A man with a mangrove in hand

87-year-old Francis Xavier among the mangroves he planted at the estuarine Puthenthura island in Kollam on Wednesday.

87-year-old Francis Xavier among the mangroves he planted at the estuarine Puthenthura island in Kollam on Wednesday.  


For 40 years, Francis Xavier has been planting mangroves

More than 40 years ago when ‘environment protection’ was not a catchy slogan, a man living on the Saint Sebastian estuarine island of Ashtamudi Lake here recognised the role of mangroves in marine and brackish water ecology .

Even now, at the age of 87, former fisherman Francis Xavier is still engaged in planting mangrove saplings and tending to them, not as a mere pastime but making a significant contribution to environment protection.

Forty years ago, he had brought a cluster of the Rhizophora mucronata species of mangrove saplings from Mulavukad island in Ernakulam and planted them on the Saint Sebasitan island. His idea was three-pronged — they provide a safe environment for fish conservation; they protect the island from strong winds; and their wood has many applications, especially for making oars.

Years later, after the tsunami devastation of Alappad in December 2004 when the importance of the plant in coastal protection began to be highlighted, it was the saplings from those planted by Mr. Xavier that were mostly used for the mangrove afforestation programmes.

Later, when he shifted to the nearby Puthenthura island to live with his daughter, he carried out mangrove afforestation in a scientific manner there. When these began to grow, other islanders followed suit.

Mr. Xavier also has the habit of collecting mangrove seeds from the island and these days, he is the main supplier of seeds to the Fisheries Department’s mangrove afforestation programme. He says that more than anybody else, it is the fishing community that can really protect and propagate mangroves. Every year during monsoon, he religiously plants saplings on many estuarine islands and finds pleasure in seeing them grow. Last year he was honoured by the district panchayat during a campaign for promoting mangroves.

But the octogenarian does not like the label of an environment activist. He says that as a fisherman living on an estuarine island, he feels that propagation of mangroves is his duty. “I feel contented while standing among mangroves, especially among those I have planted,” he says.

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Printable version | Oct 19, 2019 2:58:09 AM |

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