Gujarat’s environment and forests department is aiming to bring an additional area of 120 sq km along the state’s coastline under mangrove cover by the end of the financial year 2011-12.

“We aim to carry out plantation of mangroves in 120 sq km area by the end of this year. This will increase the mangrove cover in Gujarat from the present 1,080 sq km to 1,200 sq km,” said Additional Chief Secretary, Environment and Forests, Dr S K Nanda.

The plantation would stretch along the 1,600 km coastline of Gujarat, he said.

At the meeting of the State Wildlife Board (SWD) last month, Chief Minister Narendra Modi had stressed on the need of taking up a mangrove conservation drive in right earnest, sources said.

He had asked the forest department officials to focus on two projects: Biodiversity Wildlife Conservation and Integrated Coastal Area Mangrove Protection.

Gujarat’s mangrove cover is the second largest in the country, after West Bengal.

The Gujarat Ecology Commission is also actively participating in the plantation drive. It has helped in regeneration of mangrove forests through a community-based approach.

According to the Forest Survey of India - 2009, the highest mangrove cover in Gujarat is found in Kutch district (775 sq km), followed by Jamnagar (157 sq km) and Bharuch(42 sq km).

The coastal districts of Surat, Valsad and Navasari in south Gujarat have the lowest mangrove cover.

Mangroves comprise several salt-tolerant plant species that grow along the inter-tidal zones of rivers and seas, or estuarine habitats and river-deltas.

They perform a vital role in nutrient recycling, coastal protection and fish breeding. They also provide firewood, timber, fodder, fruit, medicinal herbs, etc.

Mangrove forests are considered to be the most productive and bio-diverse wetlands on the earth, Dr Nanda said. The species can survive in hostile environment and exhibit a variety of adaptations, he said, adding they keep the marine-ecology healthy.

But at present, mangrove forests are considered to be among the most threatened habitats in the world.