendrapara district, is a nature’s paradise with dense forest cover and sea surrounding the island,” said Bimal Prasanna Acharya, divisional forest officer (DFO) of Rajnagar Mangrove (wildlife) Forest Division.

The DFO said, “The newly-built tourist facility in the island would become a favoured eco-tourism destination for both for the domestic and the international visitors.”

Earlier, the forest department had built a tourist cottage on the island, but it was ravaged by marauding sea waves. The new guest houses, built very close to the sea, have now been readied to weather all odds, claimed Acharya.

The island is also a favoured nesting ground for endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles. “One could enjoy the breathtaking sight of turtles invading the beach en masse to lay eggs by digging pits with their flippers. The turtles are sighted during the nesting season between February-March,” the DFO said.

Besides, Habelikhati island will also make for an ideal spot to sight Gangetic dolphins, Acharya said.

“Bhitarakanika National Park is one of the largest mangroves wetland. The green cover bordering the island is home to wild boar, jungle cat, fishing cat, hyena, sambar, striped palm squirrel and water monitors.”

It will take just about half-an-hour to reach the scenic island on boat from the national park, Acharya said, and added that the forest department strives to ensure safe and comfortable sojourn of visitors who throng here in large numbers every year to savour the warmth of the wetlands.

The Bhitarkanika sanctuary was declared a protected forest in 1961, with 672 km of its area declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1975 and its core area of 145 km declared a National Park in 1998.

The forest has more than 300 plant species of about 80 families, including 94 species of mangroves and associates of 28 families.

It has other unique features like the largest number of saltwater estuarine crocodiles in the world, 300 species of indigenous and migratory birds and mass nesting of Olive Ridley turtles.

It has also 24 species of crabs and two species of horseshoe crabs. A community management system and participation of the people in the development of the area are other important features of the site.

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