“Dad, what time will our taxi arrive?” asked little Aadi.
“At five in the morning,” replied his father.
“Go to bed,” his mother chimed in, “We have to leave early tomorrow.”
Aadi went to the bedroom but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t sleep. He was just too excited! He was visiting his native place in Kerala for the first time in seven years.
His grandparents lived in a picturesque little village in Kannur. The town had a lot to explore: from ponds to estuaries to beaches, from little herbs to gigantic trees, the village had it all! His grandparents’ house was right beside a river, and one could see its mesmerising beauty and elegance just by peeking out of their window. Aadi had been fascinated by this when he was younger and now that he was visiting again, he couldn’t help but feel eager. After a lot of tossing and turning, Aadi somehow managed to fall asleep.
The next morning, Aadi and his parents left for the airport. Although Aadi got a window seat and despite it being a beautiful day, he was too drowsy to enjoy the view and slept soundly throughout the flight. He woke up as the plane landed and they went to collect their luggage. Upon exiting the airport, they found Grandpa and Grandma waiting for them, along with his Uncle Ajith. Aadi jumped with excitement and all of them bundled into a car and drove home happily.
That night, Aadi’s grandfather told him stories about spirits, magical lakes, forests and many more nature-related stories.
The next morning was beautiful: birds chirped, the sun shone brightly, and the river shimmered and made for a breathtaking view. The weather was warm and hazy. After a traditional lunch made up of a variety of different curries, papad, and pickles along with payasam, everyone turned lazy and refused to move. Grandpa had proposed a tour of the mangrove theme park in Valapattanam, as it was only seven kilometres away from their home.
They reached it after a half-hour drive in Uncle Ajith’s car. Grandpa was an expert on mangroves, so no guides were needed on this trip. The family toured the park and asked him about the plants, the insects, the birds and the fascinating mangrove roots that stuck up from the soil. Aadi looked and listened intently.
After some time, he asked Grandpa why the park was made.
Grandpa replied, “This park was made so that the mangrove forest could be turned into a site of tourism. This was done so that it could attract more people wanting to learn about the natural history and heritage of the area. This helps increase the number of people wanting to conserve this precious resource.”
Aadi was intrigued, and wondered why the mangrove forests needed to be conserved. They looked like wasteland with wet squelchy soil, plus they were smelly and difficult to walk in. When Aadi said this aloud, Grandpa patiently explained:
“Mangroves help our environment in so many different ways. They provide shelter to various birds, deer and insects along with many endemic species. These mangroves also help your uncle earn his living. You know that he is the manager of Nimraa Fish and Fish Products Exporters and his company exports a variety of fish, right? Well, approximately a third of these products are from the areas of mangrove forests. These forests also help protect the seashore from oncoming disasters. Imagine there is a giant tsunami forming near the estuaries. The dense growth of mangroves wouldn’t let it form completely and turn disastrous and the waves would eventually die down. They even absorb the excess moisture and rainwater during heavy rains, thus preventing flooding.”
“Wow! Looks like mangroves play an important role in the environment,” replied Aadi. “But how can we help conserve these mangroves?”
“Raising awareness about the depletion of mangroves is the first step towards their conservation. Restoration will also help conserve this resource along with decreasing the clearing of land for shrimp farming, agriculture, development of coastal areas and cities and setting up of industries, can work wonders in this field. Even children can contribute by creating awareness among their friends and schoolmates regarding the plight of mangroves. As my father used to say, ‘You are never too young or too old to protect the things you love.’”
“Wow, there’s so much I can do, but where do I start?”asked Aadi, looking determined.
“There was an exceptionally aware and active mangrove conservation activist named Kallen Pokkudan. He was a widely known and well-respected figure who was regarded by many to be ‘The Father of the Environment’ in Kerala. His articles and books opened the eyes of many and created a lot of young mangrove activists. I have his biography, Pokkudan Ezhuthatha Aathmakatha: The Autobiography Pokkudan Couldn’t Write, somewhere in our private library. I can lend it to you if you want,” was Grandpa’s answer.
Aadi felt inspired. This visit had truly opened his eyes to the plight of such a precious and fast-depleting resource. He had seen the natural disasters that had happened in Kerala in the past few years. Now, he regarded them as nature’s payback to humans for destroying these beautiful gifts.
A week later, Aadi was at the airport to return home. He was sad to be leaving, but at the same time, excited to see his friends, for he had pledged to tell everyone he could about mangroves, their plight, and how to save them.