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Conserve mangroves to save Mumbai

Mangroves and some jungles around are the only breathing element in concrete jungle Mumbai. These shrubs are nursery for fish, crabs, birds and many other animals; it protects seagrasses and coral reefs from being smothered by too much sand. Mangroves buffer the coast and protect it from wave action and storms. These tropical trees are the source of important fisheries. We hear it and read it repeatedly but still we see it getting destroyed too. No one wants to take this issue seriously. We all scream when water logging occurs during heavy rains, when water pours and when ecologic balance goes off but we never address the root cause.

Mumbai historical records indicate that there were several islands around the city during 1670. However, the Britishers, who were ruling the country, identified the importance of these islands for commercial purpose.

They deforested the fringing mangroves and reclaimed these islands into one continuous landmass, which later came to be known as “Greater Bombay”. Since then the developmental and eventually population pressure rapidly increased and being the coastal area, it took the toll of mangrove land. During the process of deforestation and reclamation, a few mangrove patches were still left in the heart of the city, which proves that today’s megacity had a luxuriant past of mangrove forests. Not only Britishers but also today.

rulers in all capacity are eliminating it for expansions. Some mangroves are still seen today in Mumbai along the Vasai Creek, Thane Creek, Manori and Malad, Mahim – Bandra, Versova, Sewri, Mumbra – Diva and few more places in suburbs.

Rapid developments like housing, industrialisation, pollution and increasing population of Mumbai has resulted into degradation of mangroves. There are two important creeks, Vasai Creek towards north and Thane Creek towards south where luxuriant mangrove patches are still remaining. Otherwise the state govt agencies have failed to protect this important, productive mangrove ecosystem from building mafias. The worst disturbed area in Mumbai is the entire western front except Carter Road where the mangroves have grown and have also registered an increase in height in the last 10 years. This has been possible due to the participation of citizen’s forums fighting individually.

In India, the court has directed to notify mangrove areas as protected forests. Thus, there is already a mechanism provided for management of this ecosystem. Unfortunately, many times the legal provisions are not being enforced to curb the illegal activities. A legal protection is presented to this ecosystem by way of legislation in the form of Coastal Regulation Zone notification. Recently, Mumbai High Court has ordered freeze on destruction of mangrove forests in Maharashtra and has banned construction within 50 metres of them.

In such a situation, protection of the mangrove ecosystem is possible only through the participation of the local community and by building up pressure groups for ensuring management of this ecosystem and strict implementation of the legal provisions by the Government. Thus, truthfulness of habitats critical for spawning, juveniles and feeding and for biodiversity, apart from ecological sustainability and community-sustainability should be maintained.

In the past few years, there has been an increase in the awareness about conservation of mangroves among Mumbai residents. Residents associations are coming together to spread this message. They have realised that the rapid destruction of mangroves along the coast of Mumbai will have far-reaching effects on the city. The NGOs and some political parties like Aam Aadmi Party, in Mumbai are making efforts to highlight the issues like land recovery, Coastal Regulation Zone notification and illegal devastation of the mangrove areas through the interventions of the local state government and local bodies.

We need to understand that mangroves represent the spirit of Mumbai – they are courageous survivors. But each day, millions of citizens in the city pass these hardy plants imagining they are little more than dirty, muddy weeds growing pointlessly along the shoreline. How little people understand just how important mangroves are to the quality of life of the city’s residents. By trapping silt, mangroves maintain the integrity of Mumbai’s shoreline. This is a vital service to the city of Mumbai as it is very prone to corrosion, having been built on reclaimed land that is battered by the sea on all three sides. The recent rains in Mumbai and the disaster that followed demonstrated the consequence of tampering with the ecology of fragile ecosystems like mangroves. Had Mithi River and Mahim creek mangroves not been destroyed by builders, fewer people would have died and the property damage would have been dramatically less. The Koli community worships mangroves because they know that these are breeding and nursery grounds for the marine organisms on which their sustenance depends.

In the first three months of this year, Mumbai has seen 63 cases of mangrove destruction — 57 on private land (under the revenue department) and six cases on government land (forest department) — revealed data from the Mumbai Mangrove Conservation Unit under the state mangrove cell. Unabated destruction of mangroves continues in the city with zero deterrence for violators, either through arrests or convictions, according to state government data. Violators have gone undetected because no arrests have been made in any of the cases yet. The state mangrove cell started collating data on mangrove destruction cases from April 2016 onwards and between April and December last year, Mumbai saw 244 mangrove destruction cases with no arrests or convictions in all cases. The metropolis currently has 5,800 hectares (ha) of mangrove cover — 4,000 ha on government-owned land and 1,800 ha in private areas.

The details come less than a week after the government decided to constitute a task force and setup a helpline to curb the destruction of mangroves in coastal areas of Mumbai, Thane and other parts of the state. Mangroves protect the city from coastal inundation and harbour a variety of flora and fauna. Hope we understand the importance of green god called Mangroves and protect ourselves from global warming.

 (Any suggestions, comments or dispute with regards to this article send us on [email protected])

Dr Vaidehi Taman
Dr Vaidehi an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with Honourary Doctorate in Journalism, Investigative Journalist, Editor, Ethical Hacker, Philanthropist, and Author. She is Editor-in-Chief of Newsmakers Broadcasting and Communications Pvt. Ltd. for 11 years, which features an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, monthly magazines like Hackers5, Beyond The News (international) and Maritime Bridges. She is also an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, Certified Security Analyst and is also a Licensed Penetration Tester which caters to her freelance jobs.

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