Pulicat's mangrove revival: UWBe's 'Mangroves Matter' campaign takes root

Pulicat’s ancient name harbours its origins and a rich topography: Palaverkadu or the ‘jungle of roots’.
Mangroves at Pulicat
Mangroves at Pulicat

CHENNAI: Just outside the city, Pulicat draws crowds on weekends vying to catch a glimpse of rare migratory birds, the sparkling lake, fisherpersons searching for daily catch, and Dutch ruins. Yet, decades ago, this seashore town was covered in tangles and gnarled roots of mangroves but now has been wiped out over years of ecological destruction.

Pulicat’s ancient name harbours its origins and a rich topography: Palaverkadu or the ‘jungle of roots’. These trees and shrubs housed schools of fish, crab families, colourful aquatic species that are now lost to time and most of all, these mangroves battled climate change.

To restore the ‘jungle of roots’ to its former glory, United Way Bengaluru (UWBe) has initiated the ‘Mangroves Matter’ campaign to revitalise mangrove ecosystems. Launched on World Wetlands Day this year, this campaign has taken steps to revive 10 lakh mangroves across 100 acres in Pulicat.

The organisation’s flagship projects restored over 50 lakes in urban and peri-urban Bengaluru and parts of rural Karnataka like Raichur and Kolar, recharging groundwater. Earlier this year, they set their sights on a portion of Palaverzkadu. According to a press release by UWBe, “Recent reports indicate a staggering loss of about 35% of mangroves between 1996 and 2010 highlighting a concerning trend in environmental degradation.” Flagging destruction of the mangroves due to human activities, the organisation underlines the reduction in the lake’s depth from 3.8m to 2m.

In the gro(o)ve

Around three percent of South Asia’s mangroves are located in India; Recently, activists and conferences have shed light on the importance of these species. During the 27th session of the Conference of Parties (COP27), the Mangrove Alliance for Climate was initiated to promote mangroves as a nature-based solution to climate change.

“When climate action is discussed, carbon sequestration becomes a burning issue and we learned that mangroves could be a good opportunity. Pulicat was interesting because it has an ideal ecosystem for reviving mangroves, which grow in brackish waters.

Pulicat is the second largest brackish water lake in the country after the Sunderbans. Mangroves are the only species on the planet that can sequester four-five times more carbon than terrestrial tree species,” explains Rajesh Krishnan, CEO, UWBe. He adds that mangroves act as a defence against flooding, encroachment, cyclones, and tsunamis.

After gaining approvals from government departments, UWBe picked up 100 acres and in the next three years, they aim to plant saplings and mangroves and nurture them for three years.

Boosting livelihoods

Apart from sustainability, boosting livelihoods and local economies are key. In the spirit of cross-cutting benefits, the organisation is roping in the Irular community and their indigenous knowledge to revive the area and promote livelihood for a community, that usually otherwise survives on a hand-to-mouth basis.

“We are working to bring a large scare awareness about the importance of mangroves, not that the community does not know it. Native intelligence has to be respected and we want to use them as champions so we can communicate the importance of mangroves to a larger ecosystem there,” he says.

‘Mangrove Matters’ also involves the removal of acres of an invasive species — Prosopis or locally, karuvelam — that has destroyed the local flora and soil ecosystems. This species is not native to the land and ensures that the soil loses fertility over time, says the CEO, adding that it has replaced fruiting trees and native species in the area. “The project will clear the land of Prosopis, clean up of land and make it ready for planting mangroves.”

However, while climate action has now entered our vocabularies, the question remains: are we doing enough? “My only concern is that it should not be the flavour of the season as environmental projects need consistency and multi-year engagement. CSR (units) should have patience” says Rajesh, adding that climate change should be on everybody’s priority list. “Rather than leaving a better Earth for the next generation, you need a better Earth for this generation to survive,” he signs off.

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