Mangrove forests in Pakistan
An asset fast depleting
Natural resources are surely an asset for a country. This is especially true for forests, because forests and biodiversity are key to all forms of life. This is because they pave way for greater opportunities for people in terms of medical discoveries, economic development and greater adaptability to climatic change. Unfortunately, in Pakistan, only about 4.8 percent of land is covered with forests, which is far below the optimal standard of 25 percent for a country. Despite the low percentage of forests in Pakistan, deforestation continues to take place countrywide, thus posing great threats, such as desertification, flooding and endangering of wildlife.
This particularly pertains to the mangrove forests, found in the Indus Delta and coastal areas of Arabian Sea around the coast of Karachi and Pasni in Balochistan. These forests are immensely important in many ways, and their depletion is causing a variety of problems, not only to the environment but also to the country, at large.
Discussed below are some of the advantages of mangroves, along with the devastating impact the removal of these forests causes.
Destruction of natural habitat
Packed with life, mangroves provide a natural habitat to a huge number of micro organisms, insects and snakes, birds and various mammals. Not only this, these forests provide a physical breeding ground to different sea creatures like fish, crabs and shrimps and mollusk species. These fisheries make up an indispensable source of food for thousands of coastal communities around the world. In Pakistan, these forests provide a main source of earning to local fishermen. However, because of the increase in pollution and the reduction of forest cover, fishermen are compelled travel far-off inside the sea, which makes them susceptible to be caught by the Indian Navy.
Scarcity of migratory birds
During winters, a huge number of migratory birds come and nest in these forests to breed. Earlier, various bird species like ospreys, wood storks, a variety of herons and egrets, bald eagles, cormorants, brown pelicans, ibis and roseate spoonbills, etc. used to visit the mangroves on a yearly basis. However, over the past few years, the number of guest birds has greatly reduced because of the destruction of these forests in Pakistan.
Economically, they are of immense importance too, because Mangroves are a great source of timber, fuel, railroad ties and tannin. Also, commercial mangrove production is necessary for the construction of boats, houses and furniture. Moreover, mangrove plants are largely used for medicinal purposes. For instance, extracts from mangroves and mangrove-dependent species are extensively used as effective medicines against human, animal and plant pathogens. These plant species are also used to treat many skin diseases, including leprosy, with ashes or bark infusions of certain species of mangrove.
Natural barriers to storms and tsunamis
Mangroves act as natural barriers in protecting coastal communities and urban centers from tsunamis and storms. This is because these forests slow down the flow of water and prevent soil erosion. They also help in reducing sedimentation in the sea. Lately, Tsunamis have become a real menace for Karachi and since mangrove trees are being ruthlessly chopped, it can aggravate the situation further in case of an uninvited coastal storm.
Unlike many other countries of the world, Pakistan has failed to tap into the tourism potential of mangrove forests. Because of the rich diversity of life, these forests have been popular tourist attractions which Pakistan could utilise as a source of revenue generation.
Despite the fact that mangroves are of immense economic and environmental importance to Pakistan, over the last five decades, they are being subjected to over exploitation and massive population pressure, and hence, these precious forests are fading away fast. It is high time the concerned authorities took action to preserve these precious forests before they become extinct.
Source: Sarah B. Haider Article in http://magazine.thenews.com.pk/