Shree Ekvira Pratisthan (SEP), a non-government organisation (NGO) of fishermen from Bhandup, is the caretaker of 1,042 hectares of mangrove cover from Mulund to Vikhroli along the Thane creek.
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 Nandakumar Pawar, director of SEP. Community workshops organised by the NGO help to educate the fishermen folks across the area who have been using mangroves as firewood.
One of the first graduates from his village, Pawar, like members of the organisation realised the importance of mangroves after the 2005 Mumbai floods, when his village was five feet deep in water. SEP was started soon after the flood. “I lost one of my friends in the July 26, 2005, floods and then I came to know the cutting of mangrove is a major cause behind the flood. I had to take up the issue,” said Prashant Mhatre, a mangrove warrior.
In a major victory to save mangroves the Pratisthan, was successful in removing 13 fishing ponds from 200 acres of land earmarked as no development zone. Tidal water was captured to form ponds, three kilometers off the Eastern Express Highway in Bhandup. Several migratory birds visit the area.
“On August 6, 2010, the Bombay High Court ordered the encroachers to evacuate the land,” added Pawar. The encroachers who were from adjoining fishing villages were leasing out the illegal ponds, which had large numbers of fish, crabs and shrimps, for fishing.
“We have received constant support from the SEP for the encroached pond case and also otherwise,” said assistant conservator of forest Sahaji Narnavar, who was in charge of the case from the Forest department. Fishermen going out to sea now inform the Pratisthan if they notice irregular activities in the mangrove areas.
“SEP has presented Bhandup wetlands as a unique model for the city where mangrove are under constant threat,” added Narnavar. The NGO is also planning to plant new mangrove varieties to replace those lost to pollution.