Mangrove Conservation

Context:  Recently, International Day for the Conservation of the Mangrove Ecosystem was observed on July 26. More on the News:
  • About Day: International Day was adopted by the General Conference of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2015.
  • Aim: To raise awareness of the importance of mangrove ecosystems as “a unique, special and vulnerable ecosystem” and to promote solutions for their sustainable management, conservation and uses.
  • Significance: Mangroves are located in “transitional intertidal zones.” i.e Mangrove ecosystems are at the intersection of SDGs 14 and 15 as they provide a buffer zone between life below water and life on land.
About Mangroves:
  • Location: Mangroves are found in tropical and subtropical areas, i.e., between 25°N and 25°S latitude. 
  • Mangroves have specialized adaptation to survive in the extreme conditions of the coastal environment.
  • They have the ability to survive in waterlogged and anoxic soil, and to tolerate brackish water with the adaptations.
    • Stilt Roots
    • Pneumatophores 
    • Salt Excretory Glands
    • Salt Excluding Roots
    • Viviparous seeds
  • There are 24-29 families and around 70 species in the world. 
  • Global Number: In 2020, an estimated 147,359 km2 of mangrove forest globally, 51% of which occurred in the AsiaPacific, with 29% in the Americas and 20% in Africa.
    • Indonesia has the largest area of mangrove forest – totalling 20% of the global total – followed by Brazil, Australia, Mexico and Nigeria, which together contain almost half of the world’s mangroves.
India and Mangroves:
  • India is home to about 3 percent of the total mangrove cover in South Asia, with the Sundarbans in West Bengal and Bhitarkanika mangroves in Odisha being the richest in diversity.
    • Sundarbans: It is one of the most biodiverse mangrove forests in the world.
    • It is home to a wide variety of fauna, including the Bengal tiger, fishing cat, mangrove snakes, goliath heron, saltwater crocodile and water monitor lizard.
  • According to the India State of Forest report, the country’s mangrove forest cover has increased by 930-sq-km since 1987.
  • As per Forest Survey Report 2021, total mangrove cover in the country is 4,992 sq km.
    • An increase of 17 sq Km in mangrove cover has been observed as compared to the previous assessment of 2019.
    • Top three states showing mangrove cover increase are Odisha (8 sq km) followed by Maharashtra (4 sq km) and Karnataka (3 sq km).
Significance:
  • Disaster Mitigation: Mangrove coverage acts as a natural barrier, reducing the impact of waves and protecting coastal areas from erosion.
    • It stabilizes sedimentation and mitigates coastal flooding, thus providing a valuable defence against natural disasters.
    • A recent study estimated that India’s mangrove systems provide annual flood protection benefits of over $7.8 billion.
    • Ex: During Supercyclone Amphan in 2020, Sundarbans mangroves played a big role in protecting the life and livelihood of millions of people by acting as a bio-shield and protecting the embankments.
    • Mangroves are an essential part of the “build back better” strategy in response to sea storms, tsunamis, and cyclones.
  • Ecosystem Services: Mangrove provide critical habitats of a diverse range of plant and animal species, and marine organisms, including commercially important fish species.
    • Sundarbans host the world’s largest mangrove forest and are home to endangered species like the Bengal tiger and Ganges River dolphin.
  • Natural Filter: Mangrove forests improve water quality and act as natural filters by trapping sediments, pollutants and excess nutrients.
    • They play a role in the well-being of coastal communities and health of marine ecosystems.
  • Carbon Sequestration: Mangrove ecosystems can absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and store it in their biomass and sediments in a process known as sequestration.
    • Globally, they are estimated to sequester 22.86 metric gigatonnes of CO2, which is about half the annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuels, land-use and industry.
    • This buried carbon is known as “blue carbon” because it is stored underwater in coastal ecosystems like mangrove forests, seagrass beds and salt marshes.
  • Livelihood: Mangroves contribute significantly to the livelihoods of 900,000 fisher households in India.
    • They support artisanal fisheries and provide food and income for the local population.
    • Roughly about 60% of India’s coastal marine fish species are dependent on the mangrove ecosystem.
    • Mangrove forests play a crucial role in nurturing estuaries and supporting nature-based economies.
  • Tourism and recreation: Mangroves provide opportunities for eco-tourism, birding, kayaking, and other nature-based activities that can support local communities’ sustainable economic growth.
Challenges faced by Mangrove Ecosystem:
  • Stress on Mangrove: Mangroves are disappearing at a global loss rate of 1–2% per year, and the loss reached 35% during the last 20 years.
    • Since 1996, the planet’s mangrove coverage has declined by 11,700-sq- km—an area thrice the size of Goa—with South and Southeast Asia witnessing the most significant loss.
  • Declining Diversity: According to the IUCN red list, 11 of the 70 mangrove species in the world (16 percent) are at an elevated threat of extinction.
    • Among them, two species, namely Sonneratia griffithii (critically endangered) and Heritiera fomes (endangered), are found in India.
    • 1,533 species are associated with mangroves in some way; 15% of which are threatened with extinction. Nearly 50% of mangrove-associated mammals, 22% of fishes, 16% of plants, 13% of amphibians and 8% of bird and reptile species are threatened with extinction.
  • Rise in Sea Level: Sea levels are rising globally at a rate of more than 3 mm/ year.
    • It poses a major threat to mangrove ecosystems and the impacts are
    • Sediment erosion and loss of salt marsh habitats
    • Inundation stress and shift of mangroves towards landward side
    • Increased salinity at landward zone
  • Oil Pollution: Oil spill causes physical suffocation and toxicological impacts to mangroves.
    • Spilled oil covers the aerial breathing mangrove roots inhabiting gaseous exchange and disrupting oxygen transport to underground roots leading to death of trees. 
  • Plastic Pollution: Mangrove ecosystems are at particular risk of being polluted by plastic carried from rivers to the sea.
    • Southeast Asia is more affected by river-borne plastic pollution than any other region in the world.
  • Lack of Protection: Mangroves outside reserve forests, sanctuaries and national parks in India are under threat as they do not have legal protections.
  • Reducing Freshwater: Mangroves faces the consequences of reduction in freshwater flow due to the damming of rivers.
    • These impacts are particularly high in the estuaries like the Cauvery where the rainfall is also less.
  • Urbanization: Infrastructure and housing schemes for increasing the human population are destroying the mangroves, as mangroves are drained and land is cleared to make space for urban projects.
  • Other Factors: Industrial waste, fertilizer runoff, and deforestation contribute to mangrove destruction, with industrial waste, pesticide-containing runoff, and illegal tree logging causing 62% of mangrove loss.
Steps Taken for Conservation and Preservation of Mangrove
  • Mangrove Initiative for Shoreline Habitats & Tangible Incomes (MISHTI): To promote the conservation and responsible management of mangrove forests covering approximately 540-sq-km across 13 states and Union territories.
    • It will facilitate mangrove plantation along India’s coastline and on salt pan lands. 
    • The programme will operate through “convergence between MGNREGS, Campa Fund and other sources.
  • Central Sector Scheme under National Coastal Mission Programme on ‘Conservation and Management of Mangroves and Coral Reefs’.
    • Under this programme, annual Management Action Plan (MAP) for conservation and management of mangroves are formulated and implemented in all the coastal States and Union Territories.
  • Sustainable Aquaculture in Mangrove Ecosystem (SAIME) initiative
    • Aim: Promoting sustainable aquaculture practices in mangrove ecosystems, while also conserving and restoring mangrove forests.
  • State Government Initiatives:
    • Maharashtra has a dedicated unit for mangrove and coastal biodiversity conservation.
      • The unit combines the latest scientific knowledge and capacity-building platforms for local communities to advance restoration and conservation practices.
    • West Bengal Mangrove Cell: It will bring government officials, forest personnel, NGOs and academics under a single platform to provide guidance on negotiating the challenges faced in conserving mangroves.
Way Forward
  • Engaging Local Community in Conservation: Involving and enabling local communities is critical for long-term success.
    • In Gujarat and Odisha, results have shown that engaging local communities as stewards of their ecosystems, creating incentives and fostering a collaborative approach among government officials and restoration programmes can yield positive results.
  • Policy Planning: Develop a comprehensive plan for the conservation and management of the mangrove forest, taking into account the local community’s needs and concerns.
    • Develop standardized metrics for mangrove conditions, identify local drivers of change, and evaluate policy and management measures’ effectiveness.
  • Pollution Abatement: Implement measures to reduce threats to the mangrove forest, such as controlling pollution, preventing illegal logging, and reducing coastal erosion.
  • Afforestation: Encourage the planting of new mangrove trees to increase the forest’s size and improve its health.
    • Reducing mangrove deforestation rates would elevate the carbon benefit from climate change by 55–61%.
  • Strict Monitoring: Monitor the effectiveness of conservation efforts using data such as satellite imagery, water quality tests, and biodiversity surveys.
  • Limiting Human Activities: Human activities such as urbanization should be limited around the mangrove forests.
    • People who use mangroves for livelihoods should adopt sustainable approaches toward fisheries.
  • Awareness: Refine knowledge of species benefiting and impacted by mangrove degradation and loss to understand the impact of mangrove change on local biodiversity and develop effective conservation and recovery plans.
Conclusion
  • Mangrove has a remarkable ability to adapt and recover from the impacts of climate change like sea-level rise and increased storm intensity.
  • Given that India’s economy is growing fast and greenhouse gas emissions are expected to peak between 2040 and 2045, we must safeguard and restore mangroves as a bulwark against air pollution.
  • Their conservation and restoration can also enhance the resilience of India’s coastal regions.
Global Effort to Protect and Preserve Mangrove
  • Mangrove Alliance for Climate (MAC): It is an initiative led by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Indonesia, which also includes India, Sri Lanka, Australia, Japan, and Spain.
    • It seeks to educate and spread awareness worldwide on the role of mangroves in curbing global warming and its potential as a solution for climate change.
  • Save Our Mangroves Now: It is a joint effort of BMZ, WWF and IUCN. It is an initiative aimed at halting the decline of global mangroves.
 News Source: Livemint

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