KOCHI: When the floods wreaked havoc all over the state, for once there was concern over waning green cover. And, for the same reason, the focus fell on depleting mangroves. Years of unchecked and rapid industrialisation in the city has depleted the mangrove cover by several hectares.Despite mangrove covers being marked as ecologically sensitive areas as per the Coastal Zone Regulation-I, they are being destroyed on a large scale basis. Sadly, environmentalists have reported the maximum mangrove destruction in Ernakulam district.
According to a study conducted in 2016 by the Department of Marine Biology, Microbiology, and Biochemistry, Cusat, the mangrove cover at Puthuvype has depleted over the last seven years from 127 hectares to 74 hectares in the area between the LNG Terminal and Goshree Junction. Development of infrastructure and other projects that reclaim land have made the mangroves at Puthuvype among the fastest depleting wetlands, in contrast to Sundarbans and Pichavaram in Tamil Nadu.
S Bijoy Nandan, professor, Department of Marine Biology, Microbiology, and Biochemistry, Cusat, who has been researching mangroves in the state said that Puthuvype comprised unique species of mangroves. According to the research conducted, Acanthus ilicifolius and Excoecaria agallocha were found to be the dominant species while the maximum basal area was represented by Avicennia officinalis.
“After the arrival of the LNG Terminal, we have lost about three to four exclusive species at Puthuvype. The land has been badly denuded. Any such area that has been denuded cannot be restructured. They’re also polluted with a high concentration of heavy metals, owing to the constructional activities of the LNG terminal and dredging by the Cochin Port Trust,” said Bijoy.
The destruction of mangroves affects the absorbing ability of the soil, carbon structure, the leaf litter and aquatic fauna, eventually causing an imbalance in the entire ecosystem. “Mangroves in Kochi play a pivotal role to the ocean system, like the backwaters and tidal canals. They relentlessly protect shorelines,” added Bijoy.
With respect to the devastating floods, P Sujanapal, scientist, Kerala Forest Research Institute, said mangrove covers act as a natural barrier.“They safeguard the city against tsunamis, floods, and saltwater intrusions. The best remedy to protect the coastal region is planting mangroves or similar plants suitable to the respective habitat. Mangroves act as a shock absorber of calamities,” he said.
Bijoy added that immediate conservation of mangrove covers was the need of the hour. “Mangroves have to revitalised through nurseries, planting, replanting, and tissue culture that could even revive species that are already lost. After all, they are the green lungs of the city.”