Mangrove cover in Maharashtra up by 16%, finds survey
Mangrove cover in the Maharashtra’s coastal districts increased by 16% between 2005 and 2019, suggests a survey conducted by the Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology (IIST) at the behest of the Maharashtra forest department. From a total cover of 304.39 square kilometres (sq km) in 2005, Maharashtra’s coastline now has a mangrove cover of 353.18 sq kms, indicating an additional 48.79 sq kms of mangroves.
According to a summary of the report, which has been seen by Hindustan Times, six of Maharashtra’s seven coastal districts reported an increase in mangrove cover during the study period, with the exception of Palghar where the opposite was observed. All districts reported an increase in dense mangrove cover and a decline in sparse mangrove cover.
Raigad recorded the highest increase with adding 22.20 sq kms of mangroves to its coast during the study period, followed by Mumbai city and suburban districts where mangrove cover grew by 12.90 sq km. Meanwhile, Thane saw an addition of 6.40 sq km mangroves, followed by Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, which saw 3.01 and 0.30 sq km increase, respectively.
However, the report also attributes the increase only to the growth of dense mangrove cover, while sparse mangrove cover declined in each of the districts surveyed. Raigad, for example, gained about 42 sq kms of dense cover during the study period, but lost more than 20 sq kms of sparse mangroves. Palghar, which was the only district to record a decrease in mangroves, gained 8 sq km in dense cover but lost more than 19 sq kms of sparse cover.
Across Maharashtra, “about 44.25 sq km of sparse mangrove is converted to dense mangrove, which is considered to be a positive change and 16.17 sq km of dense mangrove is changed to sparse mangrove, indicating the degrading stage of such mangroves,” states the summary of the report, which officials said will soon be submitted before the Bombay high court as part of an ongoing litigation.
Environmentalists, however, viewed these results with scepticism. “Depletion of sparse mangroves means that tidal flow to the land has decreased. Increase in density is not necessarily an increase in extent of mangrove cover,” said Stalin D, environmentalist and director of NGO Vanashakti. Stalin also pointed out that too dense mangroves will result in less room for waders, thereby adversely impacting the ecosystem’s ability to sustain biodiversity.
Officials from the Maharashtra forest department’s mangrove cell said that these findings require further investigation. “The increase in mangrove cover is due to better legal protection as reserved forests under the Indian Forest Act. Sparse mangroves have now become dense mangrove. However, in some areas it may be due to mangroves coming on mud flats, thereby decreasing the width of the creeks, particularly Thane Creek. We are analysing this aspect,” said Virender Tiwari, principal chief conservator of forest (mangrove cell).
Commenting on the situation in Palghar, Tiwari said, “The reduction in growth of mangroves there may be due to more people practising aquaculture, mainly for prawn fishing. This is again something we are looking into.”