Most of us working in the environmental field are familiar with the story of depleting mangrove forests in Pakistan. We have lost most of our mangrove cover over the years, which is sad because the country once had dense mangroves growing in the delta region and along the Makran coast. Mangroves are important as they provide breeding grounds for shrimp, crab and other fish and they also protect our coast from hurricanes and tsunamis.

So you can imagine my surprise when I was taken to visit a remote section of the Makran coast where new mangroves are growing in abundance in an area which was once devoid of all vegetation. “There are thick mangroves growing nearby in the Kalmat Lagoon so we thought why not here as well?” explained Ahmad Khan, the regional director of the Pakistan Wetlands Programme, which is a part of WWF-Pakistan.

This area, called Kawari, is located between Gwadar and Ormara (around two hours drive along the Makran Coastal Highway from Gwadar and 60km from Ormara) and has the necessary mix of fresh water and saline water in which mangroves can flourish. Here, the Basol River meets the Arabian Sea in a small lagoon. The Pakistan Wetlands Programme, with the help of the local community, have been planting two mangrove species here — Avicennia Marina and Rhizophora — since 2008. The saplings are now three to four feet high — more than 10,000 have been planted. Seeds were sourced from Sonmiani Bay near Karachi which has always had thick mangrove forests.

A small nursery has now been established near the shore in Kawari so that saplings can be grown locally. “We plant both saplings and broadcast seeds,” explained the site manager, Abdul Rahim. This site was also chosen for the plantation because it was badly affected by the two cyclones which hit the coast in 2007. “We decided to plant the mangroves to protect the coast and to improve livelihoods.” This is even more important given that one of the impacts of climate change will be the increased intensity and frequency of coastal storms.

There is a watchman here who is employed by the Pakistan Wetlands Programme to guard the nursery and watch over the small shrimp pond constructed by the programme. Minor changes were made to a natural dike near the shore and a fine mesh net gate placed in an irrigation canal to stop unwanted marine life from entering the pond. More than 15,000 post larvae of a shrimp species known as ‘Banana Shrimp’ donated by the National Institute of Oceanography were then placed in the pond.

The project has now been handed over to the Kawari community who help plant the new mangroves and look after the shrimp pond. According to the site manager, “they are very happy since their shrimp catch has improved and in a few years the mangroves will grow big enough to protect the coast”. Many of their fishing boats were damaged in the past cyclones so the hope is that the new mangrove cover will protect them from future storms. Another positive side effect of the project is that sea birds are now flocking to the area since they feed on the small fish growing in the roots of the mangroves. The local people say that their fishing catch has also increased. “More shrimp and crabs and other fish can be found here now,” said one of the villagers.

The community lives nearby in a small village with one school and no electricity or healthcare. The Pakistan Wetlands Programme decided to install a small hybrid wind turbine and solar system to provide the homes with enough electricity for light bulbs (there are around 400 people living in the village). They belong to the Zikri Baloch faith and they told me that thanks to the light bulbs, they not only save on kerosene oil but also they have more time to socialise in the evenings. “The women can do their embroidery, the children can study and we can all sleep later. Before we would sleep soon after sunset!” They can also charge their PTCL wireless phones so they are no longer cut off from the rest of the world.

The community sells their shrimp and fish catch to nearby Ormara or sends it off to Karachi where they can get good prices for their catch (Rs300 for one kilo of shrimp). “Our shrimp size is increasing as well — we recently have broken all records,” they told me. “This project has been good for us — it has brought us prosperity!” Kawari was not affected by the recent flooding that hit Balochistan and one is heartened to see that even in such a remote area of the country, a community can do well once its natural resources are regenerated and protected.

Written under the aegis of the CSE media fellowship