January 1996: An inaugural foundation stone marked the beginning of the Sewri Mangrove Park with a narrow pathway built for tourists to walk under the dense mangrove cover.
January 2012: The foundation stone still stands but more than 30 acres of full-grown mangroves are lying dead at the Sewri Bay.
Local fishermen said the change began two years ago with the offloading of what environmentalists believe is coking coal, just a few metres away from the protected wetland, on land that belongs to the Mumbai Port Trust. Google Earth images from 2009 show dense mangrove vegetation at the same location.
Coking coal, which is soft bituminous coal, is heated to produce coke — a hard, grey, porous material — used to blast furnaces for extracting iron from the iron ore. “Since coal is being stored in the open, it mixes with the soil during run-off in the monsoon season and settles on the mangroves,” said a fisherman. “With hardly any mangroves left, our fish catch has reduced.”
Though large tarpaulin sheets cover the coking coal, there are spots where the sheets have fallen or are ripped. Thick residue of the particles from the storage ground has covered the wetland and enveloped the mangroves.
This is a major cause for concern because these mudflats are home to migratory birds such as flamingoes. The Bombay Natural History Society has identified the Sewri wetland as a potential Ramsar Site and therefore it needs be conserved.
Environmentalists said the destruction is in clear violation of the 2005 Bombay HC order stating that regardless of land ownership, debris dumping within 50m of mangroves is prohibited; mangroves on government land must be notified as forests and all mangroves must be designated as protected forest.
“Hazardous waste is being stored near mangroves which is a non-forestry activity and hence a violation of HC orders and environmental laws,” said Stalin D, project head, NGO Vanashakti.