KARACHI, Nov 28: Making a strong case for the conservation and regeneration of mangroves, speakers at a seminar have said that a large mangrove area, under the control of the Board of Revenue (BoR) and the Karachi Port Trust (KPT), has still not been declared protected under the forest act.

The loophole was one of the major hindrances that contributed towards the degradation of these highly productive forests over the years, they said and added that unless the government provided legal protection to the whole of the Indus delta mangrove ecosystem and brought it under the control of a single authority, any conservation strategy would have little chance of success.

The three-day seminar on “Banking on mangroves: a case for investing in coastal ecosystems”, is being organised by International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)-Pakistan in collaboration with South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics (Sandee).

Experts from India, Sri Lanka and Nepal are also participating in the seminar.

Riaz Ahmed Wagan of the Sindh forest department said that only those mangrove forests under the administrative control of the provincial forest department and the Port Qasim Authority were protected while the rest under BoR and KPT were not under the forest act.

“Of the total mangrove forest area spread over 613,844 hectares, around 262,474 hectares is unprotected. An area of about 260,000 under the BoR is stated as ‘wasteland’ in records,” he said.

Talking to Dawn, Tahir Qureshi, a coastal ecosystem expert at IUCN said that the lack of a single authority and uniform legislation was a major threat to mangroves. Multiple agencies exercised control over these forests, but nobody was ready to take responsibility.

“It is tragic that the official status of a large mangrove forest is still of a ‘wasteland’. The government must declare the whole of the mangrove cover ‘protected’ and hand over its management to the forest department since only this department has the required expertise to manage and rehabilitate mangroves.”

It was also pointed out that the mangrove forest area of about 7,500 hectares under the Balochistan forest department was declared protected.

Data on fish stock

Dr S. Makhdoom Hussain, a fisheries biologist at the ministry of food, agriculture and livestock, said that mangrove forests were nutrient reservoirs where a variety of flora and fauna thrived.

“Despite the strong linkage between mangroves and fish production, there has been no research to determine the extent of the contribution these mangrove forests are making to our economy,” he said.

Another task of prime significance, he said, was the preparation of an annual scientific data on the country’s fish stocks.

Regular monitoring of fish stocks, he pointed out, helped governments in making rational fisheries policies.

About the seasonal ban on fishing, he said “the government needs to formulate a strategy for fishermen who are rendered jobless during off-season”.

Zabardast Khan Bangash, the head of IUCN-Balochistan, said that about 5,000 hectares had been successfully planted with mangroves in three years that includes areas where there were no mangroves and the land was just barren.

“The community support has been excellent. We aim to set up a green belt along the Balochistan’s coast that would act as a barrier to cyclones in future”.

Saima Baig, Naveed Zafar and Dr Santadas Shosh also spoke.