Mangroves under threat from growing human activities
New Delhi: Mangroves are tropical trees and shrubs found along tidal-estuaries, in salt marshes, and on muddy coasts. They are the only species of trees in the world that can tolerate saltwater. Mangroves are an ecosystem of incredible bio-diversity, harboring hundreds of fish, reptile, insect, mollusk, algae, bird, and mammal species. They act as shock absorbers against tidal waves and help prevent soil erosion by stabilizing sediments with their tangled root systems.
Despite being resilient to natural challenges, mangrove ecosystems worldwide are lost at a greater rate than inland tropical forests due to human-induced factors. In India, mangroves are spread over an area of 4921 square kilometers.
K. Kathiresan, honorary professor and UGC-BSR faculty fellow, Annamalai University, has underlined the overexploitation and poor resource management, increased infrastructural uses, increasingly growing aquaculture and rice cultivation, as the main threats to mangroves in India. While speaking in a webinar titled “Restore Our Mangroves for the Future”, professor Kathiresan also highlighted the need for formulating a restoration planning by mapping degraded mangroves and by selecting best suited mangrove species.
While lauding the theme of the webinar, DrC.N.Pandey, visiting professor, IIT Gandhinagar, emphasized on employing proper restoration techniques based on the ecological characteristics of the site. “Initially, many mangrove restoration projects failed due to a lack of environmental assessment of the selected sites”, said Dr Pandey.
Sunderbans in West Bengal accounts for almost half of the total area under mangroves in the country. Indian Sunderbans happens to be one of the most disaster-prone areas, in terms of frequency and severity of tropical cyclonic storms. Dr Abhjit Mitra, Director Research, Techno India University, Kolkata, highlighted the importance of mangroves in mitigating natural disasters. While suggesting an innovative method to protect the coastal areas by replacing the earthen embankments with vegetative solutions, Dr Mitra also flagged the need for conservation of degraded mangrove areas.
Dr. Anjum Farooqui, senior scientist, BSIP, shared some palaeoecological case studies to underline how the dataset from the tidal flat and estuarine settings gives an idea about past environments and response of mangroves in concerning episodes of coastal inundation.
Dr Shilpa Pandey, scientist, BSIP, and convener of the webinar, highlighted the natural and anthropogenic factors responsible for the loss and degradation of mangroves. She also emphasized engaging local communities, especially women, young people, and school children in the mangrove restoration programmes.
The webinar was attended by a large number of senior academic faculty members, scientists, conservationists, research fellows, early career researchers, and school students. Dr Vandana Prasad, Director, BSIP and Dr Vinod. K. Dhargalkar, Executive Secretary, MSI, also addressed the participants. The webinar was jointly organized by the Birbal Sahni Institute of Palaeo sciences (BSIP) and the Mangrove Society of India (MSI), to commemorate the ‘International Mangrove Day’, observed on 26 July, every year.
Aside from being a receptacle of multiple coastal ecosystems, mangrove forests can also play an important role in the fight against global warming, as they have an enormous capacity for sucking up greenhouse gases and trapping them in their soils for thousands of years. They cansequester four times more carbon in comparison to the rain forests. (India Science Wire)