India: State records 20% growth in mangrove cover in two years

Clara Lewis The Times of India 5 Dec 15;

MUMBAI: Ten years after the Bombay high court directed the state government to declare mangroves as a reserved forest, the results are showing. The mangrove cover in Maharashtra has increased by around 20% since 2013.

The biennial survey conducted by the Forest Survey of India, Dehradun, shows the state's mangrove cover, which had remained static at 186 sq km between 2005 to 2013, has now gone up to 222 sq km. This is the highest increase in mangrove cover recorded by any state in the country during the two-year period from 2013 to 2015. Odisha, with an increase of 18 sq km (up from 213 sq kms to 231 sq km) is a distant second. The overall mangrove cover in the country has gone up by 112 sq km, from 4,628 sq km in 2013 to 4,740 sq km in 2015.

Mumbai's suburbs have shown an increase of 5 sq km, which is nearly 12% more than the previous level of 43 sq km. The increase has been highest in Raigad district, where the cover has increased by 15 sq km from 62 sq km to 77 sq km. Thane district, which includes the newly carved Palghar district, and Ratnagiri have shown an increase of 6 sq km, whereas the increase in Sindhudurg is 4 sq km.

"The declaration of mangroves as reserved forests has been one of the most significant steps in mangrove conservation in the country in recent times," said N Vasudevan, chief conservator of forests (mangrove cell).

D Stalin, director NGO Vanashakti said the entire credit to the increase in mangrove cover goes to the Mangrove Conservation Cell set up by the state government in 2012. "Whatever area was handed over to them they have ensured the mangroves survived, rejuvenated the mangroves in degraded areas and where there is encroachment they are engaged in removing these encroachments," he said.

Increased awareness among citizens who have played a proactive role by complaining and following up on mangrove destruction, and support from the conservation cell, have ensured the natural barriers regain ground in the city.

While the tag of 'forest' applies to mangroves both on government and private lands, the state has been successful in protecting these trees on its land. Enforcement on private lands has not been very effective, evident from the recent debris dumping incidents at Versova in Andheri West. In Dahisar, the New Link Road Residents' Association successfully fought and ensured the restoration of 400 acres of mangrove land. In 2013, in another public interest litigation, the high court banned all development on wetlands. Wetlands comprise mangroves, mudflats and inter-tidal areas.

"Better protection given to the mangroves and the mangrove rehabilitation work initiated by the mangrove cell are responsible for this welcome change. The naysayers are proved wrong," said Vasudevan.

The Forest Survey of India has made biennial assessments of the forest cover of the country since 1987. The report published on December 4, 2015, by the FSI is its 14th assessment of the country's forest cover, on the basis of satellite data.

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