Meet Ramakrishna from Magasani Tippa, a small village close to Kakinada, along the East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. He describes his “home” as a beautiful little island surrounded by mangroves and the open sea. Over the years, Ramakrishna and his neighbours have seen the role that these mangroves play in protecting their homes from cyclones and providing sustainable livelihoods.
In coastal villages like Magasani Tippa, over the last decade, the mangroves have been under extreme anthropogenic pressure, owing to the emergence of large-scale production activities in the region, and the increase in demand for mangrove timber as fuelwood. This has affected the overall ecological balance of the coastal areas, threatening the key species that rely on these mangroves for survival. This is a cause for concern not just for the local communities whose vulnerability increases during cyclonic events, but also for the policymakers.
Since 2011, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in partnership with the Government of India and financed by the Global Environment Facility has been working with communities along India’s coastline to restore and protect the increasing degradation of mangroves.
For instance, India’s second largest mangrove ecosystem, the East Godavari River Estuarine Ecosystem (EGREE), home to over 35 species of mangroves, has been subjected to pollution and destruction from industrial activities. This has resulted in reduced fish stock, poor quality of water and loss of significant marine life impacting the lives of local communities.
To address this, the EGREE Foundation, an intersectoral body formed under the project brought together fishing, oil and gas, port and shipping, aquaculture and fertilizer industries to adopt environment-friendly practices. In recognition of its biodiversity significance, a part of the region was declared as the Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary.
Through the support from the Foundation and the Forest Department of Andhra Pradesh, the Sanctuary has now become a destination for tourists to walk through the mangroves and learn about the various species. By training young people from the local community as tourist guides, it is now also a source of sustained income and driving force to protect these forests. The intervention has also resulted in an increase in the number of endangered fishing cats by five folds. Even Otters, which were once a rarity, have been increasingly sighted.
Further down south, along the Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, local communities have joined forces and are innovating new techniques for incubating and planting mangroves to yield better results. It has led to the establishment of a village-level Forest Conservation Council and planting 6000 mangrove saplings in the district. This was possible through the support from the UNDP-GEF Small Grants Programme.
Promoting a similar organic link between healthy mangroves and sustainable livelihoods, people along the west coast of India in Sindhudurg, Maharashtra now don the hat of mangrove experts and community vigilantes. For instance, through training and support from UNDP and Government of Maharashtra, a group of 10 women run a mangrove safari programme in the Mandavi creek of Vengurla taluka. They refer to these mangroves as maternity homes for the fishes, mammals, and birds and maintain a vigilant eye to prevent illegal cutting of trees.
Fishing communities in Sindhudurg have also been encouraged to breed mangrove crabs for sale. Typically, fishermen baited only a few crabs at a time on a single net. However, the new system makes mangrove crab farming a lucrative option for many and is being upscaled along coastal Maharashtra with the State Government’s support. The programme has given these groups an additional livelihood income, a new skill and – as many of them claim – a personal support group.
This goes to show that conservation of mangroves are far-reaching and have the potential to not only protect but to improve the local ecosystem by restoring equilibrium. From acting as a line of defense during cyclones and storm surges to the immense economic value that the communities can derive from mangrove ecosystems, there is no denying the need to protect the mangrove ecosystems!