INDIA’S THREATENED COASTAL HABITAT – PART I

India has a vast coastline of nearly 7516.16 kms. The coastal ecosystem consists of four major categories – salt marshes, mangroves, estuaries, and coral reefs. The marine and coastal habitats of India are being subjected to severe environmental stress. The coastal areas and the seas are treated as a depository of all pollutants from the terrestrial environment. Silt and sediments from uplands, residues of fertilizers and pesticides from farmlands, sewage, and industrial effluents are all ultimately dumped into this habitat.  On the other hand,  the  ‘marine revolution’  which has introduced powerful technologies in the fisheries sector has transformed fish from being a renewable resource into a non-renewable resource. Pollution combined with over-exploitation is threatening marine resources as well as the livelihood of the fishing communities.

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Mangrove Ecosystem

Mangroves are salt-tolerant vegetation found mainly in the tropical and sub-tropical inter-tidal regions. They are reservoirs of a large number of plant and animal species associated together over a long evolutionary time and exhibiting remarkable capacity for salt tolerance. They stabilize the shoreline and act as a bulwark against encroachments by the sea. Mangroves occur all along the Indian coastline in sheltered estuaries, tidal creeks, backwaters, salt marshes, and mudflats covering a total area of 6,740  sq. km.,  which is about seven percent of the world’s total mangrove area.

The mangrove ecosystem plays an important physical role in protecting the fragile coast from erosion by cyclones and wave-induced wind velocity. Due to the ever-increasing human and cattle population, the pressure on the mangrove forests has increased mainly for firewood, commercial activities such as shrimp farming, salt pans, and uncontrolled fishing.

All such activities result in the degradation and reduction in the size of the mangrove forests. Northern Andaman and Nicobar (Andaman and Nicobar Islands), Sunderbans (West Bengal), Bhitarkanika (Orissa), Corniga Godavari delta and Krishna estuary (Andhra Pradesh), Mahanadi delta (Orissa), Pitchavaram and Point Calimere (Tamilnadu), Goa (Goa), Gulf of Kutch (Gujarat), Coondapur (Karnataka), Achra / Ratnagiri (Maharashtra), Vembanad (Kerala) are some of the important mangrove areas in India. Based on the recommendations of the National Committee on Wetlands, Mangroves, and Coral Reefs, the above said mangrove areas have been identified for intensive conservation and management purposes.

Coral reefs

Coral reefs are shallow-water tropical marine ecosystems characterized by remarkably high biomass production and a rich faunal and floral biodiversity. The structure of a reef is formed by calcareous skeletons which house the coral, a type of soft-bodied radially symmetric marine invertebrate belonging to the phylum Coelenterata. Major coral reef formations in India are located at Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Gulf of Mannar, Gulf of Kutch, Lakshadweep Islands, and patches of corals in Goa and Maharashtra coasts.

To be continued . . . .

Sabesh
CPREEC

Source: Eco News, Vol.9, No.1 (April – June), 2003.

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