A UNDP effort aims to marry conservation, livelihood in Sindhudurg

The answer lies in making it profitable to protect biodiversity; better agriculture, eco-tourism and fish-farming will help, says project management specialist Durga Thigale.

india Updated: Jan 13, 2018 20:19 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Mangroves,UN,Environment
Protecting the mangroves is key, say UNDP officials. And currently these crucial marine habitats are under threat from rampant and illegal sand-mining and overfishing. (Pratik Chorge / HT Photo)

Around 8am every day, nine women aged 27 to 55 clamber onto two boats and head to the Mandvi creek in Vengurla, Sindhudurg. The area is home to 45 otters, spread across two dens. The two groups take tourists along a 300-metre stretch on one-hour boat rides, talking to them not just about the marine life but also about the mangroves they depend on. As the tour proceeds, the women use pointed sticks to clear garbage from the mangrove roots.

These women are part of the Swamini Mahila Bachat Gat, constituted as one of 60 projects in the district that aim to tackle the garbage issue threatening the biodiversity of Sindhudurg’s creeks.

“We have been trained to speak in English and Hindi. We received hospitality training and also learnt about different mangrove species, when they flower, their medicinal benefits etc,” said Shweta Hule. “We know how trash coming from cities within the district through the creek chokes the breathing roots of these mangrove trees, and why it is essential to remove it and protect this area.”

The 60 programmes are livelihood schemes framed by the state mangrove cell in association with the UNDP-GEF (United Nations Development Programme - Global Environment Facility) Project between 2012 and 2016, based on a study of the coastal ecosystem and the threats it faces.

Sindhudurg accounts for 3% of Maharashtra’s total mangrove cover but houses more of its coastal biodiversity that any other district in the state.

Pesticide runoff from large farms is also threatening marine ecosystems. Among the projects undertaken to counter such threats is a rice-intensification system to control pesticide pollution. (Pratik Chorge / HT Photo)

“In view of existing and potential threats to the mangrove ecosystem, there is an urgent need for an integrated approach towards conservation of mangroves, its associated diversity and the sustainable use of natural resources towards livelihood,” says Rohit Sawant, project management specialist for the UNDP-GEF project.

Macro projects undertaken include turtle conservation, mangrove plantation, single-seed technology to curb weeding and a system of rice-intensification to control pesticide pollution, training for locals on sustainability in the fishing sector, and scuba-diving and snorkelling training for forest officers so they understand the marine ecosystem better.

Studies have been done to identify cetacean and other aquatic species, environmental variables and anthropogenic pressures such as depth, salinity, distance from shore and distance from nearest freshwater source, and the impact of fishing boat traffic.

At the macro level, livelihood schemes such as crab farming, oyster and mussel culture, integrated multi-trophic aquaculture and apiculture or bee-farming have been introduced.

Considering the environmental and economic benefits of these projects, the Government of Maharashtra has sanctioned Rs. 24 crore for the upscaling of these activities in the state’s coastal belt.

‘Human population expansion is slowly threatening areas dominated by species that we are not aware about. We have tied up with various government institutions to conduct studies and understand these threats more closely,’ says N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forests and head of the state mangrove cell. (Pratik Chorge / HT Photo)

“Our efforts have been focused towards making the agriculture, tourism and fisheries sectors more sustainable, not just through conservation, but also by effectively demonstrating the organic link between biodiversity conservation and income generation,” says Durga Thigale, project management specialist for the UNDP-GEF project.

Maharashtra government officials say they are developing ‘mangrove co-management committees’ where coastal residents will be trained to rescue beached mammals. “The human population expansion is slowly threatening areas dominated by species that we are not aware about,” says N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forests and head of the state mangrove cell. “We have tied up with various government institutions to conduct studies and understand these threats more closely.”

As part of the National Wildlife Action Plan 2017-2031 released in October, the union environment ministry has come up with a list of guidelines to protect the inland aquatic, coastal and marine ecosystems.

“This had never been done before,” says Vasudevan, adding that the onus is now on state governments to implement it. “There is a need for interventions that address specific threats along India’s coastline and we have only addressed a minuscule portion of the problem in Sindhudurg. The need of the hour is to escalate this country-wide.”

First Published: Jan 13, 2018 20:19 IST