'Muddy Feet' gives access to a swamp and is meant to promote environmental awareness
With the influx of new settlers, natural resources of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands is increasingly under threat. A way out may be promote landscape literacy so that even the new settlers start taking care of their environment and use resources sustainably, say two Swedish landscape architects, Marie Janang and Emelie Melin, studying at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. Landscape literacy is the subject of their masters thesis. The study, Landscaping Paradise?, is an investigation into the possibility of promoting awareness through the design of an educational trail in a mangrove swamp on the islands.
The trail is named “Muddy Feet” is a 1 km route through a mangrove swamp in south Andaman Island. Some parts of the trail comprise of wood planks supported with stilts or suspended with ropes and the remaining part is on ground. The trail has been designed to highlight the variety of local species as well as the cultural, historical and geological features of the site. The fieldwork for the thesis was done during winter last year in a mangrove area, adjacent to the research base of an NGO, ANET. Janäng and Melin took the help of NGO to interact with local people and understand the local ecology around the villages Wandoor and Baratang and Mayabunder town.
The trail begins close to ANET’s base camp and follows a circular route. It is approximately 1 km long. Sculptures of plastic seeds act as markers in the trail path. Variation is important and different sensory impressions are highlighted along the way. The trail is both educational and adventurous and takes one through a great variety of different sites and biotopes (a biotope is an area of uniform environmental condition providing living apce for specific assemblage of flora and fauna), mudflats, the rhizophora (a genus of tropical mangrove trees) forest, the bruguiera (a genus compriing six mangrove species) area, dry-zones and an inundated coconut plantation. The architects chose mangroves as a point of departure because they are crucial but an often overlooked part of a local eco-system, facing threats due to urbanisation, intensified land-use and lack of knowledge.
On such walks, a group of tourists, children and even researchers are taken to a specific area. Once they are familiar with the area, they investigate the site on their own. “Through repeated walks, we tried to analyse the surroundings using our senses, and not just the visual; through touching, smelling and even tasting,” says Melin.
Manish Chandi, a researcher with ANET, says the organisation used to organise such walks. However, they are not frequent due to the need for huge investment.
Logging of timber was abolished a decade ago in order to preserve the unique environmental assets; the Islands are now promoting eco-tourism as an important source of revenue. Janäng says, “With a great influx of recent settlers, the Islands comprise a miscellaneous mix of inhabitants, of whom many lack knowledge of the local landscape and how to use its resources in a sustainable way. Through our studies, we have identified the strategy of promoting landscape literacy as a key-component for achieving sustainable development on the Andaman Islands.”
Figures from 2006 show that 127,504 tourists, seven per cent foreign and 93 per cent from the Indian mainland, visited the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, and the numbers are steadily increasing.
According to an investigation by Equations, a research, campaign and advocacy organisation, eco-tourism is promoted as a strategy for enabling sustainable tourism but it has not yet been implemented other than on a small scale.
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