What would you do if you see all that you have in life sinking right in front of you? Ghoramara, an island 150 km south of Kolkata, in the sensitive Sunderbans delta complex of the Bay of Bengal, has earned the stark sobriquet of “sinking island”. Once it spanned  20 sq km. Now it is reduced to an area of 5 sq km.

“Over the last two decades I’ve lost three acres of cultivable land to the Muriganga river and had to shift home four times. There has been no resettlement initiative from the government,” says Anwara Bibi, 30, a resident of Nimtala village on the island.

Global warming, high tides and floods play havoc on fragile embankments, displacing hundreds of islanders every year. “Most men have migrated to work in construction sites in southern India,” says Sanjeev Sagar, Panchayat Pradhan of Ghoramara Island.

More than 600 families have been displaced in the last three decades, leaving around 5,000 residents struggling with harsh monsoons every year.

“A large-scale mangrove plantation could prevent tidal erosion. With every high tide a part of the island is getting washed away,” says Sugata Hazra, a professor at the School of Oceanographic Studies, Jadavpur University.

Only those without means to migrate are left. Recent research conducted by the School of Oceanographic Studies has estimated that 15 per cent of Sunderbans would sink by 2020, with the possibility of Ghoramara disappearing from the map altogether.

The sinking island 0
The sinking island 1

The fragile embankment often gives away to large tidal waves causing widespread inundation, resulting in loss of cultivable land and animals.

The sinking island 2

Rising sea levels have washed away more than 50 per cent of Ghoramara area since 1980s. Two-thirds of its population have been forced to take refuge in the adjacent Sagar Island.

The sinking island 3
Ghoramara, located at the mouth of Bay of Bengal, is connected ot the nearest harbour Kakdwip, by the Muriganga, a distributary of the Ganga.
The sinking island 4

Salt water inundation has increased soil salinity, making agriculture difficult. Betel vine cultivation is one of the major sources of income for islanders. But rising water levels have washed away acres of plantation leading to a severe financial crisis.

The sinking island 5
Saraswati Patra, 14, a student of the Ghoramara Milan Vidyapeeth stands on the edge of a broken coastline.  Adversity has even affected the overall literacy rate on the island. 
The sinking island 6

Factors like erosion, embankment failure, cyclone and storm surges are leading to habitat loss, resulting in large-scale migration from the Island.

The sinking island 7
Only a handful of families dare to stay along the coastline, haunted by past experiences of nature’s wrath. The sinking of Ghoramara can be attributed to a confluence of disasters, both natural and human, not least the rising sea.
The sinking island 8

The Sundarbans are among the world’s largest groups of delta islands. The sensitive ecosystem has been drastically altered because of extensive erosion on its eastern side.

The sinking island 9

Sonali Khatun, 13, a class  VII student of the Ghoramara Milan Vidyapeeth. Frequent flooding makes it difficult for
students to reach the school.

The sinking island 10
Erratic cyclonic storms and storm surges have proved deadly to islanders who have lost several acres of household and agricultural land to the waters.
The sinking island 11

Bhogoboti Dolui, 12 stands on an almost uprooted tree near Hathkhola village. Constant flooding and surging tides wash away the soil, which eventually uproot the trees.

The sinking island 12

Passengers walk the plank to board a trawler. The low tide makes it difficult for the boat to come closer.

The sinking island 13

Chaya Mondal, 76, waits near the water line, where trawlers return with the day’s catch.