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World Wetlands Day: Anup Mathew on Mangrove Conservation

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World Wetlands Day marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971 in Ramsar, Iran. The 2020 theme for World Wetlands Day is an opportunity to highlight wetland biodiversity, its status, why it matters and to promote actions to reverse its loss.
On this account, Mr Anup Mathew, Sr. Vice President & Business Head, Godrej Construction, Godrej & Boyce, in conversation with The CSR Journal, highlights the importance of mangrove conservation.

How are mangroves different from other trees?

Mangroves are coastal forests. The ecosystem of mangroves establishes and grows at the interface of land and water bodies like the sea, creeks, estuaries, bays and lagoons, most commonly found in the inter-tidal area, between the high tide and the low tide. Unlike other terrestrial plants, mangroves have the unique ability to survive and grow in an unstable saline environment. This ability comes from adaptations like natural filters in roots (to control salt intake), salt glands (to exclude excess salt), cable roots (for fixing the tree in marsh), breathing roots (to compensate oxygen deficiency in soil), stilt roots (for support), lenticel glands (for exchange of gases between the plant and the atmosphere) and viviparous germination (seeds germinate and produce primitive shoot and roots on parent tree). These adaptations are not found in any other types of plants.
Godrej Mangroves
Source: mangroves.godrej.com

Tell us about what Godrej & Boyce is doing to save the mangroves?

Godrej & Boyce has been conserving hundreds of acres of mangrove forest along the western bank of Thane Creek since 1940s. In this rich biodiverse forest, we have recorded 16 species of mangrove and mangrove associated plants, along with 208 bird, 85 butterflies, 81 spiders, 31 reptile and mammals such as Golden Jackal, Wild Boar, Indian Mongoose. The mangrove management at Godrej is based on the three-pronged strategy of Research, Conservation and Awareness. Over the past four years, the company has helped sensitize over 35,000 persons about the importance of conserving the mangrove ecosystem.

Tell us more about the initiatives taken by Godrej.

Godrej mangroves are an excellent living laboratory for researchers and academia. Our team facilitates research on diverse subjects like biodiversity, ecosystem and its management, pollution trends and mitigation, nature interpretation etc. In 1999, the company planned and implemented large-scale mangrove plantation of around 80 acres at its southern border for the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. It was the first successful major mangrove plantation in the state of Maharashtra, inspiring the State Forest Department, NGOs and academic circles to undertake mangrove plantation all along the coastlines. The plantation reduced saline blanks – the indicators of degradation of the mangrove ecosystem and improved the geology and hydrology for the robust growth of mangroves. Every year, hundreds of citizens, many of them students from schools and colleges in Mumbai, visit Godrej mangroves to understand the diversity, importance of mangroves and the role they can play in mangrove conservation.
The company has extended its mangrove awareness initiatives to public by three unique initiatives:
 1. Mangroves Mobile App – to identify 67 Indian mangrove species in 11 Indian languages. The pictorial app has been downloaded in 67 countries so far and is available on Android and iOS platforms.
2. Many Secrets of Mangroves – a storybook for children that can be sent to any school or institutional library free of cost. Available on demand by a mail to mangroves@godrej.com with school/institution details. Individuals can read the book online or download from mangroves.godrej.com
3. Mangrove Awareness Posters – A set of 8 portable posters in English and Marathi- useful for Schools, colleges, housing complexes, corporates and any organized groups. The set of posters could be downloaded from mangroves.godrej.com. Godrej can also help organize a poster exhibition on the schools & college campus in Mumbai City. For more details, please write to mangroves@godrej.com

How do mangroves help us?

Mangroves protect our shoreline’s erosion from the dynamic sea. Mangroves sequester carbon, preventing and mitigating climate change to a good extent. Mangroves are the habitat and breeding grounds for aquatic creatures such as fish, prawns, crabs, lobsters etc. So they are a boon for aquatic wildlife, while supporting fisherfolk’s livelihoods. Mangroves can be a source for many items like cosmetics, medicines, tannin, timber and so on. World over, mangroves are being explored for ecotourism, research and education. Since mangroves offer habitat to terrestrial, coastal and marine biodiversity, they thus form an important gene bank.

Are people aware of the importance of mangroves?

Mangrove awareness is growing among citizens, but it is not adequate. Due to constant media coverage, urban citizens are aware of the existence and importance of the mangrove ecosystem. In rural areas, native knowledge about the mangroves is disappearing. Thus, rigorous efforts are needed to highlight the importance of mangroves in villages.

Why should mangroves be saved?

Mangroves offer numerous benefits. Most human civilizations across the world are located near coastlines. This makes them vulnerable to tsunamis, cyclones, floods, seawater ingression etc. Mangroves protect human civilizations from natural calamities. They soak excess rainwater, reducing flash floods. Mangroves hold many more secrets that can offer important ecosystem services to mankind. As one of the most primitive ecosystem that evolved around 114 million years ago, mangroves have equal or more rights to survive and flourish.

Do you think the youth is more active in instigating action against environmental exploitation?

Yes, to an extent. Today’s youth are much more aware and well networked. The ‘Use & Throw’ lifestyle has been on the rise in Indian society. Garbage dumping and wastewater often take a heavy toll on mangroves. Also, microplastic released from plastic consumables kills wildlife in our creeks and seas. Disposable plastic, strong chemicals, non-biodegradable items are some of the key threats to mangroves that the youth can influence to help reduce through greater awareness and lifestyle changes.

How has littering the oceans and the rivers affected mangroves?

Many mangrove forest areas across the world have been observing worsening levels of pollution. Mangroves are often used for dumping waste. Plastic bags that get carried into the mangroves due to high tide get trapped into the mangroves breathing roots often covering them, choking mangrove trees. Plastics release toxic chemicals that could also be harmful.  Litter of toxic elements such as Plaster of Paris idols pollute the water and degrade mangroves. These pollutants could also adversely impact wildlife in mangroves. Mangroves are often victims of dredging, filling, and diking, water pollution and other urban development projects. We must, therefore, do our best to help conserve mangroves.