Already declared a Ramsar wetland site, the Bhitakanika National Park with its rich bio-diversity and a unique eco-system is set to receive an even more exalted position being shortlisted for a World Heritage site. The Bhitarkanika National Park has been shortlisted from among 27 additional sites by the UNESCO, official sources said.

The only World Heritage site in Orissa is the architectural wonder Konarak temple. P K Behera, divisional forest officer, Rajnagar mangrove & wildlife forest division, said the forst department had earlier sent a proposal to the UNESCO for considering the Bhitarkanika as a World Heritage site. Though its eco-system and mangrove cover continued to be abused by people from human settlements at the periphery, the place still possessed a rich reservoir of natural vegetation, flora and fauna. Bhitarkanika has the country's largest mangrove cover and internationally it is second only to Papua New Guinea.

The park covers a total area of 2154.26 sq km of which the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary and National Park covers 672 sq km, the Gahirmatha (Marine) Wildlife Sanctuary covers 1435 sq km while the buffer zone in the Mahanadi delta covers 47.26 sq km.

The mangrove forest in the park performs an important ecosystem function by breaking tidal surges and devastating cyclones thereby restricting and slowing down erosion of tidal banks, stabilize silt deposits near the river mouth and also protect lives of millions of coastal inhabitants. Bhitarkanika is a hot-spot of biodiversity. It is home to the country's largest population of giant salt water crocodiles. Also it is home to more than 215 species of avifauna including amazing eight varieties of Kingfishers.

The wetland site is an important repository of fauna. It is the nursery of innumerable fish, prawn, crabs and other invertebrates including the endangered King Cobra. It is one of the best reptile refuges in India as well as in the entire South-east Asian region. Bhitarkanika has a high density of the world's largest water monitor lizard. It is home to the largest population of the endangered estuarine crocodiles in the Indian sub-continent. The Gahirmatha marine sanctuary, which forms part of the Bhitarkanika ecosystem, is one of the world's largest nesting and breeding grounds for the endangered Olive Ridley Turtle. The Gahirmatha beach situated on the eastern boundary of Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary supports the largest-known nesting beach of the endangered Olive Ridley Sea Turtle in the world.