Vincent Island on Ashtamudi Lake has over 15 hectares of mangroves

The estuarine Vincent Island on Ashtamudi Lake at Shakthikulangara in Kollam is a private property covered by over 15 hectares of rich mangrove forests. The island is the only place in India where the rare yellow mangrove (Ceriops tagal) is found. But, the ecologically vital mangrove forests there stand threatened by development activity.

The threat to the mangroves on the island, which stands isolated, was noticed when a team from the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies went there last week to collect saplings and seeds of the yellow mangrove for studies and propagation. It was found that a wall had been erected around a good portion of the island as part of a move for reclamation. This has affected tidal activity on the island, and that poses a threat to the survival of the mangroves there.

However, any mangrove cover over 25 cents of land gets covered by the provisions of the Coastal Zone Management Notification 2011 and cannot be destroyed.

The yellow mangrove, long thought to be extinct, was discovered on Vincent Island by mangrove enthusiasts in 2011. Experts also found another species of mangrove on the island recently. The yet-to-be-identified species has the combined characteristics of the critically endangered Brugulera sexangula and Brugulera gymnorrhiza species, experts say. This species was also noticed by the Kerala University of Fisheries and Ocean Studies team during its visit.

The island is a prime destination for several marine fish species to spawn. A large concentration of juvenile fish can always be found within the mangrove protection of the island.

The destruction of the mangroves will lead to the coastal areas getting exposed to erosion, flooding, and storm damage; altered natural drainage patterns; increased salt intrusion; and destruction of critical habitats for many aquatic and terrestrial species, with serious implications for biodiversity, conservation, and food security.

Mangrove loss has also been linked to localised decline in edible marine fish stocks. This is caused by the absence of nursery and feeding grounds afforded by the mangroves for a wide range of juvenile fish.

Environmental activists and mangrove enthusiasts are joining hands to save the mangrove forests on the island. They want the government to purchase the island at market rates from the private owner and protect the mangrove spread. Funds for the purpose are lavishly available, they say.

Given the ecological importance of mangroves, the Union and the State governments have declared various schemes for mangrove protection and buttressed the same with sufficient fund allocations.

These are available via the Lake Conservation Fund of the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, the Mangrove Afforestation Fund of the Forest Department, the Biodiversity Conservation Fund of the Kerala Biodiversity Board, and the Fisheries Resource Conservation Fund of the Fisheries Department.

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