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Two of Mumbai’s mangrove forests on list of 12 unique wetlands in India

Maharashtra is the only state to have a dedicated cell protecting its mangrove cover

mumbai Updated: Aug 02, 2017 11:38 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Mangrove forests grow in creeks, estuaries, bays and lagoons and in inter-tidal areas.
Mangrove forests grow in creeks, estuaries, bays and lagoons and in inter-tidal areas.(HT FILE)

The Mangrove Society of India (MSI) has put two of Mumbai region’s mangroves — Airoli and Vikhroli wetlands — among 12 unique mangrove forests in the country.

Mangrove forests grow in creeks, estuaries, bays and lagoons and in inter-tidal areas – area between the high tide and the low tide. Their ecosystem is believed to have evolved around 114 million years back in tropical and subtropical regions and India has 3% (4,740 sq km) of the world’s mangrove cover.

The unique mangroves located along India’s 7,516-km coastline are in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The world’s largest mangrove forests in Sunderbans, West Bengal, are also featured in the list. The list was released by the MSI and the Goa state biodiversity board at the National Mangrove Conference in Dona Paula, Goa last week.

Maharashtra is the only state to have a dedicated cell protecting its mangrove cover.“Mangroves are under threat from developmental projects and we are failing to understand the value of safeguarding the coastline from disasters and their economic value when it comes to tourism. We do not have the concept of preservation in India,” said Arvind Untawale, secretary, MSI. “The idea behind selecting these 12 locations is to enhance conservation and protection of different mangrove species, the biodiversity and establish them as international tourism destinations.”

He added that tigers in Sunderbans, saltwater crocodiles in Odisha, and birds, fish, crabs, and the unique flora present in this ecosystem are not getting enough attention from the Centre. “There is great potential for adventure, research, information, conservation and management aspects, which the tourism sector needs to focus upon,” said Untawale.

Mangroves in Vikhroli. (HT File)

“What most people are unaware of is that India is home to a maximum number of flora and fauna species in the world,” said Dr K Kathiresan, former dean and director, Annamalai University and from the Centre of Advanced Study in Marine Biology.

He added that of the total 4,060 species living in India’s mangroves, 969 are floral species, accounting for 24% of the biodiversity and the rest 3,091 are faunal species. “Mangrove forests can sequester carbon 10 times more than tropical forests and carbon storage is four times more than tropical, temperate or boreal forests (coniferous forests),” said Dr Kathiresan.

Experts said the tourism potential of mangroves in India, unlike many other countries in the world, is underexplored. “We have to develop such spots for people to realise its importance. Tourism spots will not only help boost revenue but even their protection,” said N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forest, Maharashtra state mangrove cell.

SAVING THE NATURAL COAST GUARDS

While India has 3% of the world’s mangrove cover, environmentalists believe they are under threat from developmental projects. Here are the 12 unique mangrove forest locations selected for better conservation:

Gulf of Kutch, Gujarat

Established in 1980 and 1982, the Gulf of Kutch Marine National Park (163 sq km) and Marine Sanctuary (295 sq km) are mangrove forests spread across 42 islands with rich marine and mangrove biodiversity. They are accessible from Jamnagar by boats that travel 10km to reach these areas.

Vikhroli mangroves, Mumbai

It is one of the largest (2000ha) private mangrove forests in the country. More than 16 mangrove species, 82 butterfly species, 208 bird species, 13 crab species, 7 prawn species, 20 fish species and mammals like jackals, wild boards, mongoose, otters and leopards can be spotted at the mangrove ecosystem.

Mangrove and Marine Biodiversity Centre, Airoli, Navi Mumbai

The centre, a pet project of the Maharashtra state mangrove cell, was completed and opened for public earlier this year. It is surrounded by a flamingo sanctuary that is spread over 1,690 ha, which includes 896 ha of mangroves and 794 ha of land adjacent to a water body, to safeguard more than 50,000 flamingos visiting every year.

Achra, Maharashtra

The mangroves near the fishing village of Achra are considered sacred. (HT FILE)

Located near the fishing village of Achra, almost 30km away from Kankavli on the Mumbai-Goa highway, this is the most dense mangrove spot in the Konkan region. Here, the mangroves are considered sacred as the entire area is owned by Rameshwar temple trust.

Dr Salim Ali Mangrove Sanctuary, Goa

Established in 1982, a 250-hectare mangrove patch at Chodan, located very close to Panjim, is home to 16 mangrove species, more than 100 birds and large intertidal fauna. The area has boat facilities, walkways and observation towers for a closer look at the salt-tolerant plants.

Kali Nadi, Karnataka

With the Western Ghats in the background, the lush green mangrove cover along the Devbagh creek of the Kali Nadi estuary near Karwar, Karnataka, is considered the most sacred mangrove forests of the state.

Kannur, Kerala

Situated along the famous Kerala backwaters and not very far from Kochi, large portions (587 ha) of the Kannur mangrove forest were recently declared as reserved forests (highest protection status) after a significant mangrove cover was lost owing to developmental projects. However, several parts were restored by the forest department with man-made mangrove patches that cater to both marine and intertidal biodiversity.

Pichavaram and Muthupet, Tamil Nadu

Two mangrove spots along the Tamil Nadu coastline – Pichavaran near Chidambaram and Muthupet near Pulicat Lake – are fed with Vellary estuary waters and are rich in mangrove biodiversity. The forests are famous for natural genetic cross breeding of the Rhizophora mangrove species.

Coringa and Krishna Wildlife Sanctuaries, Andhra Pradesh

The Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary, situated on the mouth of the Godavari estuarine delta, has a mangrove expanse spread across 235.7 sq km. It was established in 1978 and is accessible by road and by boats from Vishakhapatnam. Established in 1999, the Krishna Wildlife Sanctuary in Guntur is spread across 195 sq km and located at the mouth of Krishna estuary.

The Mahanadi estuarine in Odisha. (HT FILE)

Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary and Kendrapada Mangroves, Odisha

The Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary, along the Mahanadi estuarine, is known to have the highest mangrove biodiversity in Asia and is famous for the estuarine crocodiles that are 22-feet-long. Spread across 145 sq km, the sanctuary was established in 1988. The Kendrapada mangroves have mangrove area of 133 sq km.

Sunderbans Biosphere Reserve, West Bengal

Spread across a massive 1,40,000 ha land along the Ganges delta, the Sunderbans are the largest mangrove forests in the world between Bangladesh and West Bengal. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. The swampy mangroves are also home to chitals, crocodiles, monitor lizards and several birds.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands

Tourists around teh mangroves in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. (HT FILE)

Established between 1983 and 1986, two national parks – Mahatma Gandhi Marine National Park, Wandoor, south Andaman (281.5 sq km mangrove cover) and Rani Jhansi Marine National Park (256 sq km mangroves) – have several islands with lush green mangrove cover and corals. Both locations are almost 30 km away from Port Blair.