Mangroves vital to resist sea fury, seminar told
KARACHI, May 22: The coastal and marine wealth of Pakistan was the main theme of a seminar organised by the Mangroves for the Future (MFF) to mark International Biodiversity Day held at the HEJ-Institute at the University of Karachi on Tuesday.
Providing some insight on how the MFF programme was initiated and its relation to International Biodiversity Day, MFF National Coordinator Rafi ul Haq said it was a multi-country initiative promoting investments in coastal ecosystems that supported sustainable development.
Launched by the William J. Clinton Foundation in 2004 after the Indian Ocean tsunami, it initially took on six member countries — India, Indonesia, Maldives, Seychelles, Sri Lanka and Thailand — the ones most affected by the tsunami. Later, the programme was expanded to include two more members, Pakistan and Vietnam, which also faced similar challenges. Pakistan joined the programme in 2010.
“Communities play a vital role in supporting MFF work across their respective region,” said Mr Haq, adding: “Knowledge, empowerment and governance are our three main objectives.”
“We improve, share and apply knowledge, strengthen our institutions and empower civil society to enhance coastal governance at all levels,” he said. “So let’s share and let’s share positively to help the threatened major marine habitats,” he said.
The next presentation by Dr Shaukat Hayat Khan of the National Institute of Oceanography discussed the importance of coastal and marine resources with reference to the national perspective. “Pakistan has a coastline stretched over 240,000 square kilometres. The Arabian Sea is a highly productive area. Besides producing fish, it is also a source of minerals, fuels, sediments, energy, etc.,” Dr Khan observed.
The scientist spoke of environmental issues and concerns, such as climate change, industrialisation and urbanisation, posing a threat to marine resources.
“We need to manage waste — plastic trash, oil spills, sewage, toxicants etc causing marine pollution — in order to keep the oceans clean,” he stressed.
Dr Khan had a very balanced view about climate change. “The impact of global warming can be both beneficial and harmful for the environment,” he said.
Prof Dr S.M. Saifullah of KU’s Mangrove Ecosystem Laboratory discussed the possible effects of global warming on the mangroves of the Indus delta.
“Global warming can be a part of a natural as well as human-induced cycle. The phenomenon was helpful in making this planet livable in the beginning. But now as glaciers melt, it increases the sea level posing a threat to low-lying areas. As the sea level rises, the mangroves level also rises due to sedimentation. This prevents seawater from flooding the land. The mangrove forests on the coastlines can fight back the strong wave action. Their dense and strong root system can even stop tsunamis,” he said.
According to him, 30 trees per 100 square metres can contain the maximum strength of a tsunami by more than 90 per cent.
“So let the mangroves grow. Conserve them so that we have no fear from sea rise,” he said.
The professor called for strictly checking mangroves deforestation through laws and control of coastal development; besides reforestation of denuded areas to recover the mangrove lost over decades.
The final presentation on threats and challenges to coastal and marine biodiversity was made by former director-general of the Marine Fisheries Department Muhammad Moazzam Khan, who is currently associated with the WWF.
The expert cited commercial fishing as a threat to our marine biodiversity. “The communities are catching fish beyond their capacity and then exporting dried fish meal as manure. The use of the small fishing mesh is also creating devastation in the ocean as it catches planktons and other small marine forms that the bigger fish feed on. Land reclamation and unplanned development is another issue that is hurting our marine life very badly,” he said.
“But despite all the negatives, Pakistan’s marine life is still sustaining a large part of the population.
The seminar also included the screening of two short documentaries, one tiled ‘Sea turtles’— a South Walton Community Council presentation — and the other, ‘Mangroves, the guardians of the coast’ — an MFF-India production, showed how the mangrove forests of Sundarban provided life support and how their destruction hurt the communities in India.