Humans vs mangrove

Published: Sunday 15 August 1999

Humans vs mangrove

The estuary at the mouth of Ashtamudi lake in Kollam district of Kerala was once famous for its mangroves. Today, after more than three decades of wilful destruction, all that remains of the luxuriant vegetation is confined to the Ashramam mangroves on the western side of the government guest house.

The mangrove contains several Syzygium travancoricum trees, reported in the Red Data book of Indian plants as endangered. Among the other rare plants found in the stand are a species of Rattan (Calamus rotang), the insectivorous Drosera burmanni and the wonder drug for asthma, Tylophora indica. The fauna includes many species of snakes, lizards, mongoose and squirrels. In fact, it is now the habitat of the endangered otter and over 60 species of birds, including migratory ones.

The destruction of the mangroves began in the 1960s, when the government levelled the southern side of the stand to construct a jetty for cargo boats and a godown. In 1985, the area was further cleared to promote an adventure park. What followed was numerous attempts by the District Tourism Promotion Council (dtpc) to construct various structures in place of the mangroves, but they were thwarted on several occasions by the Mangrove Protection Council (mpc) through its convenor Ravi N.

Finally in March-April this year, around 80 per cent of the mangroves were destroyed. To remove weeds in the adventure park, herbicides were used.

This resulted in the dying of 30-50 trees (between 50-70 years) including some of the endangered variety. Ravi N moved the court again. On this occasion, the district collector and respondent agreed to an out-of-court settlement. dtpc had to demolish a wall and plant mangrove saplings on the land it had reclaimed. But dtpc once again started building a water terminal which was again stayed by the court. The see-saw battle, however, is far from over.

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