As mangrove destruction continues unabated in Mumbai and along the Konkan coast with several cases piling up over the past two years, the Maharashtra Forest department is tying up with Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to track the mangrove destruction through real-time satellite imagery, a first in India.
Officials from the Mumbai Mangrove Conservation Unit told HT that over the next six months, real-time satellite maps for mangroves across Maharashtra will be acquired by the cell. After talks with scientists from ISRO last year, the cell received a proposal from the former in December 2016, wherein an open source software — digital tracking through satellite maps — acquisition were discussed.
“Monitoring the destruction of mangroves by physically entering the forests has its limitations,” said N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell. “The idea is to track destructions as it happens through satellite images from the confines of a room, and reduce the time gap for taking action in such cases.”
Currently, Mumbai has a total of 5,800 hectares (ha) of mangrove cover – 4,000 ha on government land and 1,800ha in private areas. While Navi Mumbai and the eastern end of Thane creek have a cover of 1,471ha, for the western bank of Thane creek, it is 1,500ha. The total mangrove cover in the state is 15,088 hectares, spread across Sindhudurg and Ratnagiri.
Vasudevan added that currently the cell is in possession of maps from 2005, and fresh satellite maps for Sindhudurg, Ratnagiri, Mumbai, Navi Mumbai and Raigad have already been developed by Maharashtra Remote Sensing Application Centre (MRSAC). “The remaining maps for Thane and Palghar are in the last stage. Once we acquire the new maps, we will tally it with the ones from 2005 and find out locations where there have been an increase in the cover or a decline,” he said adding, “Once this is done, we will use open source software from ISRO to check loss of mangrove cover on a real-time basis. The process of acquiring the maps and software will be completed in next six months.”
Real-time monitoring of mangroves will help keep a tab on the health of the trees, locations where more mangroves need to be planted and other issues such as tackling encroachment, illegal housing development and checking bird population.
“We will fund the project through the forest department’s mangrove foundation and the cost of the project will go to the tune of Rs40 lakh approximately,” said Vasudevan. “Initially, we will be getting low resolution images and it would take a day or two to identify violations. However, over time, we will be acquiring better software to get high resolution images from ISRO.”
Even though several Bombay HC orders prohibit construction within wetlands, rampant destruction of mangroves continue. Noting a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Bombay Environment Action Group — an NGO — in Mumbai in 2005, the HC banned destruction of statewide mangroves and construction within 50m of them. After Vanashakti filed another PIL, the HC banned all reclamation and construction on wetlands in 2014.
According to the Konkan divisional commissioner’s office, since 2014, there have been 500 complaints on the destruction of mangroves against unidentified persons in the Konkan regions, of which there has been an enquiry in 335 cases, which have been finalised. However, 165 cases are still pending and under enquiry. “There have been FIRs in 40% cases but no convictions in the last two years,” said Bhausaheb Dangade, Konkan deputy commissioner (revenue).