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ISRO study: Dredging for development of Mundra port and SEZ "completely buried mangroves" in the region

Counterview Desk
A high-level Space Application Centre (SAC) study, carried out by Ahmedabad’s Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), has said that the mangrove vegetation near Mundra in Kutch district is “one of the most impacted mangrove assemblages in Gujarat”. The observation comes close on the heels of a Ministry of Forests and Environment (MoEF), Government of India-sponsored report by a committee headed by top environmentalist Sunita Narain, whose recommendation to the MoEF -- to impose a green restoration fine of Rs 200 crore for “repairing” the environmental damage it has caused to its port and special economic zone (SEZ) projects at Mundra – was recently accepted.
“The area has seen the development of one of the largest private ports in the country. The development of the Port has also led to the establishment of a SEZ in the vicinity of the port. The development has had a substantial impact on the natural vegetation of the area”, the 600-odd page ISRO study “Coastal Zones in India”, has said, adding, “The Island of Navinal on which the main port is situated is now devoid of mangrove vegetation except for small patches on the east and west sides.”
The study says, “The development of a private railway for the movement of goods has also caused damage to mangrove vegetation. Though occupying only a small area, its development has led to filling up of several creeks that has stopped the movement of water within the mangroves”. It adds, “The mangrove area, east of Bocha Island, represented one of the best patches on the north Gulf of Kutch coast. This area has borne the brunt of direct cutting of mangroves as well as burying of mangroves under sand.”
The study points out how the destruction progressed horizontally. “Sand that is dredged from the nearby creeks is used to completely bury the mangroves so that there is no need to cut them. This has slowly progressed from the central region and is gradually moving to the outer fringe.” Pointing towards “glimpses of the level of anthropogenic influence on the study area”, the study says, “The mangrove fine areas on the Island of Bocha and its surrounding have also been affected by erosion by the sea. On account of high wave action, a dense mangrove strip measuring has been washed off from the seaward margin of the above.”
Mundra, a coastal taluka of Gujarat, is located at the northern flank of the Gulf of Kachchh. It has a wide inter-tidal zone, which supports a unique marine ecosystem dominated by mangroves and natural creek formations. Pointing out this has been underlined, the study says, “The mangrove vegetation was found on the Navinal Island, Bocha Island and the adjoining inter-tidal mudflats. This whole situation changed in the early 1990s when the site was selected for the construction of a private port. The area, which was a sleepy coastal town, has now been transformed to one of the largest private ports in India.”
The study adds, “These changes have had a great influence on the mangrove vegetation growing in the vicinity. The results indicate how industrial development is impacting the health of mangrove forests. Satellite data of several years were taken. The area was surveyed four times during the project duration. Most of the mangrove assemblages were approachable from the adjoining saltpan or port roads. The area was thus surveyed on foot. Information on the mangrove diversity, density, height and soil and water samples was collected from the study area.”
The study points out, “Most of the other areas have sparse mangroves. Only one species of true mangrove was found here. The species was avicennia marina. In addition to the true mangrove species, several mangrove associates and salt marsh species were also observed growing in the area. The area under mangrove vegetation has undergone a large change in the past few decades. The development of the port has decimated the mangroves on Navinal Island, except for a few patches on the west and east of the port complex.”
The study further says, “There has been a change in the mangrove area surrounding the Mundra ort. The saltpans adjoining it have been reclaimed and even much of the mangrove area has been taken over. On the extreme south are present some of the tallest mangroves in the Gulf of Kachchh. The heights of the mangrove trees here reach five meters. Another locality, where good mangroves are found, is the Bharadi-Mata Creek area to the west of the study area. This area is currently far away from the port and thus not under its influence so far. But with the approval of the SEZ in the vicinity, the mangroves of this area are also under threat.”

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