Mangroves served as nurseries to juvenile fish and shrimps could also be helpful to acquire carbon credits. – Photo by Hussain Afzal / Dawn.com

KARACHI, March 8: Speakers at a conference on mangrove ecosystem said that an acute lack of awareness among the people as well as policy makers about mangroves and their critical role in life was a major hurdle in conservation of these special forests along the coast.

Pakistan, they said, was among the 14 most vulnerable countries to natural disasters and there was a dire need to conserve mangroves, which, they said, were not only one of the highly productive forests, but also served as natural defence against intense wave action.

The event — National conference on mangroves ecosystem in Pakistan: sharing of experience with policy makers — was organised by the Human Resource Development Network (HRDN) in collaboration with the Mangroves for the Future (MFF) at a hotel on Thursday.

Pakistan, the speakers said, had already lost a significant part of its mangrove cover and the rest was facing immense pressures from human activity. Special mention was made to Keti Bundar, where the mangrove cover, it was said, was receding at an alarming pace.

“The scale of mangrove devastation in that area is shocking. The rate of erosion is found to be 1.5 feet per day in Keti Bundar,” Umair Shahid, representing the WWF, said, adding that major reasons for mangrove degradation included inadequate flow of river water causing intrusion of the sea (which led to reduced presence of nutrient rich soil and increased salinity that harmed mangroves), deforestation (due to illegal cutting), grazing and pollution.

Regarding the damages caused by sea intrusion, he said, 500,000 hectares of fertile land in Thatta alone was affected by sea intrusion, threatening the lives of about 400,000 families. The construction of barrages on the Indus, he said, greatly reduced water and sediment reaching the delta.

A number of government departments and non-profit organisations, he said, were involved in mangrove plantation through community participation, but a bigger problem was its long-term management.

He called for a multi-stakeholder partnership for conservation of mangroves, which, he said, required scientific monitoring by governing bodies that could also help to have an idea that how mangroves adapted to climate change.

Giving a presentation on opportunities in mangrove conservation, Syed Ghulam Qadir Shah, natural resource management coordinator of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), said Pakistan had the highest rate of deforestation in the world. The mangrove cover, he pointed out, had shrunk from 604,870 hectares in the 1960s and 280,000ha in the 1980s to 104,000ha in 2010.

Mr Shah also spoke about the many benefits of mangroves and said the forests that served as nurseries to juvenile fish and shrimps could also be helpful to acquire carbon credit as concentration of carbon was very high in mangroves, besides using these forests for eco-tourism.

Referring to a recent World Bank report, he said 15 per cent of Sindh’s gross domestic product was lost due to environmental degradation and it was reported that there had been 25 per cent reduction in marine fisheries over the last five years.

“All these indicators show that there are some big changes happening in our environment which must be scientifically investigated,” he said.

Riaz Ahmed Wagan, provincial conservator, said mangrove forests existed in Thatta, Badin and Karachi in Sindh, and Sonmiani, Kalmat Khor and Gwadar Bay in Balochistan.

“We used to have eight species of mangroves, but now have only four, which is a sign of its degradation,” he said.

According to Mr Wagan, the entire mangrove cover was protected in the country, though multiple departments owned its area and were responsible for its management.

Javed Jabbar, vice president of the IUCN, called mangroves ‘the jewels of the coast’ and said every individual could play their role in mangrove conservation by spreading awareness about it.

Dr Steen Christensen, regional director of the MFF, Dr Zafar Iqbal Qadir, chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority, Tahir Jawaid, senior vice president of the Engro Corporation, Roomi Hayat, chairperson of the HRDN, Fauzia Malik, executive director of the HRDN, Aban Marker Kabraji, regional director of the Asia regional office, IUCN, also spoke.

Two documentaries — Sentries of the coast and The defenders of the coast — were also screened during the conference.

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