There has been a 70% rise in mangrove destruction cases in the first nine months in 2018 — the highest in three years — according to data recorded by the state mangrove cell.Between January and September this year, there have been 237 cases of debris dumping, hacking of mangroves, and blocking of tidal water to mangroves in 2018. Of this, 234 cases were on government land (reserved mangrove forests) and three cases in private areas. As compared to this, in 2016, Mumbai recorded 141 cases with 125 on government land and 16 in private areas. A marginal drop to 138 cases was recorded in 2017 with 123 cases on government land and 15 in private areas. Mangroves are salt-tolerant trees that act as a buffer between land and sea, protecting land from erosion. Makarand Ghodke, assistant conservator of forest, state mangrove cell, said 80% of cases have been owing to debris dumping, leading to encroachments. “Around 15% cases are owing to cutting off tidal water ingress. The remaining cases are of mangrove hacking or burning. Major cases are recorded in the suburbs in areas such as Malwani, Dahisar, Borivli, Trombay, Charkop, etc.” However, Ghodke also said while there were very few arrests and zero convictions in 2016 and 2017, “maximum arrests and convictions were reported in 2018”, the details of which will be compiled at the year-end. The mangrove cell also said the rise in cases reported was owing to more awareness among citizens and efforts by the cell. “Alert citizens have been reporting mangrove destruction, which is a violation of the Environment Protection Act, 1986, and coastal zone regulation laws,” said N Vasudevan, additional principal chief conservator of forest, state mangrove cell. Vasudevan also said efforts such as building compound walls along encroachment-prone areas, setting up of CCTVs and increased security were made to ensure such cases are controlled. “Earlier there was a staff crunch, but after investing ₹3.5 crore from the mangrove foundation, 108 security personnel — of which 12 are armed with pellet guns — have been deployed for city-wide surveillance. This has further increased the reporting of destruction cases.”Environmentalists and petitioners in cases of mangrove destruction however said the number of cases increased because people have realised that the state machinery, which is supposed to implement high court directions is not working. “Most violations are done by government agencies. But, awareness has also increased,” said Debi Goenka, executive trustee of Conservation Action Trust.