Mangrove Degeneration May Spell Doom For Coastal Areas
The much-hyped regeneration drive by the Odisha Forest Department to restore mangrove forests on the Jagatsinghpur coast has turned out to be a damp squib show. The forest cover adjoining the coast is once again facing destruction. The 1999 cyclone had totally destroyed vast patches of mangrove forests dotting the coastal areas.
Despite concerted efforts by environmentalists to regenerate mangroves, which incidentally act as natural barriers against saline surges, storms, typhoons, cyclones and tsunamis, the denudation of the existing mangrove forest strangely is on increase.
Mangrove forests along the coastline between Dunavedi and River Devi mouth are the worst affected. Illegal logging, increasing shrimp culture, closing river creeks and encroachments by the local habitants have virtually destroyed the mangroves on this coastline.
In the aftermath of 1999 cyclone, which was also called super cyclone on account of its intensity, the Swaminathan Research Foundation tried to regenerate mangroves in some areas of the affected coasts such as Bandar, Marichapur, Dhanuharbelari, Naupala and Belary villages. The NGO focussed on educating the local people on the importance of conservation as well as the protection of the mangrove forests in maintaining the cycle of nature.
However, due to some unspecified reasons, the organisation stopped its project in 2004. According to locals, soon after the NGO stopped its project denudation of mangroves went into full swing with the forest department turning a Nelson’s eye to the entire grove.
Mangrove forests provide a breeding ground for fish, prawns and crabs and are also a source of food for animals in estuaries. They also serve as a recreational ground for the birds and animal’s especially safe home for the migratory birds those visit coasts during winter, these forests are located at Balikuda, Erasama and Kujanga blocks in Jagatsinghpur district and the prominent mangrove forests locate at Baruan, Salio, Majhidiha, Marichpur, Nadiakhia, Bandar villages and vast creek areas of river Devi.
Pratap Sahoo, a social activist from Goda Panchayat (Erasama block), says that further aggravating the problem is the illegal encroachment coupled with a total apathy of the forest department towards issues, like increasing human settlements, converting mangrove forests into paddy fields, setting up industries and erecting prawn ponds in the region.
Gopal Chandra Mohapatra, a biologist with Swaminathan Research Foundation, points out that the indifference of forest department stems from the administrative tussles going between them and the revenue department over the land settlement issue.
The contention of forest department is that since 1978 they have been asking the revenue department to hand over the existing mangroves located along Erasama and Balikuda coasts to them, but the revenue department till date has refused to take any cognisance of the request.
“Thus, legally we are helpless and we just have no legal authority to take action against any person or industrial group indulging in hacking of the mangrove forests,” a forest official said.
Environmentalists and nature lovers are apprehensive that with mangrove forests slowly getting decimated, “Odisha will soon be competing with Rajasthan desert…along Jagatsinghpur coast, huge patch of mangrove forest was cleared for the construction of Paradeep Port in mid-sixties and then again mangrove forests were hacked to make way for Paradeep Phosphates Ltd and Oswal Fertiliser Plants. Now again mangrove forests along Erasama coast are being sacrificed for the proposed mega steel plant by POSCO India to be located on the Paradeep coast,” Sahoo explains.
By Kahnu Nanda from Jagatsinghpur