Mangrove act as natural buffers against disasters such as coastal floods and cyclones. Photo by Kartik Chandramouli/Mongabay.

On the frontline of disasters, mangroves at the receiving end of development and climate change

> Mangrove forests, nature’s buffer against disasters, are imperiled by unregulated coastal development, shrinking of deltas and climate change linked extreme events. > The degrading ecological health of mangroves affects their resilience and recovery potential against climate change consequences like sea-level rise. > Enhancing the adaptive potential of mangroves is the need of the hour, experts said.

Cyclone Bulbul, the seventh cyclone to hit India in 2019, battered the country and its neighbour Bangladesh’s coasts, killing at least 20 and displacing millions. But the damage could have been much worse had not the world’s largest continuous block of mangroves – the Sundarbans – stood on the frontline, breaking the cyclone’s force, according to officials and experts.

Spanning more than 10,000 square kilometres, the Sundarbans region of Bangladesh and India is the biggest mangrove forest in the world and also the most critical area for Bengal tiger survival. Sprawled out across 6,017 square kilometers, the Bangladesh side of the forest covers nearly 60 percent of the total area of the Sundarbans. The rest is in India in the state of West Bengal.

The Sundarbans mangroves in West Bengal, on the east coast of India, account for almost half of the total area under mangroves in the country. Apart from the east and west coasts of the mainland, mangroves are found and on the islands of Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep. Indian mangroves represent 3.3 percent of global mangroves and about 56 percent of global mangrove species.

As per Forest Survey of India estimates (2017), mangrove cover in the country is 4,921 square km, which is 0.15 percent of the total geographic area of the country. There has been a net increase of 181 square km in the country’s mangrove cover as compared to the 2015 assessment, according to the FSI report, though the number is debatable as conflicting data for certain stretches of mangroves is reported by non-governmental organisations. After West Bengal, Gujarat and Andaman and the Nicobar Islands have the maximum mangrove cover.

Considering the growth and diversity, mangroves of Andaman and Nicobar are best in the country, said P. Ragavan of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), National Botanical Research Institute, Lucknow.

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