Mangrove Forests in India

Mangrove forests are unique, specialized coastal ecosystems found in tropical and subtropical regions across the world. Mangroves thrive along intertidal shorelines, deltas, estuaries and lagoons where saltwater mixes with freshwater. India hosts mangrove forests along many coastal states on the mainland and Andaman & Nicobar Islands, covering around 4,992 sq km as per the latest State of Forest Report 2021. This accounts for nearly 3% of global mangrove cover.

India’s mangroves are home to rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. They play a vital ecological role in protecting coastlines from erosion, filtering pollutants, sequestering carbon, and providing nursery habitats for numerous aquatic species. Mangroves also have deep cultural connections with coastal communities in India, providing sustenance and livelihoods for millions. However, mangrove cover in India faces serious threats from development activities, pollution, climate change pressures and overexploitation. Concerted conservation efforts are crucial.

Distribution and Extent

Mangroves in India mainly grow along the tropical coastlines of the Andaman & Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal as well as the states of West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

State/UTMangrove Area in 2019 (in hectares)
Andhra Pradesh404
Tamil Nadu45
West Bengal2,112 [maximum in India]
A&N Islands616
Daman & Diu3

As per India’s State of Forest Report 2021, total mangrove cover stands at 4,992 sq km, showing a 17 sq km increase since 2019. The assessment categorized mangroves as very dense (canopy over 70%), moderately dense (canopy between 40-70%) and open (canopy below 40%). West Bengal has the highest cover with 2,114 sq km mangroves, followed by Gujarat (1,175 sq km), Andaman & Nicobar Islands (616 sq km) and Andhra Pradesh (405 sq km).

In terms of density, West Bengal has nearly 1,000 sq km of very dense mangroves. Andaman & Nicobar Islands have around 400 sq km very dense cover while most other states have moderate to open mangrove forests. 25 mangrove species have been reported from India so far.

Important Mangrove Forests of India

Sundarbans Mangrove Forest, West Bengal
  • World’s largest contiguous mangrove forest, spanning India & Bangladesh
  • Covering approximately 10,000 sq km
  • UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Home to Royal Bengal Tiger, estuarine crocodiles and abundant birdlife
Bhitarkanika Mangroves, Odisha
  • India’s 2nd largest mangrove ecosystem spread over 650 sq km
  • Home to largest population of saltwater crocodiles in India
  • Habitat for king cobras, pythons, migratory birds etc.
Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary, Andhra Pradesh
  • 3rd largest mangrove cover in India, spread over 235 sq km
  • Harbouring rare, endangered wildlife species
  • Serving as bio-shield against cyclones for nearby Kakinada region
Godavari-Krishna Mangroves, Andhra Pradesh
  • Mangrove wetlands along the deltaic regions where these rivers meet Bay of Bengal
  • Providing vital nursery sites for aquatic life like fish, prawns etc.
Goa Mangroves
  • Scattered along Goa’s estuaries & backwaters like Mandovi & Zuari
  • Small patches acting as buffers against coastal erosion and tsunamis
Kannur Mangroves, Kerala
  • Peculiar mangroves with freshwater loving species, adapted to low salinity levels
  • Harbouring medicinal plants like ayurvedic herb ‘Nirkachuruli’
Pichavaram Mangroves, Tamil Nadu
  • One of world’s unique mangrove ecosystems with Over 1,700 interconnected islets
  • Critical breeding ground for many shrimp, crab and fish varieties
Thane Creek Mangrove Forest, Maharashtra
  • Lush green natural flood barriers for Mumbai against Arabian Sea
  • Home to avian species like flamingoes, herons, storks, etc.
Lothian Island Wildlife Sanctuary, West Bengal
  • 38 sq km protected mangrove island in Sundarbans
  • Safe breeding site for endangered crocodiles and Olive Ridley Turtles

Threats and Challenges

Multiple anthropogenic threats endanger India’s mangroves. Destruction and fragmentation of mangroves is occurring rapidly due to agriculture expansion, aquaculture farming, urbanization and industrialization in coastal regions. For instance, nearly 40% of mangroves have been lost in Maharashtra’s Mumbai Metropolitan Region.

Diversion of freshwater flows, siltation in estuary channels, pollution from sewage discharge and industrial effluents as well as oil spills also degrade mangroves. Invasive species introduction is another issue for native mangroves. Climate change consequences like sea level rise, increasing frequency of cyclones, floods, droughts etc further undermine resilience. Moreover, overharvesting for fuelwood, fodder and timber threatens sustainability.

Conservation Efforts

Recognizing their ecological significance, the Government of India has prioritized conservation of mangroves. The National Mangrove Committee, Mangrove Cell in Maharashtra and Odisha, special schemes and sanctuaries have been established. Stringent legal protection is accorded through Coastal Regulation Zone Rules. Initiatives taken encompass mangrove afforestation drives, biodiversity assessments, sustainable management planning, alternative livelihood promotion for local communities and raising public awareness. Corporate Responsibility for Environmental Protection schemes also support India’s mangrove restoration goals.

For long-term conservation however, a landscape-level approach considering catchments and coastal processes is vital rather than isolated protected areas. Integrating ecological mangrove restoration with local community needs and supporting mangrove-based ecotourism can boost sustainability outcomes. Rigorously implementing regulations, pollution abatement, habitat protection, developing mangrove cultivation techniques and evidence-based adaptive policies will be crucial ahead. With coordinated action, India’s mangroves can thrive amidst development challenges in coming times.

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