Forests are fundamentally regions predominantly occupied by trees and maintain ecological balance. Maintaining forest cover is of utmost importance as they are providers of numerous ecological services ranging from supplying oxygen, sequestering carbon dioxide, and providing food, timber, and even livelihood to people.
Mangrove forests are essentially the tropical evergreen vegetation found along the intertidal flat, estuaries, delta, etc. Mangroves are adapted to survive in hostile conditions. They can be spotted in areas with high salinity(Halophytes) and less oxygen in the soil. The magnificence of mangroves is that they cannot only survive but thrive with very dense tree vegetation amidst such an adversary environment. They cannot be grown in regions other than the tropics or subtropics as they can not withstand very cold temperatures. This is because they have a salt filtration system that leads to water loss at the tier of root only. It requires high solar energy for the same.
The mangroves are representative of ecotone regions. Ecotone regions are marked by transition areas between two ecosystems. For the same reason, they are highly productive.
Characteristic Features and Adaptation of Mangroves
- Ample amount of silt – Mangroves are most suitable to be found where the silt is in great numbers. The silt is accumulated by the rivers.
- They display an extraordinary trait of standing tall in the face of limiting factors like- high salinity, lack of oxygen, and diurnal tide inundation.
- Some other adaptations
- 3.1 Leaves are thick and therefore good at storing water
- 3.2 Sunken stomata
- 3.3 Leaves have salt-secreting features
- 3.4 Pneumatophores I.e. roots capable of breathing in air
- 3.5 Buttress roots are present
- 3.6 Stilt roots (arise above the ground)
- 3.7 Prop roots are there
- The complex root system is well-designed to resist strong waves.
- The viviparous mode of reproduction is visible in the mangrove ecosystem as the seeds germinate on trees only and therefore avoid being developed in the saline water.
Significance of Mangroves
- Mangroves act as carbsinksink as they sequester excessive carbon from the environment and help in averting the global warming and climate change crisis. 2. They act as the habitat for the survival of biodiversity in an ecosystem. The mangrove forests provide shelter to several exotic species and being the ecotone regions they host certain species of flora and fauna that are exclusively found there.
- The existence of mangroves functions as a shield against natural disasters such as cyclones etc.
- Mangroves also provide social and economic services to locals inhabiting the said area. The locals can acquire monetary gains from the forest resources.
- Acts as a zone of land accretion.
- They are an example of riparian buffers as well and catch pollutants and enhance water quality.
- Nutrient recycling is encouraged with mangroves.
- They provide a suitable environment for aquatic animals as well.
Of late there is an increasing trend of Mangroves being vulnerable to several perils as-
- The space occupied by mangroves is favorable for Shrimp agriculture and hence, there has been an attempt to clear the mangrove forest area for commercial agricultural practices.
- The mangrove wood is beneficial for lumbering and hence is prone to deforestation.
- The mangrove forests are emptied for the development of coastal area projects such as ports etc.
- The mangrove woods have high-quality charcoal and hence are in great demand. It disturbs the ecological balance of the mangrove ecosystem.
- The rise in sea level is also a big threat to the mangroves and they are prone to climate change.
- Replantation is also not feasible and does not bear much benefits. Hence, restoration is difficult.
Distribution of Mangroves in India
Mangroves can be traced in India from the eastern to the western coast in several patches. The mangroves of western coast are dwarf in size and that of the eastern side are taller. Andaman and Nicobar Islands too have some proportion of mangroves.
Mangrove cover in India is the most in the state of West Bengal and is followed by the state of Gujarat. The Sunderbans are the most prominent mangrove forest in India. They are also present in the area of Bangladesh. They are taller in size and very dense too. These mangroves are the biggest stretch of mangrove in the whole globe. They serve as hosts to the population of tigers, elephants, Olive Ridley turtles among others. The mangroves of this area is greatly influenced by the tides.
The Bhitarkanika mangrove forest is another large patch of mangroves in the eastern coast. They are situated in the state of Orissa.
Major mangrove forests of India –
- Gulf of Kutch
- Gulf of Khambhat
- Ratna girl Mangroves
- Goa Mangroves
- Kannur (Kerala)
- Punnakayal (Thoothukudi)
- Muthupet (Tamil Nadu)
- Godavari Krishna Mangroves
- Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary
- Mahanadi delta
- Andaman and Nicobar Island
Mangroves around the globe
More than 100 nations have Mangrove forests within their territorial limits and Asia is the continent having most of the mangrove cover. Approximately 40 percent of the mangroves are spotted in Southeast Asia and South Asia.
It is of pertinent importance to safeguard the mangrove ecosystem as it is in tune with the wider objective of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) by the year 2030.