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Why Mumbai Needs More Mangroves


Like many coastal cities around the world, India's financial capital Mumbai is being threatened by climate change. The city is blessed with lush, green mangroves, trees that can act as a buffer against tides. But urbanization is putting those trees in danger. NPR's Mumbai producer Sushmita Pathak brings us this report from a mangrove nursery.

SUSHMITA PATHAK, BYLINE: There's so many different types of mangroves here. Some are really tall - like, maybe 15 feet high. Others are smaller shrubs. But all of them have these very characteristic aerial roots.

And this has some nice flowers.

SEEMA ADGAONKAR: Yeah. This flower has a very nice fragrance.

PATHAK: Seema Adgaonkar gives me a tour of the different mangrove varieties that used to be found in the wild in Mumbai. Now you can only see them in nurseries. Adgaonkar is a former forest ranger with the state-funded mangrove conservation unit, or mangrove cell.

ADGAONKAR: (Speaking foreign language).

PATHAK: "Mangroves are like soldiers, guarding the coast from rising seas," she says. They act as breeding grounds for fish. They store four times as much carbon as other forests, which can mitigate the effects of climate change.


PATHAK: A little further down the coast from the nursery, the scene is more typical of Mumbai's mangroves nowadays - dry, leafless branches along the highway.

B N KUMAR: Very sad to see these mangroves dying like this.

PATHAK: These mangroves are dying, says environmentalist B.N. Kumar. He points to their water source, a small channel blocked with construction debris from a highway that's being built.

KUMAR: Free water flow from the channel there - they stopped it for expansion of the highway.

PATHAK: It's a common story across Mumbai. Some estimates say 70% of the city's mangroves have been lost to development.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The dream of a developed India - India's first high-speed rail that will connect Mumbai to Ahmedabad...

PATHAK: India's first bullet train is a source of national pride. Mumbai has some 20 million residents. A lot of them are getting wealthier. They want more highways and better infrastructure. But activist Kumar questions whether development has to come at the cost of the environment. The bullet train is expected to destroy at least 30,000 mangroves.

Kumar points to a new report by climate change researchers that predicts much of Mumbai will be underwater by 2050.

KUMAR: At a time when you require more and more mangroves, we are destroying, unfortunately, more and more mangroves.

PATHAK: The city has been doing this for decades. In the 1980s, it cleared one of its largest mangrove forests to build a commercial hub. Then in 2005, that area was ravaged by deadly floods.

Nandakumar Pawar is from a fishing village in northeastern Mumbai nestled in 2,000 acres of mangroves. His village survived those deadly 2005 floods with remarkably little damage.


NANDAKUMAR PAWAR: And that was truly eye-opening incident for me and my community. Being a fisherman, I know the importance and values of mangroves.

PATHAK: He always knew mangroves were important fish breeding grounds. But in those floods, he realized how important they are for human survival. He now runs an NGO which trains fishermen to be mangrove vigilantes. They alert Pawar if they spot anyone dumping garbage or encroaching on mangrove areas, and he calls the authorities.

Back at the mangrove nursery, Seema Adgaonkar, the former forest ranger, says Mumbai needs many, many more people like Pawar if its mangroves are to survive.

ADGAONKAR: (Speaking foreign language).

PATHAK: "If mangroves are saved," she says, "Mumbai will be saved."

For NPR News, I'm Sushmita Parthak in Mumbai.

(SOUNDBITE OF PINBACK'S "GLIDE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.