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Wildlife: Magical mangroves

Updated July 11, 2013

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Safeguarding some coastal regions of Pakistan from the ravages of time, tide and even from major storms and tidal waves, mangrove forests play a major environmental and commercial role in the areas where they are still managing to flourish.

The main mangrove area is still the Indus Delta, but these precious mangrove forests are shrinking fast and the country is losing approximately 42,000 hectares of mangroves each and every year and, unless the situation changes rapidly, as many as half of the remaining mangrove trees could very well disappear over the next 10 years. Mangroves grow in conditions that few trees and shrubs can tolerate and these unique trees provide an equally unique habitat for wild animals, birds and a wide variety of aquatic life too, plus, the mangroves of the Indus Delta alone, are the source of around 36,000 tonnes of fuel wood for the 150,000 people residing in and around the delta. The same people, many of them very poor, also harvest enough fodder, or let their animals graze freely on mangroves, to support 16,000 camels, 5,000 buffaloes, 2,500 cows and countless goats which is, due to forest shrinkage, now completely unsustainable in the long term. The very intricate ecosystem sustained by mangroves — there are still a small number of these trees and shrubs surviving on islands and in shallow waters off Karachi and also in patches along the Balochistan coast — is now, as these forests disappear, endangered and, despite a number of mangrove planting campaigns, is very much of cause for concern. The use of mangroves for fuel wood and animal fodder by the traditional fishing and subsistence level farming communities used to be sustainable but, over the years, industrial pollution, a lack of necessary fresh water flowing into the delta from up country to reduce salinity, this reduction caused by the amount of freshwater used for agricultural irrigation upstream, by the construction of dams and reservoirs etc, have all contributed to what can reasonably be called the ‘death of the delta’ and the mangrove forests it contains. Pakistan is not alone in watching its mangrove forests, these are just as essential, if not more so due to their wide range of uses, for combating climate change as all other kinds of forests around the world but coastal regions everywhere, and deltas especially, are becoming far too polluted or developed, for mangroves to survive. Mangroves are being ‘attacked’ on all sides, from the land behind them and from the sea in front and, unless urgent remedial action is instigated, mangrove forests will disappear from our world. A number of conservationist bodies, World Wildlife Fund-Pakistan, being a prime example, are doing all they can to safeguard remaining mangrove forests and would obviously appreciate any help they can get.