When Sumit Khismatrao, 20, saw the mangroves along the Bhandup creek from a distance last Thursday, the St Xavier’s College student wasn’t prepared for what lay ahead.
With instructions from a local fisherman, Khismatrao left his belongings and shoes at a safe spot, rolled up his pants and walked towards the vegetation that seemed rooted in hardened soil.
The forest guards, too, helped him identify the species before marking them.
“My feet sank knee-deep into the marshy soil with stones underneath, making it difficult to walk. At the end of it though, I learned to identify different species,” said Khismatrao, a botany student who had to miss his laboratory practicals for the task.
In Mumbai, mang roves occupy 4,000 hectares on government land and 1,800 hectares on private land.
As part of the city’s first mangrove census organised by the state forest department with NGO Vanshakti, 12 students from St Xavier’s College spent two hours getting details of mangroves that are higher than 5ft and have a girth of more than 20cm.
A month-old pilot project to count mangrove trees, the census has been carried out at Sewri, Bandra and Bhandup to be followed in areas such as Charkop, Malad and Gorai.
“The city’ tree census does not cover mangroves. But if we miss them, we are missing the real picture of the green cover,” said N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forests, mangrove cell.
“The mangrove census will help calculate the amount of oxygen produced and carbon dioxide captured and stored.”
Ria Jogy, 18, used the global positioning system to accurately spot the boundaries of the mangrove areas on Google Earth, which will help extrapolate the number of trees in a given area.
“One would usually stay away from such a place, but it was fun to have crabs walking around. I also learned the importance of the mangrove ecosystem,” said the firstyear mass media student, who volunteered at Sewri and Bhandup.
Environmentalists and citizen groups started the fight to save the mangroves across the city almost a decade ago.
In October 2005, the Bombay high court declared the mangroves on government land as protected forests and on private land as forests.
Destruction of mangroves, however, continued and the state government had to accord reserved forest status to the coastal vegetation on government land in June.
“A fairly good estimation of the number of trees will narrow down the chances of violation. The census will also help keep track of various species.
Depending on the rarity of the species, special zones that need more conservation efforts can be demarcated,” said Stalin D, director (projects), Vanshakti.