Mon, 27 May, 2019

Save mangroves, SAWE life!

SAWE Mangroves cleanliness drive begins in Goa with community participation from May 26 to June 2. The valedictory function will be on World Environment Day, June 6. SAWE team explains to TGLife why this campaign is significant

12th May 2019, 03:07 Hrs

BHARATI PAWASKAR

They are home to many things - living and dead. They nurture numerous stories - written and unwritten with some becoming part of the local culture which are then passed on from generations to generations as oral traditions. Known for their ecological importance, these salt tolerant plants of tropical and subtropical inter-tidal regions of the world have several usages - from offering medicines to provide food security and a source of livelihood to the people living on their banks.   

Seeing the pathetic state of the mangrove areas in Goa, team SAWE (Study & Awareness of Wildlife & Environment) has announced a mangrove cleanliness drive for the enthusiastic, self-motivated, vigilant citizens across Goa aiming towards preservation, conservation and restoration of mangrove habitat. “We wish to create awareness about mangrove forests among the communities, schools, local administration and governing bodies, non-government organisations and willing volunteers. We are mobilising masses for mangrove protection and making them aware of the laws governing mangrove protection,” states Sandesh Amonkar, founder member, SAWE.  

Sandesh points out that the major and serious threats to mangroves in Goa are plastic pollution, deforestation, reclamation, domestic as well as industrial pollution in the form of sewage that is discharged into it and anthropological activities. SAWE has undertaken a drive to contribute to the listing and cleaning of mangroves with the help of local participation.   

“Anyone who is a nature lover and wishes to contribute to the ecological conservation and preservation can join SAWE team in our drive of cleaning mangrove areas from various locations in Goa,” appeals Sandesh who has, so far, been contacted by around 40 willing volunteers across Goa. His team member from SAWE, Gayatri Bakhale, has been contacted by around 15 persons who have shown willingness to clean the mangroves in their localities. Individuals, local groups, panchayats can also participate independently as per SAWE guidelines.  

“One can identify a mangrove habitat in their vicinity affected by plastic pollution (for bandh, ferry points, inter-tidal fields etc) and organise a group of volunteers for the drive to clean the area for plastic litter with hand gloves, sticks, hooks,” guides Gayatri. She adds, “We have marked some areas to be cleaned in and around Ponda, Madkai, Shiroda etc. But volunteers can choose and clean mangroves from their own locality. If required, SAWE members would accompany and guide the respective groups.”   

Collected waste has to be handed over to respective panchayats or municipalities. “Note down and report specific activities or incidents during the drive (deforestation, illegal construction etc). Follow safety measures and avoid entering water bodies and ensure your own safety,” suggests Sandesh who has been in the rescue of reptiles, including crocodiles, snakes, turtles, sea otters, lizards etc for the past 16 years and is well-versed with the geography of the state.   

Observing that Goa is gifted with a set of 16 species of mangroves and the island of Chorao (Chodan) where the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary is situated, has the best mangrove forests in the state, Sandesh discloses why SAWE chose to clean mangroves in this summer vacation. There are 13 active members working on field and nine voluntary ones associated with SAWE. It was during a crocodile survey study that locals in Madkai guided SAWE team to Nevra Dongri area where they saw around 125 crocodiles in the mangroves. Sandesh recalls, “These crocodiles seemed to be harmless. They did not move or try to attack us. Large scale construction depletes mangroves and this is where such wildlife is endangered. If we protect mangroves, the birds, reptiles and fish that live in the habitat, will be saved. It was then that we decided to work in cleaning mangroves.”   

Mangroves are unique ecosystems that exist along the sheltered inter-tidal coastline, in the margin between the land and sea. This ecosystem endowed with productive wetland having flora and fauna adapted to local environment. Mangroves are feeding and breeding grounds for crabs, prawns, molluscs, fish, birds, reptiles and mammals. Crocodiles, lizards, turtles, mud clams, snakes, otters, jackals, mud crabs, oysters (kalva), white clams (khube) and tiger prawns, giant perch (chonak), mullets (shevte), sand whiting (muddoshi), red snapper (tamso), grouper (gobro) and thread fin (rauns), pear spot (kalunda), spotes cat, Harry Hotlips (shetka), half beak (tonki), herring (patchali), trevally (konkar) and catfish (sangott). It is community responsibility to keep mangroves clean so that these species breed.   

Mangroves protect groundwater aquifers from mixing with seawater and play an important role in removing coastal pollution due to toxic heavy metals. They also guard against natural calamities like tsunamis, storms, and floods. In India, people worship mangroves, calling them sacred and as understood now, it must be for the above reasons why they were protected and held sacred in the good old days.   

Indian mangrove vegetation covers about 6,749 km square along the 7516.6 km. Though there is no official mapping done on the area of mangroves in Goa, it is estimated that currently around 2000 hectare area is occupied by mangroves in the state. Over three decades there has been a noticeable decrease in the areas that once were covered with mangroves. The mangroves that occupied 20,000 ha in 1987, is now its one tenth - 2000 ha in 2019 which is shocking enough.   

Mangroves are confined mainly to the narrow intertidal mudflats along the banks of Mhadei, Chapora, Terekhol, Mandovi, Zuari, Sal, Talpona, Galjibag and Kumbharjuve canal. The salt-tolerant forest ecosystems of mangroves are productive, diverse and biologically important but sadly, they are threatened today. Saving all 16 mangrove species in Goa is of critical importance in conserving and utilizing biodiversity. SAWE has taken a step in this direction with the guidance of the Goa State Biodiversity Board team and its head Pradip Sarmokadam. Former NIO scientist and executive secretary of Mangroves Society of India (MSI), Dr AG Untawale who along with three other experts had conducted a detailed study on the mangrove cultivation of Goa is also offering guidance to SAWE team.   

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