Tropical coral reefs and mangroves are the world’s most productive ecosystems providing several economic and ecological benefits to humankind. Coastal and marine ecosystems also stabilise the coastline and act as a sink for land-based waste. As a result, most development activities are concentrated on the coastline with profound effects on the surrounding ecosystems. We have already lost more than a quarter of these valuable ecosystems to various natural and man-made stressors in the last fifty years. Reefs and mangroves of India are no exception. Unfortunately, there is little scientific information to inform resource managers on the best management practices that can halt, if not reverse, the current extent of degradation of these two very critical coastal ecosystems of India.
Despite a glowing legacy of research on coastal and marine ecosystems that includes the first international coral reef symposium, held in January 1969 at Rameswaram, marine biological research in India is yet to evolve beyond describing patterns and conducting status surveys. This has come at the cost of understanding the underlying processes and mechanisms of ecosystem functioning, knowledge that is critical to manage and conserve our marine resources.
In 2008, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (India) in collaboration with the Mangroves for the Future (MFF) initiative, IUCN India, organised a series of national workshops. Representatives from various government and non-government organisations, institutions and departments gathered at the workshop to brainstorm about the current status of coral reefs and mangrove ecosystems in India, to understand the threats they face and to identify ways to conserve and sustainably utilise them. These workshops aimed to shape the future for coastal and marine conservation interventions in India and culminated in two edited books:
• Bhatt Bhatt, DJ Macintosh, TS Nayar, CN Pandey and BP Nilaratna (Editors). 2011. Towards Conservation and Management of Mangrove Ecosystems in India. IUCN India.
• Bhatt JR, JK Patterson Edward, DJ Macintosh and BP Nilaratna (Editors). 2012. Coral reefs in India- Status, threats and conservation measures. IUCN India.
In Towards conservation and management of mangrove ecosystems in India, the opening chapter by Kathiresan and Bhatt provides an introduction to mangrove ecosystems of India, their distribution, land cover, floral and faunal biodiversity and livelihood services. The chapter also outlines major knowledge gaps which need to be addressed for their conservation and management. The chapters that follow provide more detailed site-specific information on the floral and faunal diversity of mangroves, their current status, and past and ongoing conservation interventions covering the mainland states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and the Sundarbans from West Bengal. In addition, there is a chapter on the poorly studied and understood mangrove ecosystems of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Various chapters in the book provide useful information on repositories and resources, both online and printed, that will be of immense use to researchers, resource managers and any lay person interested in learning more about the mangroves of India.
A chapter on the potential impacts of climate change on the coastal and marine ecosystems of India reviews the potential ecological and economic costs of sea level rise on coastal and marine ecosystems. Nayak highlights the need for an integrated approach to managing our coastline, stressing the value of remote sensing techniques in achieving this. This essay sets the context for Bahuguna’s chapter which provides a detailed review of the applications of remote sensing in developing a sound Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) plan for the coastline of India. A chapter by Ramesh and Purvaja provides a succinct summary of the core philosophy and approach underlying an integrated management approach of the coasts by highlighting the lack of trained and motivated people to practice the ICZM approach.
In a comprehensive review of the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification 1991, Ramesh et al. provide interesting insights into the history and evolution of the notification over two decades. They also provide a clear account of the formulation of the Island Protection Zone Notification of 2011. The final section on existing legal instruments for mangrove conservation and management will be a useful read for any one engaged in coastal and marine resource management.
Two chapters that share experiences of mangrove conservation efforts, both from Gujarat, provide useful insights on factors that ensure the success and failure of conservation projects. Both chapters highlight the need for a community based approach to mangrove management efforts in the region.
Pandey’s final chapter provides recommendations that emerged from the brain-storming sessions and discussions of the workshop. About 21 detailed recommendations highlight the need for research on biological and ecological aspects, social-economic aspects and policy and governance mechanisms. The recommendations also stress the need for capacity development, including communities in conservation and restoration efforts, documenting traditional knowledge, improving institutional linkages and creating databases and knowledge repositories.
Naveen Namboothri is a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. firstname.lastname@example.org.