Chennai, December, 3, 2018: There are several reports in the media about the bioshield function of mangrove forests along coastal areas. Mangroves have helped to save both lives and livelihoods particularly of fisher and coastal communities. The beneficial impact of mangroves has been observed by local community on several occasions including the recent Gaja in Tamil Nadu. Earlier, the damage caused by Tsunami as well as the super cyclone in Odisha were also considerably less in mangrove rich areas. It is in recognition of the critical role of mangroves in the conservation of coastal ecosystems that the famous temple at Chidamabaram chose a mangrove plant (Excoecaria agallocha) as a Temple Tree.
When MSSRF was started in 1989-90, the mangrove ecosystem at Pichavaram was taken up for priority attention. Both in the Philippines, where I lived for a few years and in India, the general appreciation of the role mangroves play in both ecological and livelihood security has been little. Mangrove areas were being converted into aquaculture farms and tourists centres. This is why we started a genetic garden of mangroves at Pichavaram near Chidambaram with support from Department of Biotechnology. Considerable amount of work has been done to promote public understanding of the need for protecting the mangrove forests and extending them to all coastal areas. A Charter for Mangroves was prepared and with the help of the Government of Japan and IITO, an International Society for Mangrove Ecosystems (ISME) was formed in 1990. It is only when natural calamities of the kind induced by cyclones occur that there is more awareness of the need to protect and propagate them. I hope the calamity caused by Gaja can be converted into an opportunity for saving coastal wetlands and more particularly mangroves.