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Business News/ Opinion / Views/  Mangroves offer a vital shield against climate change
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Mangroves offer a vital shield against climate change

Mangrove forests not only act as barriers against natural disasters, they’re estimated to sequester 22.86 gigatonnes of CO2 globally, about half the yearly emissions of fossil fuels, land-use and industry.

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. (AP)Premium
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. (AP)

World Mangrove Day was observed on 26 July. The existence of such a Day speaks of the strategic value of mangrove forests, which make up only about 0.15% of India’s land area but provide numerous benefits to coastal communities.

India’s vast coastline, spanning 7,516km, is vulnerable to erosion, storms and cyclones. 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. Healthy mangrove forests can mean the difference between life and death during a cyclone. A recent study estimated that India’s mangrove systems provide annual flood protection benefits of over $7.8 billion. (go.nature.com/3QC7b2j)

India’s mangroves are critical habitats of a diverse range of plant and animal species, and marine organisms, including commercially important fish species. The Sundarbans host the world’s largest mangrove forest and are home to endangered species like the Bengal tiger and Ganges river dolphin.

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. Successful programmes in the Sundarbans region of West Bengal show that the involvement of local communities in a scientific manner can result in sustainable livelihoods and income for fisherfolk. The region also holds great tourism potential.

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. They demonstrate a remarkable ability to adapt and recover from the impacts of climate change like sea-level rise and increased storm intensity. Their conservation and restoration can enhance the resilience of India’s coastal regions.

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. A 1% loss in existing global mangrove forests could lead to additional greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to burning over 500 million barrels of oil. 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.

A sobering aspect is that these natural ecosystems are in danger. The rate at which mangroves are disappearing is alarming; three to five times faster than overall forest loss worldwide. 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. Land use for farming, aquaculture and infrastructure is responsible for 62% of the loss of mangroves, compounded by extreme weather events and global warming. Mangroves recover quickly from the damage inflicted upon them by extreme weather events like cyclones, but are often permanently damaged when humans clear them to modify coastlines.

India needs economic growth and is committed to balancing environmental concerns with development. There is much to acknowledge and be inspired by. According to the India State of Forest report, the country’s mangrove forest cover has increased by 930-sq-km since 1987. Of the 14 coastal states and Union territories, only three—Gujarat, Maharashtra and Odisha—have reported a net increase in mangrove cover. These states should serve as a models for others and demonstrate that nature can heal itself when we allow it to. 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. Recent initiatives by the central government like the Mangrove Initiative for Shoreline Habitats & Tangible Incomes (MISHTI) bode well for the protection and conservation of mangrove forests across the country. MISHTI aims to promote the conservation and responsible management of mangrove forests covering approximately 540-sq-km across 13 states and Union territories.

Maharashtra now 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. Sri Lanka’s experience in this regard is a lesson that planting the wrong seedling at the wrong place and time can significantly reduce the chances of plant survival by over 50%. Science, communities and governments must continue to work together.

Conserving mangroves is and will continue to be critical in face of a changing climate. The benefits of securing ecosystems, safeguarding food sources and providing natural protection are of significant strategic and human value. Mangroves need our help—and are of invaluable service to us.

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Published: 10 Aug 2023, 09:22 PM IST
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