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Conservation and management of mangroves in India, with special reference to the State of Goa and the Middle Andaman Islands

R. Kumar

Rajiv Kumar is a Divisional Forest
Officer in the Indian Forest Service,
Rangat, Andaman and Nicobar Islands,

Measures taken to conserve and manage mangroves, the problems that persist and
some suggested actions to overcome them.

In India, mangroves occur on the West Coast, on the East Coast and on Andaman and Nicobar Islands (see Map and Table), but in many places they are highly degraded. According to the Government of India (1987), India lost 40 percent of its mangrove area in the last century. The National Remote Sensing Agency (NRSA) recorded a decline of 7 000 ha of mangroves in India within the six-year period from 1975 to 1981. In Andaman and Nicobar Islands about 22 400 ha of mangroves were lost between 1987 and 1997 (see Table).

Growing awareness of the protective, productive and social functions of tropical mangrove ecosystems has highlighted the need to conserve and manage them sustainably (FAO, 1994). This article discusses the various measures taken by the Government of India for the conservation and management of mangroves, the problems that persist in spite of these measures and some solutions to overcome them.

The article is based in part on the field experiences of the author since 1992 in the State of Goa and the Middle Andaman Islands.

Area distribution of mangroves in India (thousand ha)

State/Union territory

Government of India, 1987

Government of India, 1997

West Bengal (Sundarbans)



Andaman and Nicobar Islands









Andhra Pradesh



Tamil Nadu



















Increasing human population in coastal areas is resulting in increased pressure on mangrove ecosystems in many countries, with the growing demand for timber, fuelwood, fodder and other non-wood forest products (NWFPs) (Saenger, Hegerl and Davie, 1983). To ensure the conservation of mangroves for environmental benefits, together with a sustainable supply of various forest and other products to meet the day-to-day requirements of local people, appropriate management of mangrove ecosystems is needed. Management can also open new avenues for self-employment such as ecotourism, fishing, beekeeping and cottage industries based on mangrove forest products, helping to improve the socio-economic conditions of the local communities.


India has a long tradition of mangrove forest management. The Sundarbans mangroves, located in the Bay of Bengal (partly in India and partly in Bangladesh), were the first mangroves in the world to be put under scientific management. The area's first management plan was implemented in 1892 (Chaudhuri and Choudhury, 1994).

More recently, the concern of the Government of India for the conservation of forests and wildlife was clearly demonstrated by a 1976 amendment to the Indian Constitution, which states that it shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife.

Recognizing the importance of mangroves, the Government of India set up the National Mangrove Committee in the Ministry of Environment and Forests in 1976 to advise the government about mangrove conservation and development. In its first meeting, the panel, which consists of scientists, research scholars and experts on the mangrove ecosystem, emphasized the need to conduct a survey of the extent of existing mangrove areas within the country. The government subsequently introduced a scheme for mangrove conservation and protection, consisting of:

In 1979, the National Mangrove Committee recommended areas for research and development and for management of the mangroves, which included the following:

On the basis of the National Mangrove Committee's recommendation, 15 mangrove areas were identified for conservation. The Government of India has provided guidance and financial assistance to states and Union territories for the preparation and implementation of Management Action Plans for the conservation and development of these mangrove ecosystems. Most of these plans are now being implemented. The plans broadly cover survey and demarcation, natural regeneration in selected areas, afforestation, protection measures, fencing and awareness programmes.

The government also supports research by academic institutions for development of mangrove ecosystems on a sound ecological basis. The National Forest Policy, 1988 lists effective conservation and management of natural forest ecosystems (including the mangrove ecosystem) as a priority area for forestry research.

Mangrove sites in India

Legislative framework

In India, a legislative framework for the conservation and management of mangroves is already in place. The Indian Forest Act, 1927 and the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 provide protection to flora and fauna. Although they do not specifically mention mangroves, these acts can also apply to the conservation of the flora and fauna of mangrove ecosystems. Since 1927, the Indian Forest Act has been applied to the mangrove forests of the Sundarbans, which have been declared as a reserved area (Naskar and Mandal, 1999).

The Forest Conservation Act, 1980 states that no forest area shall be diverted for any non-forestry purpose without prior approval of the Government of India. This act has proved very effective in preventing diversion of mangrove forest areas for non-forestry purposes.

The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 has had a crucial role in the conservation and management of mangrove ecosystems. It declares a Coastal Regulation Zone in which industrial and other activities such as discharge of untreated water and effluents, dumping of waste, land reclamation and bunding are restricted in order to protect the coastal environment. Coastal stretches are classified into four categories, and mangroves are included in the most ecologically sensitive category.

Enforcement of the legislative mandates is a prime need (Untawale, 1992).

A stand of low Rhizophora trees in the Sundarbans mangrove forest

- FAO/19883/G. GREPIN


Of Goa's total land area of 370 000 ha, the mangrove area is 500 ha, having declined sharply from a recorded 20 000 ha in 1987 (see Table).

Some 178 ha of the best mangrove area at Chorao, Goa has been declared as Reserved Forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927 to protect and conserve the mangrove forests. Subsequently, in 1988, this area was declared a bird sanctuary under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972.

Afforestation work to restore degraded mangrove areas started in Goa in 1985-1986; by the end of 1996-1997 the programme had covered 876 ha (Forest Department of Goa statistics).

In 1988, the Government of Goa formed a State Level Steering Committee to oversee the development of the mangrove forest. In 1990, the state government set up a Multidisciplinary Project Formulation Team to facilitate the preparation of a Comprehensive Action Plan for the development of the mangrove ecosystem. The same year, the government decided that no construction or development would be allowed in the area earmarked by the Forest Department for mangrove conservation, and declared that 15 mangrove species should not be felled for a period of ten years.

A five-year Mangrove Management Plan for Goa was prepared in 1991-1992 and implemented with financial assistance from the Government of India, and 100 ha of mangroves were planted each year as planned. A second five-year Management Plan is currently under implementation.


Andaman and Nicobar Islands comprise 572 islands in the Bay of Bengal, with a total area of about 825 000 ha. The coastline is about 1 962 km. The area under mangroves is 96 600 ha (Government of India, 1997). The Middle Andaman Islands comprise an area of 99 800 ha, of which 23 400 ha or 23.4 percent are covered with mangroves (Environment and Forest Department records).

In the past, fuelwood and poles were extracted from mangroves on a small scale to meet local demand including, in addition to household use, the fuelling of a power station at Port Blair, three major plywood industries and the government's steam vessels. Limited extraction did not cause any damage to the government mangrove forests, but in the revenue areas (areas managed in such a way as to allow local people to benefit from extraction of forest products) the destruction of mangroves is conspicuous. Some areas have been reclaimed for agriculture and settlements (Andaman and Nicobar Islands Environment and Forest Department, 1997).

Since 1987, as a result of growing awareness regarding the conservation of mangroves, the Andaman and Nicobar Administration has banned extraction of mangrove wood. The plywood industries, power station and government steam vessels have since switched over to diesel.

The strategy adopted in Andaman and Nicobar Islands for the conservation and management of mangrove forests is as follows:


Most of the challenges to mangrove forests observed in Goa and the Middle Andamans are also relevant to other parts of India. These include both natural hazards and destructive human activities. However, the gravity of the problems varies from area to area.

Natural hazards

The natural threats to mangroves observed in Goa and the Middle Andaman islands include the following:

To reduce infestation by barnacles, tall nursery-grown seedlings should be used for planting, as the leading shoot of tall seedlings remains above the water level. More mature seedlings are also less vulnerable to attack by oysters, crabs and gastropods.

Intensity of insect infestation is higher under monocropping but can be controlled by raising mixed plantations (Siddiqi et al., 1992).

Problems caused by humans

The following are some of the human activities that have resulted in damage to mangroves in Goa and the Middle Andaman Islands:

The government of Goa has already banned felling of 15 species of mangroves for a period of ten years under the Goa, Daman and Diu Preservation of Trees Act, 1984. This protection is desirable for all mangrove species, but the need for a total ban on mangrove felling or lopping may be periodically reviewed. For Andaman and Nicobar Islands, a suitable enactment is necessary to stop felling of mangroves in revenue and private areas (Andaman and Nicobar Islands Environment and Forest Department, 1997).

Other measures that can help to reverse some of these problems include vigilance in the field, jetties and harbours during the fruiting period to control the illegal collection of mangrove fruits; strict implementation of antipollution laws; a ban on dragnet fishing in areas where there are seedlings less than five years of age; and the establishment of a speed limit for barges in areas with young mangrove seedlings.


Many of the problems observed during the field study in Goa and the Middle Andamans, particularly those caused by humans, can be traced to the following root causes, which need to be addressed if mangroves are to be sustainably conserved:

Mangrove conservation and development efforts undertaken by the Government of India, the Government of Goa and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands Administration have so far been successful in reducing the degree of problems, but there is scope for further improvement.

Some suggested actions include the following:

Large-scale mangrove restoration and rehabilitation programmes have been taken up in Goa along the Mandovi, Zuari, Chapora estuaries and the Cumbarjua canal. However, in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands no large-scale mangrove restoration works have been taken up in the last three years. Mangrove conservation and reforestation programmes along the central west coast of India have resulted in increased public awareness regarding the importance of mangroves; control of intertidal mudbanks; opening of new avenues for forestry and social forestry activities; increased biomass along the estuaries, which has influenced biological productivity; and increased bird and other animal life (Untawale, 1996). 


Worldwide distribution of mangroves

Mangroves are found along many of the coasts in the tropics and subtropics, but the total area of mangroves in the world is not well known. Recent estimates range from 16.5 million hectares (FAO, 1994, based on figures from the early and mid-1980s) to 16.9 million hectares (IUCN, 1983), 18.1 million hectares (Spalding, Blasco and Field, 1997) and 19.9 million hectares (Fisher and Spalding, 1993, cited in Spalding, Blasco and Field, 1997). In many of these studies, countries with small areas of mangroves have been excluded.

A new study launched by FAO seeks to provide updated, reliable and comprehensive information on the worldwide distribution of mangroves.

As part of the Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000 (FRA 2000), spearheaded by FAO in collaboration with member countries, donors and other partners, all countries have been asked to provide a breakdown of their forest area into forest types, using their own classification system. Since mangroves are a distinct and relatively uniformly defined forest type, specific information on mangroves from most countries in which they exist has been received as part of the FRA 2000 country reporting. This information will be analysed in a special study on the status of mangrove forests worldwide as part of FRA 2000. Countries that have not provided information on their mangrove resources, but that are known to have mangroves, will be contacted again to ensure comprehensive coverage.

Mangroves in Aurora Province, the Philippines


In addition to providing information on the current status of mangroves, the aim is to compare these data with information from previous assessments or other sources in order to analyse recent trends in area losses and gains (through planting efforts).

Readers are encouraged to provide inputs to this study in terms of additional information relating to current and/or past assessments of mangrove areas, preferably on a national scale, but also subnationally where such information is available. Information should be sent to Mette Løyche Wilkie, Forest Resources Development Service, FAO Forestry Department, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00100 Rome, Italy ([email protected]).

A database and specific country information will be placed on the FAO Web site as soon as they are available. The database will be updated regularly. The long-term plan is to develop this Web site further to provide links to maps and other databases dealing with different aspects of mangroves. The aim is to concentrate on


FAO. 1994. Mangrove forest management guidelines. FAO Forestry Paper No. 117. Rome. 319 pp.

Fisher, P. & Spalding, M.D. 1993. Protected areas with mangrove habitat. Cambridge, UK, World Conservation Monitoring Centre. (draft report)

IUCN.1983. Global status of mangrove ecosystems. Commission on Ecology Papers No. 3. P. Saenger, E.J. Hegerl and J.D.S Davie, eds. Gland, Switzerland, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

Spalding, M.D., Blasco, F. & Field, C.D., eds. 1997. World Mangrove Atlas. Okinawa, Japan, The International Society for Mangrove Ecosystems.

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