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T. Ravishankar, R. Ramasubramanian and D. Sridhar
M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation

Mangrove wetlands in the coastal states of East Coast of India could be restored and better protected with the involvement of local user communities. The community participated mangrove restoration and management program implemented by M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Godavari and Krishna indicated this and has resulted in the restoration of 515 ha. of degraded mangrove patches by undertaking contour survey, geomorphological and hydrological survey, canal construction and planting of mangrove saplings. An area of 9, 442 ha. of mangrove forest including the restoration areas is brought under Joint Mangrove Management (JMM) by eight village level institutions namely Eco Development Committees (EDC) or Forest Conservation Committees (FCC/VSS). Village development, Socio-economic, women in development and poverty alleviation activities were undertaken to meet the common objectives of the villagers apart from the objectives of the project. Towards ensuring sustainable participation from the villagers dependent on mangroves, awareness generation exercises were concentrated on the theme of the ecological benefits accruing from the well-stocked mangroves in the form of protection from cyclonic storms and tidal waves and through enrichment of economically valuable fishery resources, which serve as adequate incentives for the participation of user communities. In order to make the participatory management practices more sustainable, policy guidelines on Joint Mangrove Management (JMM) are advocated.

In the present day scenario of fast dwindling natural resources, multiple stake holder community participated natural resources management is the key to conservation and sustainable utilization of Biodiversity, of which mangrove wetlands is a vital component. Mangroves are critical elements of coastal areas and stand out as an ecosystem with high economic potential and often subjected to severe exploitation. Mangroves are plants that occur along estuarine areas, where there is constant exchange between seawater and river water. These plants are able to survive in wetland conditions by adapting to the local environment by producing stilt roots and pneumatophores (roots that grow out up the soil used for breathing). Mangroves ecosystems consist of inter tidal flora and fauna found in the tropical and subtropical regions of the world. The total mangrove forest in India is about 5, 000 sq. km. The role of mangroves in the economy of the local fisher community is significant. Along the East Coast alone, more than 1,000 villages are dependent on mangroves for livelihood security. The mangrove areas serve as spawning and nursery grounds for many economically important freshwater/marine finfish and shellfish. The mangrove forests form a thick coast line near estuarine areas thereby subsiding the effect of cyclone or prevent storm water from entering into the mainland. The also prevent soil erosion along the river coast thereby preventing sedimentation near the river mouth, so that the nutrient flow into the sea is normal. Ecologically Mangroves play an important role by acting, as nesting place for many resident and migratory birds. Though these ecosystems are highly productive the importance of mangroves is poorly understood. Mangrove ecosystems are undergoing widespread degradation due to a combination of physical, biological, anthropogenic and social factors. A variety of human induced stresses and factors such as changes in water quality, soil salinity and sedimentation due to diversion of fresh water in the upstream, conversion of mangrove wetlands for alternative purposes like aquaculture, salt pans and other land use practices are largely responsible for reduction of mangrove vegetation. Indiscriminate use of mangrove resources and clear felling of mangrove forests for rehabilitation, salt pans etc. in the past, is mainly responsible for the present degraded status of the mangrove wetlands. Indiscriminate collection of juveniles of prawn (prawn seeds) for supplying to aqua farms has lead to depletion of prawn resources in the mangrove wetlands. Hence, conservation action is necessary in the best interests of the ecological security of the coastal areas and the livelihood security of the coastal communities.

Towards addressing the above issues leading the degradation of mangrove ecosystem, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation is implementing a project on Coastal wetlands: Mangrove Conservation and management along the east coast of India in all the four states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal supported by India - Canada Environment Facility, New Delhi. The project has developed a Joint mangrove management plan with a participatory approach involving multiple stake holders viz., Forest Department, NGO’s and particularly the key stakeholders local community with micro level institutional mechanism.

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