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Wednesday, Dec 29, 2004

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`Mangroves vital for mitigating impact of disasters'

Latha Venkatraman

"Mangroves help in reducing the devastation caused by cyclones and tidal waves."

Mumbai , Dec. 28

MARINE biologists and environmentalists have been crying out for conservation of mangroves as an ecosystem that is not only a habitat to birds, animals and mirco-organisms but also a natural shelter against floods, tidal waves and cyclones.

Over time much of India's coastline have lost vast areas of mangrove forests cleared for construction or urban settlements.

Mangroves, which lie in the inter-tidal region between sea and land, help protect and stabilise coastlines and enrich coastal waters.

According to Mr Vivek Kulkarni, who manages the Soonabai Pirojsha Godrej Marine Ecology Centre in Mumbai, mangroves help in reducing the devastation caused by cyclones and tidal waves.

"They are more effective than concrete barriers in reducing erosion, trapping sediments, stabilising shorelines and dissipating the energy of breaking waves," Mr Kulkarni said in his paper on mangroves written for Bombay Natural History Society.

Not just mangrove forests but coral formations, sand bars and sand dunes also act as buffer against storms and tidal surges. This was evident during the 1999 cyclone that ravaged Orissa claiming 10,000 lives. It was one of the worst cyclones when wind speeds had touched 160 miles per hour. The storm had washed away several villages along the coast. However, villages in and around Bhitarkanika were spared much of the cyclone's fury and the reason is the vast mangrove forest. Bhitarkanika is the second largest mangrove formation in India after Sunderbans.

Biologists and environmentalists have recorded many such cases where mangroves have helped reduce the devastation caused by cyclones and tidal waves.

Sunday's tsunami waves triggered by a massive earthquake in Indonesia devastated the entire east coastline of India.

Although, mangrove forests are themselves victims of the power of tidal waves they help in mitigating much of the damage and loss of lives in such cases, according to biologists.

But worldwide wetlands of which mangroves form a major part have been degraded or lost to conversion to agriculture use.

According to Mr Kulkarni's paper, agriculture is the principal cause for wetland loss worldwide. "The value of mangroves has gone unrecognised for many years and the forests are disappearing in many parts of the world," the paper said.

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