Imagine a world where the colour green is a rarity, where the chirp of birds is replaced by the buzz of vehicles, where the word ‘trees’ mean wallpapers on computers and where buildings replace biodiversity parks! Well, we haven’t yet reached that stage. But environmentalists and young nature lovers fear that the vanishing green expanse in the city may soon lead to a world sans the shade of green. One of the casualties of the growing industrialisation and urbanisation is the stretch of mangroves in the city.
It was with this mission to discover the hidden treasures of the mangrove stretch near the Vizag airport that a team of environmentalists and nature lovers undertook an exploration walk recently.
Armed with shoes, many with walking sticks for support in the slushy area, the team of young students, research workers and environmentalists marched towards the mangroves. Moving deeper into the muddy earth surrounded with a world of green, this was a place that told a story - a tale of the diminishing mangroves.
Cut to 1973. A satellite image procured by city-based organisation MEECONS and Green Climate reveals vast stretches of wetlands seen in 1973. In contrast, a 2014 Google map image reveals a massive reduction in the wetland spread.
According to Aditya Madhav, a research worker, the major causes of destruction of wetland are the construction of the Meghadri Gedda reservoir, industrialization and pollution. “While the former is needed for water safety, what about the other two? If we keep on continuing this destructive development there will be no resources left for the coming generations. Sustainable development is required for a cleaner, greener and better future,” he adds.
Mangroves survive in saline waters, mostly a backwater area, and play a crucial role in supporting the ecological balance. In Vizag, mangroves plantation was once found in abundance near the Naval Dockyard extending up to the Vizag airport. The patches were eventually removed. “Interestingly, mangroves can regenerate and propagate very fast. These have an important role in arresting tidal waves and studies have identified their significant role in minimising the impact of natural disasters like tsunamis and also to arrest coastal erosion,” says Prof. D.E. Babu of Dept. of Zoology, Andhra University. As compared to terrestrial trees, mangroves are known to absorb carbon dioxide faster and are termed as ‘carbon sinks’.
In the year 2011, an organisation called ‘Eastern Ghats Natural History and Conservation Society’ was formed to conduct a detailed study of the flora and fauna of the Eastern Ghats and study the depleting mangroves cover of the region. But despite concerted efforts by organisations and environmentalists over a period a time, the mangroves of Vizag continue to shrink. The annual report on the country’s mangrove cover by the Forest Survey of India, also does not mention the mangrove patch of the region.
“The remaining area covered under the mangroves is shrinking fast. In fact, a part of the original mangrove stretch is now filled with fly-ash and, also, there are traces of oil spill spotted around it,” says environmental activist J.V. Ratnam.
In 2009, a report by the Wood Biodegradation Centre identified nine different mangrove species in the region. Today, experts say that there are just one or two species left. Mangrove forests are regarded as the most productive wetlands in the world on account of the large quantities of organic and inorganic nutrients released in the coastal waters by these ecosystems. They also act as nurseries for fin fish, shell fish, crustaceans and molluscs.
The mangrove stretch and the neighbouring green patch of wetland areas also support a world of biodiversity. Here you can spot the storks preening towards the sunlight with wings outstretched.
More than 30 species of birds have been spotted in recent times, some rare ones like purple swamped hen and black crowned night heron. Interestingly, photographers have also recorded images of rarely seen jackals in the vicinity of the mangrove stretch.