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Mumbai fisherman in the forefront in efforts to save the mangroves

Kavita Kanan Chandra| Mumbai 25 Feb 2011, Vol 2 Issue 8

Two visits to the Andaman and Nicobar islands taught Nandkumar Pawar, a fisherman from the Mumbai suburb of Bhandup, a lesson in ecology. If the first visit in 1996 left him enamoured by the beauty of the Jolly Buoy Island, a coral paradise, the second visit a decade later made him realise the importance of protecting the mangroves back home in Mumbai.

Even as Pawar mourned the total devastation of Jolly Buoy Island by the 2004 tsunami, the sight of Baratang Island, covered with lush green mangroves, remaining unscathed was an eye opener. He realised it was the mangroves that had saved the island.

“It then struck me that thousands of mangroves are in our backyard in Mumbai, and they ought to be protected,” says Pawar. So, along with fellow fishermen, he formed an NGO called Sree Ekvira Pratisthan (SKP) and vowed to protect the 1042 hectares of mangroves from Mulund to Vikhroli along the Thane creek.

Mangrove warriors: Mumbai fishermen are fighting to save the mangroves from the builder lobby that is preying on it 

The NGO has succeeded in stopping the cutting of mangroves for firewood and the hunting of birds in the area. As mangroves are breeding grounds for fishes, SKP volunteers educate the local fishing folk on the importance of mangroves and its impact on their livelihood. They call themselves mangrove warriors and guard the entire territory, working along with the forest officials.

“We have been giving information on importance of mangroves to our fishing community through workshops, and every November 21, on world fisheries day, we worship the mangroves,” says Rambhau Patil, General Secretary of National Fishworkers Forum.

Novel Kiani, the chairman of Gorai Fishermen Co-operative Society, narrates their triumph over builders who were trying to clear mangroves for reclamation of 700 acres of land to expand an amusement park. They won the battle in 1998 and mangroves now flourish in ten fishing villages.

Environmentalists are all praise for the fishermen, but concede that they have a tough battle on their hands. “The fishing community instinctively knows the importance of mangroves but they are pitted against the powerful builder lobby that have been destroying the mangroves,” says Debi Goenka, an eminent conservationist, who is a member of the district committee for protection and conservation of mangroves.

Though fishermen have stopped depleting the mangroves, the threat comes from the construction lobby. What started at the time of the British, when mangroves were cleared to reclaim land for development of Mumbai, continues even today as mangroves are now being lost to golf courses, amusement parks, sewage and garbage dumps, buildings, and other modern structures like the Bandra-Worli Sea-Link.

Rambhau from the Koli community, considered as the original inhabitants of Mumbai, laments that the Coastal Regulation Zone notification of 1991 has been amended 25 times, diluting its spirit to protect coastal environment, and leading to the destruction of the fragile and productive coastal habitats like mangroves.

It has been estimated that Mumbai lost about 40 percent of its mangrove between 1995 and 2005. However, according to a survey conducted by Maharashtra Remote Sensing Application Centre in 2006, Mumbai and Navi Mumbai still have about 5400 hectares of mangrove cover left.
 

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