Degradation and destruction of mangrove forests in Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam districts, have been a cause of concern for environmentalists and environment lovers. Though negligible when compared to other coastal districts, both these districts having the mangrove forests in small patches spread over the coastline, are witnessing a decrease in the area over the last few years.
Mangroves are found in tropical and subtropical tidal areas and play a crucial role in supporting the ecological balance. They play an important role in arresting tidal waves and tsunamis. They also support shrimp seed production and crocodile breeding. Andhra Pradesh has the second largest mangrove forests in the country, after West Bengal.
Visakhapatnam and Srikakulam have mangrove forests spread over in an area of less than 60 hectares. In Visakhapatnam, mangroves plantation was once found in abundance near the Naval Dockyard extending up to Meghadrigedda reservoir on the rear-side of the airport.
Two more mangrove plantation patches are found at Pudimadaka and Rambilli in the district. But, about 90 per cent of the mangroves and casuarinas in Vizag are lost due to human interference and indiscriminate deforestation of the mangroves cover for industrial development and urbanisation over the last few years.
Environmentalists attribute the beach erosion which has been severe in the recent times to lack of mangrove plantation along the beach.
“For me, Vizag and other north Coastal Andhra districts have mangrove plantation in negligible area. People, particularly the government, should realise the importance of mangrove plantations. It was these mangrove plantations that saved the lives of hundreds of people in East Godavari district during the tsunami,” said DE Babu, professor and head of Zoology department at Andhra University.
He added that mangroves host several commercially important species of fish and crustaceans. He pointed out that beach erosion in Visakhapatnam could have been controlled to some extent through mangrove plantation.
The mangrove plantation at Bhavanapadu and surrounding areas in Srikakulam which are spread up to 50 hectares this year, has declined from about 72 hectares in 2011. The environmentalists say that aquaculture has damaged these forests to some extent but developmental activities particularly industrialisation is posing a threat to mangrove plantation.
Environmentalists emphasise the need to grow mangroves immediately in the wake of industrialisation proposed along the coast including Petroleum, Chemical and Petrochemical Investment Region (PCPIR) following the bifurcation of the State.
They suggest that if 100 acres of mangroves are destroyed for any requirement, mangrove plantation should be taken up in at least 200 acre.
Mangroves are buffers between land and sea where they not only prevent soil erosion but also act as catalyst in reclaiming land from the sea.
Mangrove forests and estuaries are breeding and nursery grounds for a number of marine organisms, including the commercially important shrimp, crab and fish species. The threats to mangroves include land reclamation for construction and industrial activities, domestic pollution, dumping of debris and waste, deforestation for fuel food and over harvesting marine wealth.
“Unless restoration of degraded mangrove forests is taken up immediately by involving all stakeholders, we will lose precious mangrove areas that would in turn increase vulnerability to coastal storms and cyclones and loss of opportunity to sustainable livelihoods,” admitted a senior forest officer.
He said that though proposals were sent to the government to grow mangrove plantations, the department is yet to receive a nod from the government.