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Mangrove forests of Sundarbans: face its greatest survival challenge

August 08, 2010  by: Sourabh Kumar Dubey  Points: 12   Category: Environment  Earning $0.40   Views: 2015

The present article deals with the Mangrove structure, habitats, vulnerability, importance and future of Mangrove forests of Sundarbans.


India enjoys about 6000km. long stretch of shoreline, bordering the mainland. The eastern, western and southern coasts of peninsular India are ornamented by majestic rivers having extensive and highly productive estuarine areas. West Bengal, a maritime state of the north-eastern parts of the country, adjacent to Bangladesh, is indented at its southern part by numerous river openings to form Hoogly-Matla estuarine complex. Hoogly-Matla estuarine complex of West Bengal, which is marked as an important spot in the global map, shelters the World's largest, most fragile and luxuriant mangrove forest-The 'Sundarbans'- a well known mangrove ecosystem of the tropics between latitudes 21.31' and 22.31' North and 88.10' and 89.51' East longitudes and famous for the only mangrove Tiger land of the world .
In 1987, UNESCO enlisted the Indian Sundarbans as a World Heritage site. In 2001, the entire area bellow the imaginary Dampier-Hodges line recognized as Global Biosphere Reserve.
What are the mangroves
The "mangroves" are very specialized plant community based forest ecosystem that are found at the land sea interface of the tropical and sub tropical regions of the world bordering the sea coasts and estuaries. These forest systems are dominated by the salt tolerant halophytic seed plants that ranges from shrubs to tall trees and being restricted to the intertidal belts that are exposed to the high and low tides twice in 24 hours. Evolutionary adaptation to anaerobic , saline coastal soils provided them with specialized adaptations like prop roots, knee roots, breathing roots (pneumatophores), salt excreting leaves with sunken stomata and viviparous germination. Mangroves live next to the sea and therefore use tides and water currents to disperse seeds and propagules that are able to anchor them into the semi fluid world into which they are cast.
Why mangroves
As the floor of mangrove ecosystem bathes twice by regular tidal inundation and exposure, it become riches with detritus organic nutrients that harbors a myriad of benthic fauna - macro, meso and micro, majority of them are burrowing. Apart from its richness, the wild life thus forms a complex association of model food chain and food web. The ecosystem is detritus based and not only completely plankton based which enables them to avail of a virtually unlimited quantum of nutrients that the plants are specially evolved to recycle. In fact, these leads to the growth of the plankton's community to the greatest imaginable advantage of fish fauna, crustaceans and all the living invertebrates that feed on them. Interestingly, mangroves actually manufacture land; this is by contributing to the siltation process that eventually forms new islands. As can be imagined, mangroves offer incredible feeding and nesting opportunities for birds both migratory and local that also maintains the diversity of mangroves flora and fauna across the seas. And when mangroves leaves decompose, they provide nutrition to a host of organisms that contributes to making mangroves among the most productive of all marine ecosystems. From human perspective, a mangrove protects coastlines by controlling the erosions, acts as a barrier against cyclones and prevents process of siltatation. The wealth of micro organisms that survive around mangroves are unique and can metabolize organic wastes and have been termed as natural sewage treatment systems.
Potentialities amidst adversities
This very vibrating ecosystem supports numerous terrestrial, benthic and aquatic organisms forming a complex association of species, exchanging materials and energy within the system and between the system, and with the adjoining coastal waters. Mangrove ecosystem are economically significant and commercially important for their forest products ranging from fire woods, timber and construction materials, reptile and amphibian skin, honey, wax, alcohol, tannins and fisheries. The much specialized vegetation not only dominate the habitat and characterize the ecosystem, but also defines an economic resource which has been widely and variously used by the coastal people of the tropics since over a centuries. Although Large, stable and long-term benefits of mangroves are in many cases apparently being replaced by smaller, unstable and short-term benefits of intensive uses of the areas.
Non-market values and benefits: Actually most important mangrove products are not bought and sold in markets as a commercial item because these are majestic and having intricate ecological value. Such values are I) World's largest nursery grounds for fin fishes and shell fishes. II) Open- Air living Biotechnology Laboratory for its immense genetic resources III) Nutrient's cycle and its regulation. IV) Production and maintenance of endangered species and species that perform useful offsite function. V) Strom protection, and VI) Human habitation and reclamation.
But, many benefits of mangrove are "invisible" and are difficult to estimate through normal economic analysis. For instance, a large percentage of fish harvested in adjacent estuaries and offshore areas are highly dependent on mangroves; adjacent shorelines and estuaries are protected from natural calamities by mangroves and many species of wildlife are ecologically dependent on mangroves for their existence.
Mangrove troublers
The mangrove forests of Indian Sundarbans are under burning threat today. Hyper-salinity, tree robbery for timber and firewood, siltation, population pressure, natural disasters, pollution, encroachment, grazing, global warming, disease, aquaculture, lack of education, politics are working together to push this very fragile ecosystems on the verge of death. Another major problem of the mangrove ecosystem and adjoining riverine system is the mass collection of tiger prawn seeds. This destroys a numerous quantum of benthic animals like fish larvae, eggs, planktons and others fauna which maintains the critical food chain and food web.
Now, the primary and major question is what will be the fate of mangroves in Sundarbans. Being only Mangrove Tiger land in the world and the largest estimated tiger population in India, it is also alarming that the Royal Bengal Tiger is facing its greatest ever survival challenge in Sundarbans. In the past, mangroves was considered as a wasteland better to be destroyed and converted for other uses, but now, the scientific community has discovered the potential that this ecosystem offers for interesting basic research and underlined the importance of understanding the structure and dynamics of these tropical coastal forests. People presume that first and foremost duties in Sundarbans are simply to save tigers. Of course, it is. But the real task is that we must ensure that the environmental and ecological conditions in which tiger survives in Sundarbans remain intact. We should protect all sorts of living forms macro and micro, invisible and visible. Through the exploitation of species of commercial interests or for the sake of conversion of mangroves to agricultural land or other types of "development" due to population pressure, the system was overexploited (Gujrat), changed (Kerala),or managed poorly in Sundarbans. The sundarbans is the core of true wilderness and a bonanza for nature lovers. If it dies, the foundation of the emotional, ecological, social, financial and scientific value will be shaken forever. What will be happened, we don't know.

Author: Sagar        
Posted Date: 08/22/2010    Points:1    

Very nice article.

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