English: Mangrove forest in Pichavaram, Tamil Nadu, India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
By K. M. Ravindran, Addl DG and M. V. S. Prasad, Joint Director
With inputs from Ministry of Environment & Forests, Govt. of India
Chennai, June 2, 2012 (Washington Bangla Radio / PIB India) The National Environment Policy, 2006 recognizes that mangroves are an important coastal environmental resource. The Ministry of Environment & Forests is at the forefront in regard to the conservation and management of mangroves, which provide habitats for marine species; protection from extreme weather events and a resource base for sustainable tourism. The Government seeks to sustain mangroves in the country by both regulatory and promotional measures.
What are Mangroves?
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. The mangrove ecosystems constitute a symbiotic link or bridge between terrestrial and marine ecosystems. They are found in the inter-tidal zones of sheltered shore, estuaries, creeks, backwaters, lagoons, marshes and mud-flats. Mangrove vegetation has been reported in all the coastal States/UTs. India is home to some of the best mangroves in the world. West Bengal has the maximum of mangrove cover in the country followed by Gujarat and Andaman & Nicobar Islands. However, not all coastal areas are suitable for mangrove plantation as mangrove requires an appropriate mix of saline and freshwater, and soft substrate like mudflats to be able to grow and perpetuate. The Government has identified 38 mangrove areas on a country wide basis for intensive conservation and management. In Tamil Nadu, Pichavaram, Muthupet, Ramnad, Pulicat and Kazhuveli mangrove areas have been identified.
Mangroves Protect the Coast
Mangrove ecosystems are rich in biodiversity and harbour a number of floral and faunal species (both terrestrial and aquatic) many of which, e.g. the tiger, gangetic dolphin, estuarine crocodile etc. are endangered. They also act as nurseries for fin fish, shell fish, crustaceans and mollusks. Mangrove forests are regarded as the most productive ecosystems in the world on account of the large quantities of organic and inorganic nutrients released in the coastal waters by these ecosystems.
The mangroves besides providing a number of ecological services also play a major role in protecting coastal areas from erosion, tidal storms and surges (tsunamis). They help in land accretion by trapping the fine debris particles. They are also an important source of honey, tannins, wax, besides fish. Presently, these are one of the most threatened ecosystems on account of both anthropogenic factors (reclamation of land, discharge of waste etc) and natural factors like global warming.
Intensive Conservation in Eight States
The current assessment shows that the mangrove cover in the country is 4,662.56 sq km. The mangrove plantation with an average, annual target of 3,000 hectares is undertaken on a country wide basis. The areas supported are among the 38 areas as already identified by MoEF for intensive conservation. During 2010-11, financial assistance to the tune of Rs. 7.10 crores had been distributed among West Bengal, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Gujarat for conservation and management of mangroves.
The project entitled "Mangroves for Future (MFF): a strategy for promoting investment in Coastal Ecosystem Conservation" is being coordinated by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) covering, initially, eight countries, including India.