‘Mangroves for Mankind’
[The December 2004 Tsunami had established that coastal bio-shields such as mangroves and shelterbelt plantations offer best protection against natural calamities like cyclones and tsunami. Tamil Nadu reported more than 1500 deaths but surprisingly, human casualty and damage was minimal in and around Pichavaram and Muthupet mangroves. Following this, Government of India had funded massive mangrove afforestation in Tamil Nadu. Muthupet has been a major mangrove afforestation site in Tamil Nadu from 1987 onwards. FSI has now reported that mangrove cover in Muthupet has increased by 1300 ha. between 2001 and 2007, which is a 93% increase of forest cover. The article traces the rise of mangrove cover in Muthupet and its potential in offering future protection against coastal disasters.]
On December 26, 2004, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, triggering a tsunami that claimed the lives of more than 150,000 people and rendered millions homeless. This was the most destructive tsunami in the recorded history of mankind. The devastating tidal waves had hit several coastal districts of Tamil Nadu and left at least 1,500 people dead. Nagapattinam recorded the maximum number of 788 deaths, followed by Cuddalore (290), Kanyakumari (261) and Chennai (128). It was later revealed that habitations located near or behind the mangrove forests of Pichavaram and Muthupet had suffered fewer human casualties and less damage compared to areas without mangrove cover. Similar situation was observed in habitations having coastal shelterbelt plantations and tall sand dunes. Studies conducted in the Cuddalore district later confirmed the fact that mangroves indeed offer the best protection against coastal disasters such as tsunami and cyclones. Dense mangrove forests growing along the coasts can reduce the devastating impact of tsunamis and coastal storms by absorbing some of the waves' energy. A study conducted by Nordic Agency for Development and Ecology, Denmark in Cuddalore had revealed that 30 trees per 100 square meters may reduce the maximum flow of a tsunami by more than 90 percent.
Realizing the importance of such coastal forests, the Government of India funded raising of coastal shelterbelt plantations and mangroves under World Bank aided Emergency Tsunami Reconstruction Project (ETRP) and National Cyclone Risk Mitigation (NCRM) project in Tamil Nadu. Raising successful coastal bio-shields therefore holds key to the future protection against natural disasters. Central to raising of any successful plantation is the technique adopted for the same. Hence the future security of coastal areas of Tamil Nadu essentially rests on successful forestry techniques that can ensure successful establishment of coastal plantations.
In the state of Tamil Nadu, Muthupet has been one of the major areas for raising mangrove plantations. Artificial regeneration of mangroves in Muthupet has been in practice since 1987. Beginning with the year 2000, raising of mangroves have been undertaken on a large scale in Muthupet. In the year 2009, the Forest Survey of India had reported that mangrove cover in Muthupet has increased by as much as 1300 hectares, registering a 93% increase in mangrove cover between 2001 and 2007. This is based on the figures furnished in the State of the Forest Reports for the year 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007 published in their website www.fsi.org.in. Muthupet can now proudly claim to be a site for one of the most successful planting operations by the Tamil Nadu Forest Department.
In the state of Tamil Nadu, artificial regeneration of mangroves is carried out by Canal Bank Planting Technique. In this technique, canals are first laid in selected areas to allow tidal water leach excess soil salinity and create conditions conducive for establishment of mangrove propagules. The method of laying canals has undergone several changes...