Mangrove forest 'shrinking rapidly'

Posted: 1 October 2001

A rapidly growing human population, pollution, diminishing fresh water and ever growing salinisation gravely threaten one of the world's largest Mangrove forests, situated in the Indus Delta of Pakistan, says the World Conservation Union (IUCN), and could halve it in size by 2015.

"The forest is drastically shrinking, and we can safely say that in 15 years' time half of it will disappear", stresses Tahir Qureshi, Director of IUCN's Coastal Ecosystem Unit for Pakistan. "Some time ago, only a few factors contributed to its decay. Now we face a multiplication of combined factors, such as over-exploitation of resources, global warming, urbanisation and industrialisation". The Indus Delta Mangrove forest stretches over 200 kilometres south of Karachi and covers 260,000 hectares.

Mangrove forests are important as they stabilise the shoreline, and protect it from storms. Around the world fisherman call for the protection of mangroves, as they are fish 'nurseries'. Besides these values, mangroves provide timber, other food sources for humans and animals, and breeding sites for birds and other wildlife.

The nearby village Reahri Main has increased its population from 5,000 to 26,000 these last 15 years. The Delta suffers from unchecked pouring of untreated sewage from urban Karachi, industrial pollutants from neighbouring factories and oil from tankers.

"Regulations have existed in Pakistan since 1958 to protect specific areas under the control of the Forest Department. Yet, for the bulk of it, the Delta is not under the control of the Forest Department, which means that no regulations apply to it. What we have been advocating these last years is that it be considered a biosphere", explains Qureshi.

In the meantime, IUCN, in collaboration with the Forest Department of Sindh, is pressing on with a long-term project for the conservation and rehabilitation of this Mangrove forest which it started in 1987. Through this Norad funded programme, 6,000 hectares of Mangrove have been planted; a new species of Mangrove reintroduced (Rhizophora mucronada); some innovative planting and nursery techniques developed; local community awareness raising programmes have been conducted; and alternative livelihood projects undertaken such as beekeeping and ecotourism.

To visit IUCN's Wetlands and Water Resources Programme, click here.