THE GREEN SOLDIERS: From MANGROVES to MAN ‘GRAVES’
“If there are no mangroves, then the sea will have no meaning. It is like having a tree without roots, for the mangroves are roots of the sea…” — Thai fisherman from the Andaman Coast
These words by a fisherman are enough to define the importance of mangroves in our ecosystem. It also gives us major hints about the devastative repercussions on elimination of this green barricade. And this is exactly what lead to its conservation becoming one of the issues taken into consideration by UNESCO. July 26, 2016 marks UNESCO’s first celebration of the International day For Conservation of The Mangrove Ecosystem. On the 6th of November 2015, the General Conference of UNESCO had adopted a proclamation which had manifested the importance of mangrove ecosystem as “…a unique, special and vulnerable ecosystem, providing by virtue of their existence, biomass and productivity substantial benefits to human beings, providing forestry, fishery goods and services as well as contributing to protection of the coastline and being particularly relevant in terms of mitigation of the effects of climate change and food security for local communities.” Now, since conservation of mangrove ecosystem counts under one of the initiative by UNESCO, the agenda is to emphasise about the protection of the mangroves and their perennial importance in the ecosystem. The message disseminated on the first international day celebration was to keep up with the 2030 agenda for sustainable development means inventing new pathways to development in harmony with earth. This directly points to preserving all mangrove ecosystems.
Heroes of the Ecosystem
Mangrove forests form an interface between land and sea and are very productive ecosystems as both the environment and the people are availed with numerous beneficiaries from these green dense covers. A recent report claims that these goods and services approximately worth US$186 million each year. But one fact should never slip from our minds that apart from these earthly worth estimations, these ecosystems bestow us with life which is definitely abstract and cannot be comprehended with the aid of just a few digits and data. Mangrove forests are shelter to a large variety of fish, crab and mollusc species and they also act as nursery for many fish species including coral reef fish. A study on the Mesoamerican reef suggested that there are as many as 25 times more fish of some fishes on reefs close to mangrove areas than in mangrove devoid areas. And this highlights the how vital is the presence of these forests is to coral reef and commercial fisheries.
The resistance to rot and insects offered by the mangrove wood, marks these as extremely precious and this wood is also the source of fuel for the indigenous people. As already suggested, the mangroves are the green soldiers so protection of the coastline becomes a fundamental characteristic of these. The dense root system abstains the environment from soil erosion and thus providing stability. The bewitching beauty of sandy beaches and coral reefs found in the vicinity of the mangrove ecosystems indicates at the potential tourism sector which is yet to be dwelled in. Places like Bonaire offers snorkelling experiences and a dive into the diversity.
Mangrove ‘Grooves’ in The Sunderbans
Lying on the delta of Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna rivers on the Bay of Bengal, the Sunderbans Mangrove Forest is one of the most humungous forests in the world. It is adjacent to the border of India’s Sunderbans World Heritage site inscribed in 1987. The area is known for its wide range of fauna, inclusive of 260 bird species, the Bengal Tiger, the Indian python and other such threatened species. The immense tidal mangrove forests of Bangladesh’s Sunderbans Forest Reserve stands as a myriad of islands of varied shapes and sizes. The Sunderbans is of universal importance for globally endangered species including the royal Bengal tiger, Ganges, Irawadi dolphins and so on. It is the only mangrove habitat in the world which marks the existence of Panthera tigris species.
Claws of Threat Strangling the Forests
The fact that Mangrove forests in the world have started to decline and 35% of these have already perished is very saddening and evokes a sense of danger and threat in our minds. The figures of decline in number of the forests are as high as 50% in countries like India, Philippines and Vietnam, while in America they are being cleared at a rate faster than tropical rainforests. Deemed as unproductive and smelly by the people and in order to suffice the land requirements for various purposes, our ecosystem is being perpetually siphoned off the mangrove forest cover. Overharvesting and overfishing in the vicinity of mangrove ecosystem leads to ecological imbalance and also disrupts the food chain. The spike in the levels of salinity of water in the forest due to dams and irrigation is said to overcome the forest’s filtering ability, leading to forest being smothered.
Destruction of coral reefs, pollution due to pesticides, fertlilizers and the factors of climate change do cast adverse effects on the existence and long-time survival of these forests.
Mangroves for The Future
Knowing the fact that how crucial mangroves are for the ecosystem and also what threats are being posed on these, it is high time for everyone to plan and strategise an action plan in order to curb the rapid decline in numbers of the mangrove forests. We do have many projects in process across the globe which are working to ensure the agenga of conservation marked by the day of July 26 each year. One such project is the Mangrove For The Future (MFF) , which is a unique partner-led initiative to promote investment in coastal ecosystem conservation for sustainable development and India is too a part of it. The aim of the project too replicates the objectives stated by the UNESCO. “The mangrove forest sustains the people who sustain the mangrove forest…” are the words spoken by Pisit Charnsanoh, Trang, Thailand. And this is ideology is something which will act as a the actual driving force for the mangrove conservation mission.