A treat awaits nature lovers in the city by the end of this month where they will be able to take a boat ride through the Thane mangroves to spot flamingos and other birds.
The construction of the first phase of the Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Centre at Airoli, Navi Mumbai – a pet project of the state mangrove cell - has been completed and will be open to the public by the last week of February.
“A closely guarded secret of Mumbai will be revealed this February end,” said Sudhir Mungantiwar, forest minister. “Thane creek is known for its sea ports and how it defines the landscape of Mumbai, but its biodiversity is not all that well known. Our attempt is to bring the people of Mumbai closer to nature and let them experience the wonderful biodiversity in the city’s backyard.”
In August 2016, the state government declared the northern part of Thane creek as a flamingo sanctuary to safeguard the flamingo population. The area, that includes Airoli and Vashi, is spread over 1,690 hectares, that has 896 hectares of mangroves and 794 hectares of land in the periphery, . The Mumbai Mangrove Conservation Unit, under the state mangrove cell, was handed over the responsibility for the management of the sanctuary.
Visitors will be able to take a 10km boat ride through the thick mangrove cover, that will start from Airoli, move towards Diva and return to Airoli again. The three-hour journey will be undertaken using a large boat with a capacity of 25 people at a cost of Rs300 per person. A second boat ride, in a much smaller boat with a capacity of six to seven people, will enter smaller creeks along the flamingo sanctuary, which will cost Rs500 per person. This smaller boat will go an additional 2km.
Officials from the state mangrove cell said that along with the boats, two buildings spread across 3,000 square-feet each at the centre were ready to make tourists better their understanding of the marine biodiversity in Mumbai. “The centre will focus on creating awareness about wetlands, marine life, mangroves and coastal ecosystem through displays imported from Germany,” said a senior official from the state mangrove cell.
A parking space for about 30 vehicles has been provided at the entry along with a ticketing centre where visitors can buy a ticket for Rs 100. Additionally, a cinema hall, screening films on coastal and marine biodiversity has been made within the building. “The idea was to visually reach out to visitors before they go for the boat ride and experience the aura of the wetlands for themselves,” said Makarand Ghodke, assistant conservator of forest, state mangrove cell. “Two watchtowers have been built within the mangrove forest to ensure security at the centre.”
The project is being funded by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), an international agency, and the forest department’s mangrove foundation. The cost for the first phase of the project was Rs3 crore.
The second phase of the centre, costing Rs10 crore, will have India’s first marine mammal museum with skeletal remains of whales, dolphins and porpoises. Additional facilities will include a mangrove trail using a boardwalk on one end of the site, a separate centre for educating students about crab-farming, a bird-hide to spot and photograph avifauna from the area and an artificial water body located at the centre of the complex. Construction for the second phase is likely to be completed by December.