by Kalpana Palkhiwala, Deputy Director ( M & C), Press Information Bureau, New Delhi
Mangroves are plants that survive high salinity, tidal regimes, strong wind velocity, high temperature and muddy anaerobic soil – a combination of conditions hostile for other plants. They are found in the inter-tidal zones of sheltered shores, estuaries, creeks, backwaters, lagoons, marshes and mud-flats. Mangrove forests are regarded as the most productive and bio-diverse ecosystem on earth, as an important natural reserve of biological diversity. The mangrove ecosystem constitutes a bridge between terrestrial and marine ecosystems.
It is true that mangroves have contributed towards mitigation of the adverse impact of cyclones, tidal waves & sea water surges along some coastal areas of Orissa, Tamil Nadu & other parts of the country, and towards enhancement of fisheries. However, not all coastal areas are suitable for mangrove plantation as mangrove requires an appropriate mix and saline & freshwater, and soft substrate like mudflats to be able to grow and perpetuate. India is home to some of the best mangroves in the world. West Bengal has maximum mangrove cover in the country followed by Gujarat and Andaman & Nicobar Islands. The Ministry has established a National Mangrove Genetic Resources Centre in Orissa. Mangrove vegetation has been reported in all the 12 Coastal States/UTs.
Mangrove plantation is to be perceived as one of the important components of Integrated Coastal Zone Management. In view of multiple benefits offered by mangrove forests to the coastal ecology and the local population, the Coastal States and Union Territories have been requested to identify additional areas suitable for mangrove plantation with people’s participation and augment the existing efforts related to education, awareness and alternative/supplementary livelihoods.
The benefits of mangroves are many. Mangroves are a source of firewood, of wood products such as timber, poles and posts, and of non-wood produce such as fodder, honey, wax, tannin, and dye and plant materials for thatching. Mangrove wetlands and forests act as a shelter belt against cyclones. (In Orissa a few years ago, villages surrounded by mangrove forests survived the fury of cyclones, unlike other villages). They also prevent coastal erosion. They provide nursery grounds for a number of commercially important fish, prawn, crabs and molluscs. They serve as food webs and enhance the fishery production of nearby coastal water by exporting nutrients and detritus. They provide habitats for wildlife ranging from migratory birds to estuarine crocodiles, tigers, etc. The filtering effect of mangrove forests protects vital coral reefs and sea grass beds from damaging siltation.
No wonder some coastal populations regard mangroves as sacred. At the Lord Nataraja temple at Chidambaram in Tamil Nadu, the mangrove tree Excoecaria agallocha, locally known as Thaillai, has been worshipped as a temple tree- Sthala vruksha.
The Forest Survey of India (FSI) biennially maps and assesses country’s mangroves spread over 9 States and 3 UTs and includes the findings in the State of Forest Reports. As per the latest ‘India State of Forest Report 2009’ mangrove cover in India is spread over an area of 4,639 sq. km in the Coastal States/UTs of the country. Compared with 2005 assessment, there has been on increase of 58 sq. km in mangrove cover mainly because of the plantations and protection measures in the State of Gujarat, Orissa, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal mainly due to activities under the Ministry of Environment and Forests Centrally Sponsored Scheme on Conservation & Management of Mangroves. Decrease in mangrove cover in Andaman & Nicobar Islands is attributed to after effects of tsunami.
In nutshell, there was an increase of 55 sq. km in mangrove cover of Gujarat, 16 sq. km in West Bengal, 4 sq. km in Orissa and 3 sq. km in Tamil Nadu. However, there was a loss of 20 sq. km in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, due to the effect of tsunami in December 2004. This loss stood reduced by 1 sq. km as compared to the previous assessment in 2005. In general, the mangroves in India are well protected, in spite of growing threats by nature and man, due to the efforts of the Government. In fact, India is one of the very few developing countries where mangrove cover continues to increase. This clearly reiterates our belief that rapid economic growth need not come at the cost of protection and growth of our core ecological assets. The Forest Department of Gujarat has done excellent mangrove plantations, in the institutional category for plantations.
Legal and Regulatory Approaches for Protection
At present, the mangroves are protected through a range of regulatory measures such as Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 1991; Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) studies under the EIA Notification, 1994 for specialized industries; monitoring of compliance, with conditions imposed while according Environmental Clearance, by Regional Offices of the Ministry and State Pollution Control Boards; enforcement of emission and effluent standards by industries and other entities, and recourse to legal action against the defaulters. Mangroves located within the notified forest areas are also covered under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980.
The centrally sponsored scheme on conservation and management of mangroves & coral reefs was initiated in 1987. The main activities under the Scheme are Survey and Demarcation, Afforestation & Restoration of Mangroves, Regeneration of Corals, Alternate and Supplementary Livelihoods, Protection Measures, and Education & Awareness. 100% central assistance is given to States/UTs for implementation of approved Management Action Plans. All proposals for conservation and management of mangroves received from various State Governments are examined as per the laid down procedures and guidelines. States are encouraged to form SLSC [State level Steering Committee] to vet annual funding requirements & monitor the work progress.
Major components, assisted under the National Mangrove Conservation and Management Programme, are Capacity Building, Staff Training and Skills, Survey, Assessment and Demarcation , Plantation , Regeneration , Maintenance, Shelter Belt of Casuarina, etc., Alternate/Supplementary Livelihoods and Eco-development Activities, Community Participation, Biodiversity Conservation, Weed Control and Environmental Education & Awareness. (PIB Features)