When was the last time you watered a plant or planted a sapling, or put that plastic bottle lying on the road into the dustbin? Are we doing enough for our planet? Do you remember the phrase ‘Think globally, act locally’? We read the headlines about the effects of climate change and the global efforts to mitigate climate change. But locally, we are not aware of any initiatives taking place to mitigate emissions, and we seldom contribute towards such initiatives.
Conservation of the ecosystem: An initiative by the Godrej Group
To enlighten ourselves with such an initiative, recently, we visited one such project undertaken by the Godrej Group since the 1940s. They are protecting and conserving the world’s largest privately-owned ISO-certified forest spread across 2000 acres of land on the western bank of Thane creek in Vikhroli, a suburb of Mumbai.
The Godrej Group stands tall if one were to focus upon the ‘planet’ of the triple bottom line construct, made popular by John Elkington. They are conserving the most productive and sustainable ecosystem present in nature at a time when some parts of the world have recorded 50% losses in the mangrove habitat attributable to human activities. Within this forest, they have achieved a 95% reduction in the mortality of the seeds through various initiatives.
Understanding the importance of the mangrove ecosystem
As my friends and I walked down the lanes adjoining the mangrove forest, many questions bubbled up inside us. What are mangroves? What is the importance of the Mangrove ecosystem? An expert in the mangrove ecosystem walking along with us came to our rescue to clarify our queries and to explain the importance of the ecosystem.
Mangroves are plants found within the tropical region of the planet, between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. They are well adapted to loose and wet soils, salt water, and being periodically submerged by tides. The type of soil, salt, climate, and tidal fluctuations, are four major factors which limit the distribution of mangroves across the region.
Mangroves have a complex ecosystem with many intricate features, which have been developed over time for the survival of plants. An interesting fact about these plants is that mangroves do not require pollination for reproduction, as they are viviparous. These plants grow slowly, with an average lifespan of around 500 years. Leaves of mangroves have salt glands which help them tackle the salinity in the water. Wax coating is present on the leaves of mangroves for survival, as they are submerged under water for 4-5 hours during each tidal cycle. Mangroves have anchoring roots, which help them breathe oxygen during the low tides. The centre of gravity of the saplings is towards the roots, which help them grow and nurture, irrespective of the tidal fluctuations.
Mangroves have double the biomass compared to tropical forests. Conserving mangrove land is a much more efficient way to slow down carbon emissions. Mangroves are the best-known carbon scrubbers on the planet. They inhale toxic carbon and exhale 4 times more oxygen than any other tropical forest. Mangroves are one of the most productive plants on earth. The 10% of carbon which they produce also gets sequestered away in the soil. Coastal wetlands are minuscule but mighty, as although they cover less than 1% of the ocean, they store over 50% of the seabed’s rich carbon reserve.
A wake-up call
As I reflect upon the visit, it is evident to me that the survival of a plant in a mangrove forest is itself a story of struggle. Even after all these complexities of survival in saline water and fluctuating waves, they make it to the list of best carbon scrubbers. But what are we doing individually to save this precious ecosystem?
Internationally, governments and organisations are adopting various strategies to reduce the risks and effects of climate change. In 2021, more than 100 countries pledged to net zero emissions, including India targeting it by 2070. Various private organisations are taking measures to curb the carbon footprints emanating from the manufacture of their products. Organisations like the Godrej Group are ahead in this league with the conservation of the complete ecosystem of mangroves, thus contributing towards Sustainable Development Goal 14. This goal requires global action towards restoration, protection and sustainable management of the mangrove ecosystem. To create awareness in the local communities and the citizens, the government of Maharashtra in India announced Sonneratia alba (known as mangrove apple), as the state mangrove tree in September 2020.
In the past, history has proved the strength of international cooperation. The Montreal Protocol for the protection of the ozone layer was one of the most successful global cooperation efforts, which was enforced in 1989. Today, humanity is reaping the positive impacts of this initiative. A dire need for all of us is to conserve the existing ecosystem and to be carbon-conscious citizens to provide a better way of living for future generations.
What if we put that plastic bottle into the dustbin? What if we don’t buy plastic bags at the supermarket? What if we raise concerns against deforestation? It could be our baby step towards the collective good of society and the planet. I exhort you to join in this effort…