[Solved] Discuss the causes of depletion of mangroves and explain their importance in maintaining coastal ecology ( UPSC GS-1 Mains 2019)

Mangrove forests form a unique wetland ecosystem, inhabiting the edge of land and sea, thriving in seawater. Over the past four decades, 35% of global mangrove forests have been destroyed. This degradation of mangrove forests has a knock-on effect on some of the world’s most endangered species which rely on them for habitat, such as the proboscis monkey and the Bengal tiger. Causes of depletion of mangroves

 The natural causes

 •Cyclones, typhoons and strong wave action, especially in the geographically vulnerable Andaman and Nicobar Islands

 •Browsing and trampling by wildlife (e.g. deer) and livestock (goats, buffaloes and cows), which are often left to graze freely, especially in the areas close to human habitation

 •Damage by oysters to the young leaves and plumules of Rhizophora and Ceriops plants; crabs, which attack young seedlings, girdle the root collars and eat the fleshy tissues of the propagules

•Insect pests, such as wood borers, caterpillars (which eat the mangrove foliage and damage the wood as well) and beetles

  • Natural Disasters, Climate Change and Sea Level Rise: Various natural calamities like cyclone, floods, storms, coastal erosion, naturally shifting hydrology, climate change and sea-level rise may destroy trees and animals even faster.
  • Global warming is expected to cause changes such as higher temperatures, sea-level rise and changing rainfall patterns, as well as more abrupt effects, such as an increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme events such as floods, storm surges and cyclones and sea-level rise.
  • Nutrient depletion: Especially phosphorus and nitrogen was found to be directly connected with the decline in forest cover.

Anthropogenic causes

•Anthropogenic activities, such as construction of houses and markets causing soil erosion and soil sedimentation has led to their destruction. For example, in Sunderbans collection of tiger prawn seeds for trade has greatly affected the other animals found in these forests.

•Indiscriminate tree felling and lopping, mainly for fuel wood, fodder and timber, especially in the areas close to human habitation.

  • Over-exploitation and Illegal Forest Cutting: Over-exploitation of forests to meet the growing requirement of the people is one of the main problems facing the Sundarban.
  • Shrimp Farming: The rapidly expanding shrimp farming industry possesses the crucial cause for deteriorating the mangrove forests in Bangladesh.
  • Pollution: Industrial development, agriculture and aquaculture near the river basins has led to the production of huge amounts of garbage, wastewater,  pollutants and other effluents being discharged to the mangrove wetland.
  • Management Failure: The mangrove forest is disappearing because of the three main management failure reasons: lack of skilled and well-trained officials and failure of institutions and conflicting activities, poor planning and knowledge of coastal land use and implementation of the development plan that does not include environmental protection principles.
  • Other Uses: Population is increasing day by day putting under pressure food production; mangroves are often converted to salt pans, agricultural fields and aquaculture farms.
  • Diseases: “Top dying” is the disease of the dominant Sundari trees (Heritiera fomes) one of the biggest causes for deteriorating the forest.
  • Fire. Fire may have caused some of the most serious damage of the mangrove ecosystem in recent years. Trees in an area around one km2 at Napitkhali under Chandpai range of the world’s largest mangrove forests are burning rapidly.

•Indiscriminate conversion of mangroves on public lands for aquaculture (e.g. for prawn culture at Chorao, Goa), agriculture, mining (e.g. along the Mapusa estuary in Goa), human habitation and industrial purposes.

•Encroachment on publicly owned mangrove forest lands, e.g. cultivation of paddy observed on government land, which involved uprooting of natural and planted seedlings;

•Lack of interest of private landowners (village communities and individuals) in conserving and developing the mangroves on their lands.

•Illegal large-scale collection of mangrove fruits for production of medicines, which hinders their natural regeneration.

 •Discharge of industrial pollutants into creeks, rivers and estuaries, which is a major problem in some regions of the world.

Importance of mangroves in maintaining coastal ecology

•Mangrove plants have (additional) special roots, such as prop roots, pneumatophores which help to impede water flow and thereby enhance the deposition of sediment in the areas (where it is already occurring), stabilize the coastal shores, provide a breeding ground for fishes.

 •Provide a safe and favourable environment for breeding, spawning, rearing of several fishes. •They supply woods, firewood, medicinal plants and edible plants to local people.

 •Mangroves moderate monsoonal tidal floods and reduce the inundation of coastal lowlands. •They prevent coastal soil erosion.

•They protect coastal lands from tsunami, hurricanes , and floods. •Mangroves enhance the natural recycling of nutrients.

Importance of mangroves in maintaining coastal ecology:

The mangroves show edge effect, which means that they have large species diversity in comparison to marine or terrestrial ecosystem.

Mangroves are among the most productive terrestrial ecosystems and are a natural, renewable resource. For instance, Sundarbans in the Gangetic delta supports around 30 plant species of mangroves.

Mangroves provide ecological niches for a wide variety of organisms. They serve as breeding, feeding and nursery grounds for fisheries and provide timber and wood for fuel.

Mangrove forests act as water filters and purifiers as well. When water from rivers and floodplains flow into the ocean, mangroves filter a lot of sediments, hence protecting the coastal ecology including coral reefs.

They supply timber, fire wood, medicinal plants and edible plants to local people.

They provide numerous employment opportunities to local communities and augment their livelihoods.

Mangroves act as shock absorbers. They reduce high tides and waves and protect shorelines from erosion and also minimise disasters due to cyclones and tsunami.

Given their importance, strict enforcement of the coastal regulation measures, scientific management practices and participation of the local community in conservation and management are essential for the conservation and sustainable management of the precious mangrove forests.

Sunderbans Mangroves

 Need for Conservation

  • It has a unique population of tigers
  • Helps to sustain millions of people with food, water and forest products.
  • The mangrove tree species, including the Sundari, which has historically helped the local
  • economy in the construction of boats and bridges

Concerns

  • There is evidence of loss of forest cover in the Indian Sundarbans.
  • Climate change appears to be an emerging threat to the Sundarbans Mangroves.

 Solution

  • Local actions that will protect the banks from erosion, and policies that address the pressures
  • created on natural resources
  • Promote ecotourism to raise awareness and funds
  • International climate finance to be channelled to India and Bangladesh for the region’s
  • preservation, given its global uniqueness.
  • Local communities must be pulled out of poverty to relieve the pressure on natural resources.
  • Encourage Climate research and social science
  • The Information Technology should be utilized effectively to spread the awareness regarding
  • the issue of Sundarbans.

Recommendations

  • Wherever possible, preservation of existing mangroves is to be prioritised
  • The long-term solution to coastal and marine ecosystem degradation requires a holistic and integrated approach.
  • People’s involvement in mangrove management on public lands, Plantation of mangroves for creating green belts and post-planting monitoring.
  • Community ownership and sense of responsibility is important in long-term successful conservation and restoration efforts
  • Programmes to raise people’s awareness of the importance of mangroves, e.g. through films, exhibitions, newspapers, study tours in the mangrove forests, establishment of mangrove parks and celebration of Mangrove Conservation Day.
  • Enforcement of environmental protection laws
  • Integration of environmental management principles, such as biodiversity conservation into economic production activities is necessary.
  • Environmentally sustainable livelihoods to reduce pressure on coastal ecosystems
  • Bridging gaps between existing policies and implementation and promoting best practices in
  • collaborative coastal forest protection.
  • As mangroves age, they store proportionally more carbon in their biomass because of higher
  • productivity. Protection of mangroves should, prioritise older stands.

Recent initiatives

  • Apollo Tyres and Wildlife Trust of India have entered into a partnership to restore a critical mangrove project in Kerala’s Kannur district.
  • Asia’s first mobile phone application dedicated to the mangrove ecosystem was launched by Maharashtra.

 Conclusion: Mangrove forests play a major role with more valuable ecological services. Therefore, conservation of the same is the need of the hour not only for the coastal biodiversity but also for well-being of the mankind.

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