Rapid urbanisation takes toll on Mangroves in Vizag

However, this proposal has seen little progress. Numerous organisations have expressed willingness to assist in protecting and replanting these mangroves, awaiting only official approval to proceed.
The mangrove patch behind Visakhapatnam International Airport is filled with construction debris.
The mangrove patch behind Visakhapatnam International Airport is filled with construction debris.Photo | G Satyanarayana

VISAKHAPATNAM: Over the past several decades, Visakhapatnam has experienced rapid urbanisation and industrialisation, leading to a significant reduction in its mangrove stretches. Once extensive, these vital ecosystems have been reduced to a few small patches and are now threatened by ongoing development. This loss is concerning given the crucial role mangroves play in protecting shorelines from erosion and providing habitat for diverse wildlife.

The Meghadri Gedda, a rain-fed drain flowing into the Bay of Bengal near Visakhapatnam harbour, once supported a vibrant mangrove ecosystem. These mangroves extended from the Naval Dockyard to the Meghadri Gedda reservoir behind Visakhapatnam International Airport but are now reduced to a small, endangered patch, increasingly threatened by construction debris.

In 2016, then Visakhapatnam Port Trust (VPT) Chairperson MT Krishna Babu announced a proposal to regenerate mangroves over a 50-acre area, seeking technical expertise to support the initiative.

However, this proposal has seen little progress. Numerous organisations have expressed willingness to assist in protecting and replanting these mangroves, awaiting only official approval to proceed.

GM Narasimha Rao, a retired professor from Andhra University who has extensively studied Visakhapatnam’s mangroves since the 1990s, shared his insights. “In the 1990s, mangroves stretched from the Naval Dockyard Bridge to areas like Sheela Nagar and Gnanapuram, reaching heights up to 5 metres. However, due to construction and infrastructure development, their size has drastically reduced. By 2008, their height had diminished to 3 metres, and the canopy also shrank,” Rao recalled.

Rao emphasised the importance of conserving existing mangroves rather than focusing solely on new plantation efforts.

He suggested that improving water flow through dredging existing creeks could restore current mangrove habitats, creating better conditions for their growth and ensuring their survival within Visakhapatnam’s ecosystem.

Numerous organisations have expressed willingness to assist in protecting and replanting these mangroves, awaiting only official approval to proceed.
Numerous organisations have expressed willingness to assist in protecting and replanting these mangroves, awaiting only official approval to proceed.Photo | G Satyanarayana

The mangrove patch near the Gosthani river mouth in Bheemili, now reduced to just 150 to 200 plants, is also awaiting permission for replantation efforts. A 2023 study by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education-Coastal Ecosystem Centre (ICFRE-CEC) revealed approximately 220 hectares of mangrove patches in Visakhapatnam district. Surprisingly, these mangroves were not mentioned in the Forest Survey of India report, which maps and monitors India’s forest resources biennially.

ICFRE scientist B Srinivas noted, “Currently, there are small patches of mangroves in Bheemili, but nearly 40 hectares can be developed for mangrove plantations. The area where the Gosthani river meets the sea already supports mangrove growth. Reintroducing mangroves here will benefit the fishing community, as fish production thrives in mangrove environments. Additionally, mangrove seeds disperse naturally through vegetation, allowing them to grow in suitable coastal areas even without active replantation efforts.”

The decline in mangrove habitats has also impacted bird species. Vivek Rathod, founder of Wildlife Conservation Through Research and Education (WCTRE), highlighted that areas once flourishing with birdlife are now in dire need of conservation.

Near-threatened species like the Eurasian curlew, Oriental darter, and black-headed ibis have seen significant declines. To educate the public on the importance of mangroves, WCTRE is organising awareness campaigns.

Speaking to TNIE, Visakhapatnam Port Trust Secretary T Venu Gopal explained measures taken by VPA to increase green cover.

“For World Environment Day, we initiated a large plantation drive of one million

saplings within the port premises as part of our CSR initiatives. Currently, we do not plan to restore the mangrove patch behind the airport. However, we welcome any organisation willing to plant trees near the Gosthani river in Bheemili. The survival rate of these plants must be at least 60 per cent for the effort to be meaningful,” the VPA trust secretary said.

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