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 Climate Change

Environment
Published on: July 24, 2020, 5:25 p.m.
Mangroves are disappearing three to five times faster
  • Here today, gone tomorrow

By Sekhar Seshan. Consulting Editor, Business India

The UNSECO-driven International Mangroves Protection and Conservation Day, 26 July, is doubly significant for Mumbai. It also marks the 15th anniversary of the day that submerged many parts of the city for several days and killed nearly 1,500 people in the western part of India. Apart from the record torrential downpour, the destruction of mangroves to create the Bandra Kurla Complex was a major contributor to the floods that inundated urbsprimisIndis, according to environmentalists.

UNESCO points out that mangroves are “rare, spectacular and prolific ecosystems on the boundary between land and sea.” These ecosystems support a rich biodiversity and provide a valuable nursery habitat for fish and crustaceans, besides acting as a natural coastal defence against storms and erosion, the UN body says. Their soils are also highly effective carbon sinks, sequestering vast amounts of carbon.

Despite campaigns by a number of NGOs like Global Mangrove Alliance to save these vital sea forests, mangroves are disappearing three to five times faster than overall global forest losses, with serious ecological and socio-economic impacts. Current estimates indicate that mangrove coverage has halved in the past 40 years.

In and around Mumbai Metropolitan Region, too, areas like Uran, Charkop and Bhandup, as well as those around the Sion-Panvel Highway have been bearing the brunt of this destruction, say groups like NatConnect Foundation and Shri Ekvira Aai Pratishtan. The Pratishtan, in fact, was floated after the 2005 floods and works to focus the attention of the government and the public on the need to protect mangroves.

Be it the expansion of highways or landfill for SEZ projects, mangroves have been the first target of the landfill, often without the necessary environmental clearances as the response to applications under the Right to Information Act shows. This destruction, coupled with the unauthorised burial of wetlands, resulted in blocking the free flow of tidal waters which inundated at least five low lying villages in Uran during the Holi festival in February 2019. The monsoon of 2019 also saw flooding of 20 villages.

The Bombay High Court-appointed Mangrove Protection and Conservation Committee and the Wetlands Grievance Redressal Committee, which are supposed to hold monthly meetings and take stock of mangroves and wetlands protection, have not met even once during the last four lockdown months. Even the decisions they take remain on paper as the project proponents openly flout the orders, laments NatConnect Foundation director B.N. Kumar.

 Maharashtra environment minister Aditya Thackeray has also ordered a halt to the construction of an SEZ at Panje wetland, which attracts up to 150,000 migratory birds annually. The fight for mangroves has been attracting global attention, too. The National Public Ration (NPR) of the US has done a 20-minute feature on ‘Why Mumbai Needs Its Mangroves’; the Venice-based Ocean Space did a webinar with NatConnect on Mumbai mangroves.


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