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Choking Mangroves - An ecological disaster awaits Mumbai as slums proliferate all along its creeks, killing invaluable mangroves - Times of India April 17, 2010 GREEN CITY

The two kilometre-long slum settlement snakes through the lush green mangroves adjoining Gorai creek near the Link Road.

Around 8,000 illegal shacks have come up along the 10km creek in the past decade, cutting through the verdant mangroves. The Gorai creek will become another Mithi river in a few years' time.

The course of the Mithi River flowing through Mumbai was diverted by the Airport Authority of India to construct a runway.

Over the years, slums proliferated on both sides of the bank, choking what was essentially a storm water drain for the city. But no lessons have been learnt.

In the last decade alone, around 10,000 hectares of mangroves are estimated to have been systematically destroyed along the Mumbai coast. The city is slowly paying the price be it in rise in atmospheric pollution, severe water logging or floods.

The major creeks and rivers that flow around the island city - be it Gorai creek, Vasai creek or Thane creek are crucial outlets that protect the city from possible floods; its wetlands have 65 sq km of verdant mangroves which act as organic ramparts for the creek.

More importantly, the mangroves are natural purifiers, reducing atmospheric and water pollution besides preventing erosion of the fragile coast. Mangroves are also a haven for marine life, hosting a rich ecosystem of several species of plants and animals.

"The latest destruction of mangroves is going to take place in Panvel for the proposed Navi Mumbai International airport," rues Debi Goenka of the Conservation Action Trust.

It was Goenka's PIL that prompted the Bombay High Court in 2005 to designate all mangroves as private forests. The court directed that any cutting of mangroves would attract stringent punishment under the Environment Protection Act.

"But the court order has not made much of an impact, it has only slowed down the process," says Goenka. "Many of our developers and civic planners still think mangroves are some wild shrubs of little value," he adds.

"The cutting of mangroves continues unabated and the width of all creeks has shrunk simultaneously," says Rishi Agarwal, secretary of the Mangrove Society of India (Mumbai chapter).

"This violation is done along with a nexus of local politicians, civic officials and real estate mafia," he says.

The Ganpat Patil Nagar slum settlement along Link Road in Dahisar is a classic example. It has now grown to be one of the largest slum pockets, after Dharavi, claiming more than 50 hectares of mangroves.

The modus operandi is simple. Kaccha roads, which go deep into the mangrove forests, are first created. The roads then encircle the mangroves and block the inter-tidal water entering the area, gradually choking the ecosystem.

Over the years, shacks come up on these barren lands and are given on rent by slum lords. "In a few years' time, a slum rehab scheme is proposed and the slum dwellers are displaced. It is anybody's guess that the developer who constructs multi-storey towers is very much part of the elaborate game plan," says Harish Pandey whose IC Colony New Link Resident Forum has been fighting to stop mangrove destruction at Ganpat Patil Nagar.

Beyond Mumbai limits, the destruction is more rampant. "In Vasai and Thane creek alone, 2,000 acres have been destroyed in the past five years.

Last month, the police arrested 120 people, including the brother of the mayor of the Mira Bhayander municipal council, as 300 acres of mangroves were destroyed in Vasai creek," says D Stalin, project coordinator, Vasai creek.

The massive destruction can be stopped if only more and more residents come forward and adopt mangroves in their neigbhourhood and file complaints with the local police, say environmentalists.

As environmentalist Sumiara Abdulali puts it, "Mumbaikars should realize that protecting mangroves is like protecting your own lives."

Save The Mangroves (A project initiated by Times Foundation in Mumbai)

"If there are no mangrove forests, then there will have no meaning. It is like having a tree with no roots, for the mangroves are the roots of the sea."

To achieve supremacy over Nature, human beings / man have / has destroyed this magnificent ecosystem almost irreparably. Land reclamations and industrial effluents are the major causes for mangrove degradation.

The western bank of the Thane creek is the single largest mangrove belt in Mumbai. The Vikhroli Mangrove Park in Mumbai, where around 30 species of birds are found during winter, enhances the unique quality of this place.

Sustaining a coastal city: Approach to Save Mumbai Mangroves

Mumbai in 1843
The present city was originally made from seven small islands, composing mostly of mangrove forests and marshland dissected by rivers, streams and the sea. The first attempt of reclamation was made near the Worli island in 1770. However, largescale reclamation only started after 1840.

Mumbai in 1890
The British undertook land-filling and draining of the marshlands, developing a modern port and city, which attracted migrant workers from across India. Most of the reclamation was complete by 1930s.

Mumbai in 1990
The reclamation of Salsette islands started in 1950's and reclamation in minor areas still continues. The twin city of Navi Mumbai was created in 1970's by reclaiming large patch of mangroves on the eastern banks of Thane creek, a very large creek in the region.

Mumbai- A birds eyeview
Despite being the most populated city in Asia and with burgeoning population of over 14 million people, Mumbai still survives on ecological grounds. Thanks to the 103 sq. km. Sanjay Gandhi National Park with three major fresh water lakes and several smaller freshwater wetlands and the mangroves along its periphery.

Mumbai is a reclaimed island with powerful wave action along its entire shoreline. The wave action has increased by 14.7 knots in the North Western area and has eroded the 16 km long coastline by 500 mts in the past 35 years. Only mangroves can provide a natural control of eroding shoreline and increasing tidal amplitude due to global warming.

Over 100 thousand fisher folks are directly dependent on fisheries resources around Mumbai. Mangroves provide livelihood for them by breeding and nursing the fish, prawns, mollusks, crabs, etc.

Coastal biodiversity including the million migratory birds that visit Mumbai are housed by the mangroves.

Challenges to mangroves in Mumbai
Land reclamation - Most industrial houses, developers, builders are reclaiming the mangrove lands illegally.
Pollution - There are over 200 non point sources of industrial and domestic waste discharges that pollute entire water around the city - 6 times more than the assimilation capacity.
Under the name of "development" creeks, rivers and other water bodies are altered in shape, size and course.
Every year, over 1000 tons of mangrove wood is cut for fuel wood and to meet other timber demands.

Government efforts to protect mangroves
Legislation- Mangroves are protected legally under the following Acts in Mumbai:
Maharashtra Tree Act of 1984
Environment Protection Act 1986
Coastal Regulatory Zone Notification of 1991
Forest Conservation Act 1980

Public Efforts to safeguard Mangroves in Mumbai
The first effort to save the regions mangroves was made in 1984 when BEAG, an NGO successfully protested a mangrove forest being converted to industrial zone in Alibaug-Murud region. The Mangrove Conservation initiatives were sketchy till 1996.

The organisations like BEAG, BNHS, WWF, HOPE, SAVE and Times Foundation along with some dedicated individuals started a SAVE MANGROVE campaign soon after the landmark judgment of the Supreme Court of India wherein, mangroves received a status of "Forests".

Public Efforts to safeguard Mangroves in Mumbai
BEAG filed a PIL in the High Court of Mumbai in the year 2005 and were able to convince the court to pass strict orders to protect them.

India has the lowest ratio of open space to people in the world - a mere four acres per 1,000 of population, compared to the global benchmark of 12 acres.

In Mumbai, this falls to a paltry 0.2 acres, and after accounting for slums, it diminishes to a measly 0.03 acres.

Mumbai is one of the most populated city in the world with major space crunch. Against 12 acres in London and 4 acres in New York and 6 acres in Singapore.

The proposed mangrove park may be created on the government land or mangrove areas vested with private entities on which mangroves are being systematically destroyed. Park is being created to organise the efforts to save Mumbai from an ecological disaster.

Why should we protect/save mangroves?
Mangroves are buffers between the land and sea and hence they protect the land from erosion.
They are land builders.
They harbour a variety of life forms like invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and even mammals like tigers.
Mangroves are the main source of income generation for shoreline communities like fisher folk.

Mangroves are salt tolerant plants of tropical & subtropical intertidal regions of the world, creating highly productive but extremely sensitive ecosystems.

Major Indian mangrove ecosystems are in Sunderbans of Bengal (the worlds biggest mangrove forest), followed by Andaman-Nicobar Islands & Gulf of Kutch in Gujarat.

Mangroves protect coastal areas from erosion, storm surge (especially during hurricanes), and tsunamis.

Their massive root system dissipates wave energy and slows down tidal water to the extent that its sediment is deposited as the tide comes in, leaving back all except fine particles during ebb.

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