Mumbai Historical records indicate that there were several islands around Mumbai during 1670. However, the Britishers, who were ruling the country identified the importance of these islands for commercial purpose. They deforested the fringing mangroves and reclaimed these islands into one continuous landmass, which later came to be known as "Greater Bombay". Since then the developmental and
bsequently population pressure rapidly increased and being the coastal area, it took the toll of mangrove land. During the process of deforestation and reclamation, a few mangrove patches are still left in the heart of the city, which proves that today's megacity had a luxuriant past of mangrove forests (fig). Major mangroves are seen today in Mumbai along the Vasai Creek, Thane Creek, Manori and Malad, Mahim - Bandra, Versova, Siwari, Mumbra - Diva and few more places.
Importance of Mangroves for Mumbai
Mangroves represent the spirit of Mumbai – they are plucky survivors. But each day, millions of citizens in Mumbai pass these hardy plants imagining they are little more than dirty, muddy weeds growing pointlessly along the shoreline. How little people understand just how important mangroves are to the quality of life of the citizens of Mumbai.
By trapping silt, mangroves maintain the integrity of Mumbai’s shoreline. This is a vital service to the city of Mumbai as it is very prone to erosion, having been built on reclaimed land that is battered by the sea on all three sides. The recent rains in Mumbai and the disaster that followed demonstrated the consequence of tampering with the ecology of fragile ecosystems like mangroves. Had Mumbai’s Mithi river and Mahim creek mangroves not been destroyed by builders, fewer people would have died and the property damage would have been dramatically less.
The Koli community in Mumbai worships mangroves because they know that these are breeding and nursery grounds for the marine organisms on which their sustenance depends.
Mangrove community of Mumbai
In the early nineties, perhaps over 37 sq. km. of mangroves existed in Mumbai, largely in the Thane creek, Mahim, Versova, Gorai and Ghodbunder, with sporadic patches in places such as Bandra, Malabar Hill and Colaba. Mumbai has probably lost 40 per cent of all its mangroves in the past decade or so, largely because of reclamation for housing, slums, sewage treatment and garbage dumps. Fortunately, thanks to the Godrej family, we still have excellent mangrove forests in Vikhroli (Link).
Around 20 out of the 35 species of true mangroves found in India have been identified along the Maharashtra coast and 15 species of these are found in Mumbai.
Because of the high salinity of the soil, something like 60 per cent of Mumbai mangroves comprise Avicennia marina. Nor surprisingly this species also tolerates pollution including heavy metals such as lead, mercury and chromium, all found in significant concentrations in the Mithi river.
Mangrove destruction in Mumbai
Rapid developments like housing, industrialization, pollution and increasing population of Mumbai has resulted into degradation of mangroves. There are two important creeks, Vasai Creek towards north and Thane Creek toward south where luxuriant mangrove patches are still left. Otherwise the State Govt. agencies have failed to protect this important, productive mangrove ecosystem from building mafias.v
The worst affected area in Mumbai is the entire western front excepting Carter Road where the mangroves have grown and have also registered an increase in height in the last 10 years. This has been possible due to the participation of citizen’s forums fighting individually.
In India, a legal protection is afforded to this ecosystem by way of legislation in the form of Coastal Regulation Zone Notification. Recently Mumbai High Court has ordered freeze on destruction of mangrove forests in Maharashtra and has banned construction within 50 metres of them. The court has also directed to notify mangrove areas as protected forests. Thus, there is already a mechanism provided for management of this ecosystem. Unfortunately, however many a times the legal provisions are not being enforced to curb the illegal activities.
In such a situation, protection of the mangrove ecosystem is possible only through the participation of the local community and by building up pressure groups for ensuring management of this ecosystem and strict implementation of the legal provisions by the Government. Thereby, integrity of habitats critical for spawning, juveniles and feeding and for biodiversity, apart from ecological sustainability and community-sustainability could be maintained.
In the past few years there has been an increase in the awareness of the people in Mumbai. Residents associations are coming together to spread this awareness. They realize that the rapid destruction of mangroves along the coast of Mumbai will have far-reaching effects on the city. The NGOs in Mumbai are making efforts to highlight the issues like land reclamation, coastal regulation zone notification and illegal destruction of the mangrove areas through the interventions of the local state government and a local bodies.