Taking the right steps to protect  mangroves

Mangroves are the lifeline of Mumbai and SEP volunteers are putting in all efforts to save them says Vibha Singh

It was a totally different experience for a small group of nature lovers who undertook a trekking into mangrove areas in Bhandup and Vikhroli. They came across several rare birds, crabs and other creatures during their visit and expressed their concern at wanton destruction of mangroves which are important feature of the ecosystem and help protect the coastal areas from natural calamities.

The group learned lot’s from member of local NGO Shree Ekvira Pratisthan (SEP), a non-government organisation (NGO) of fishermen from Bhandup, which is the caretaker of 1,042 hectares of mangrove cover from Mulund to Vikhroli along the Thane creek. Nandakumar Pawar, director of SEP  use to go into mangroves and to the coastal forests to see the birds, fishes and other forms of wildlife . The group in its efforts and support to the State Forest Department has resulted in over 1000 ha of mangroves being saved from destruction. Since the village comprises members of the fishing communities they worship mangroves and are taking all efforts for mangrove conservation.

The NGO has 15 volunteers known as ‘mangrove warriors’ who are vigilant about the protection of the coastal shrubs. “We also educate the local fishing villages of how the mangroves help in fish breeding and thus impact their livelihood,” said  Pawar.

SEP has presented Bhandup wetlands as a unique model for the city where mangrove are under constant threat. They are planning to plant new mangrove varieties to replace those lost to pollution and regularly visit  the creek to remove garbage and plastic. The NGO has succeeded in stopping the cutting of mangroves for firewood and the hunting of birds in the area. As mangroves are breeding grounds for fishes, SEP volunteers educate the local fishing folk on the importance of mangroves and its impact on their livelihood.

The idea to conserve the mangroves came to Pawar after the Mumbai floods in 2005. Bhandup village was saved from getting submerged despite being the lowest lying area in the eastern suburbs due to the dense mangrove cover and the wetlands that border these village.  According to Pawar , “ It opened my eyes to the reality that this was the shield that had saved my people. I always knew that the best fishes were found in the pools of water inside the mangroves but this was a new utility for me to discover! I promised myself that I would not let anyone cut down this precious vegetation.”

 In 2008 he visited Andamans and was fascinated to see the dense mangroves there and a place called Baratang in middle Andamans. Almost all of the area had witnessed horrific destruction due to the Tsunami but Baratang stood tall, untouched all because of the dense mangroves around it. The people there even today protect and appreciate the true value of mangroves since it s given them a second life!

The NGO is also concerned about the mudflats which have been transformed into sand storage depots. Even manual excavation is done on such a large scale that it has started to reach levels of what mechanised dredgers can do. Also the group is concerned about sand mining which is destroying  creeks, wetlands and mangrove areas.

The group wants that mangrove areas which were internationally recognised to be rich in biodiversity should be protected from concrete jungle culture. The team members observed that mangrove regions near the creek have reduced to a considerable extent in the last few years resulting in a drastic decrease in number and different kind of birds visiting the area. Also recently, Pawar, found two dead jackals on the Eastern Express Highway.   “The government has eco-tourism plans for the mangroves. They should also stop encroachment to save the jackals,” he said. Once found across mangrove forests across western and eastern suburbs, an Indian Golden Jackal is a rarity now. Today, the mangroves have become their last refuge, where they find crabs, small fish and rodents.

Supporting the efforts of Ekvira is another  NGO Vanashakti. D Stalin, project director, Vanshakti, said, “Wetlands play a crucial role in reducing the effects of global warming. They are also home to a variety of life forms. The Thane creek is home to over nine species of true mangroves, and migratory birds like Lesser Flamingos, Greater Flamingos, Pied Avocets, Painted storks, Eurasian Spoonbills and black winged stilts. The site should be included in The Ramsar List of wetlands.”

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