Column: Saving Mangroves

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Odisha’s mangrove forests are facing a threat like most of its other natural resources. There are disturbing reports about mangroves in Bhitarkanika, one of their best known habitats, being cleared to facilitate illegal prawn culture and construction activities.

Nurtured by brackish water, mangroves are a unique plant species found in the inter-tidal regions along the creeks and estuaries near the coast. Apart from playing an important role in protecting the hinterland against cyclones they stabilise the coastal land mass against sea erosion which is a major problem in our state.

Equally significant is the fact that they nourish immense bio-diversity and act as a nursery for several marine life forms including prawns, crabs, fish and molluscs. Thus, mangroves not only sustain the ecological security of the coast they also provide livelihood to thousands of people, specially fisherman inhabiting the coastal belt.
Considering that the state has already lost a lot of its mangrove cover while patches in the Mahanadi delta have been badly degraded due to rampant encroachment it is extremely important that we preserve what is left of this wealth. But that does not seem to be happening in the Bhitarkanika area with allegations flying thick and fast that forest officials have turned a blind eye to the wanton destruction of mangroves by the prawn mafia and others who have encroached and cleared large patches in parts of what is supposed to be a sanctuary.

Reports in a section of the media suggest that destruction of mangroves by the cash hungry prawn mafia in
Bhitarkanika has been so widespread that the entire region has become vulnerable to natural calamities like cyclones. This was evident from the large scale damage to the sanctuary’s flora by cyclone Bulbul that happened to only brush past the area.

One can only imagine what might have happened to the sanctuary that is home to a bewildering variety of wildlife including spotted deer, wild boar, hyena and jungle cat had Bulbul made landfall on the Odisha coast. We cannot preserve Bhitarkanika, a Ramsar site, without saving the mangroves. They cannot exist without each other.

But then Bhitarkanika is not the only Ramsar site which is facing the threat of prawn mafia. The famous Chilika lake, which was the first one to be bestowed with this honour, has also been grappling with the problem of encroachment by prawn culturist whose culture dykes stick out like sore thumbs in many areas of this vast water body. The lake has also been getting shallow because of such activities that is beginning to impact it in many other ways.

Prawn culture is the most horrid aspect of Chilika’s commercialisation with big money that rides on it spawning violence. The lake area has seen several incidents of firing and use of bombs by the henchmen of the moneybags who sustain the trade. Environmentalists in the past have even pointed accusing fingers at politicians and bureaucrats. With influential patrons the culture flourishes in Chilika despite routine anti-encroachment drives mounted in the lake from time to time. The same fate seems to have befallen Bhitarkanika.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)