By KS Rao
Over the last 30-40 years, half of the world’s mangrove forests have been destroyed to make way for commercial enterprises such as aquaculture, agriculture and coastal development. This has devastating effects on the environment and is believed to be the most destructive human impact on mangrove forests and has resulted in depletion and degeneration of mangrove resources. Mangroves occupied less than one percent of land worldwide. Since the December 2004 Tsunami, there has been a mounting call for re-establishing protective greenbelts along coastlines.
Due to reduced mangrove cover, coastal regions have become more vulnerable to natural calamities; land is becoming infertile and there is loss of bio-diversity. Mangroves are a group of salt-tolerant evergreen trees that grow in tropical and sub-tropical coastal environments. It is a widely known fact that mangrove forests can control coastal erosion, help to maintain coastal ecology and act as a natural barrier against cyclones and Tsunamis, and contribute to a great extent towards balancing the marine ecology and environment. The effectiveness depends on a number of factors, such as, the density, width, height, and complexity of the mangrove forest, as well as the bathymetry of the coastline and other oceanographic factors.
Benefits of Mangrove Habitat
Mangrove forests are valuable ecosystems, which are currently extremely undervalued. They require long-term protection and conservation. Mangroves provide many benefits to coastal populations in terms of economic, ecological and environmental such as:
• Erosion Prevention;
• Carbon Sequestration;
• Nutrient Supply and Regeneration;
• Maintenance of Biodiversity (Marine Flora & Fauna);
• Fisheries Production;
• Medicinal Use;
• Feed for Livestock;
• Livelihood Opportunity for Local Communities;
• Recycling of Pollutants, Wastewater Treatment etc;
• Birds, Mammals, Wildlife Habitat;
• Coastal Protection against Current Abrasion;
• Acting as Natural Barriers against Tsunamis and Cyclones etc;
• Eco-tourism Value/Recreational Sites.
Mangrove Restoration Project
Gujarat has the longest coastline (1650 km), among other maritime states of India, which includes diverse marine flora and fauna. Considering the wider significance of restoration of mangrove ecosystems from multiple perspectives of biodiversity conservation as well as their socio-economic importance to the coastal communities, the Gujarat Ecology Commission (GEC), Government of Gujarat, has taken up the project “Restoration of Mangroves in Gujarat (REMAG)”. The GEC initiated the community-based Mangrove Plantations (A Joint Mangrove Management) concept in which, the local community was involved as an active partner in mangrove conservation and management. In fact, the GEC succeeded in involving both the corporate and public sectors in mangrove plantation through a unique Public Private Partnership (PPP) model. Corporate funds were mobilised and corporates were given the responsibility for the conservation of this fragile ecosystem.
The mangrove restoration project envisages achieving the important objectives:
• To contribute towards increased understanding and acceptance of the need to protect, conserve and regenerate mangroves by local communities, government and coastal industries;
• To facilitate capacity building of coastal communities and government for community-based mangrove regeneration as part of integrated coastal zone management.
Petronet LNG’s Initiation
Since 2009, Petronet LNG Limited had signed various MoUs with GEC and Department of Forests, Government of Gujarat, towards the implementation of the Mangrove Restoration Project. With financial aid, through PPP Model, the implementing authorities had selected different locations through their baseline survey, and allocated the area along the Sea Coast based on their GIS Mapping. As of now, Petronet has successfully completed about 850 hectares of mangrove restoration along the coastline of Gujarat and soon i.e. by 2015, the company will achieve close to 1100 hectares of mangrove coverage.
There are three genera of mangroves selected as per the suitability of the area and to promote the bio-diversity within that location:
• Avicennia Marina;
• Rhizophora Mucronata;
• Ceriops Tagal;
Methods of Mangrove Restoration
The following methods were followed, depending on the feasibility of the coastal area:
• Earthen Mound Plantation: To increase the plant density, elevated mounds of size 1m x 1m are prepared by using available clay within the coastal area. Mangrove seeds will be dibbled @40-50 seeds/mound.
• Transplantation of Seedlings: The nursery raised saplings are transplanted on the field with the spacing of 2m x 2m.
• Propagule Plantation: Viviparous seedlings are directly planted, eg Ceriops Tagal, Rhizophora Mucronata.
National and International Presence
As Petronet LNG is continuously focussing and maintaining efforts to carry out mangrove restoration projects, the company has participated in several National and International Workshops, which were duly appreciated by all concerned authorities.
KS Rao is Head – Horticulture at Petronet LNG Limited, Dahej, Gujarat.