On a planet whose treasure lie not in the precious stones and metals, but in life, you will find that life fills all the possible – and impossible – niches carved by the action of wind and water, fire and earth, and sun and moon. This life has evolved to adopt the pace of nature. But the pace of nature is not always patient and calm. Although life evolved to the rhythm of the passing seasons, many animals and plants adapted to the changes on the planet – changes that are brought about daily by the celestial bodies.
These ecosystems are called the intertidal zones, a place between the high-tide and the low-tide mark. In this harsh environment – harsh for it is rapidly changing from being completely aquatic to being roasted under the tropical sun – life has evolved many special adaptations which allow it to thrive, and amongst the many intertidal ecosystems lay the mud forests – mangroves.
The mangrove associates (plants which are found in the same habitat amongst the mangrove species but do not show all the typical characteristics of mangroves) are fairly common in the northern Konkan. Some of the densest patches of these can be found along Thane and Vasai creek.
And then, the worst followed. “Apart from the harm done by actual overfishing, a very serious abuse came to light during this enquiry; it was found that for greater convenience in sorting as well as for personal comfort during cold weather, it had been customary for the fishermen to load up their small boats with oyster clumps or clusters indiscriminately, transport them to some convenient place near high water mark, and there do the actual separation of marketable oysters at leisure”.
|The mud forest of Konkan|
|The tangle of mud forest|
Nagla Block, SGNP
|Digging rotten wood in the mangrove forests by Wild Boar|
Nagla Block, SGNP
|About 24 male fillder crabs and several camouflaged females amongst the pneumatophore minarets|
Wadatar Creek, Sindhudurg
|Mangroves - Avicennia spp. during high-tide|
|Dense thickets of Acanthus illicifolius|
Nagla Block, SGNP
Mangroves are the most mystical forests of northern Konkan, also unfortunately because they are the most threatened.
|Rhizophora mucuronata on a low-tide|
showing pod-like structures called propagules and stilt roots,
surrounding the tree are pneumatophores
|Harvesting of Edible Oyster on the oyster beds of Wadatar Creek|
The oysters are commonly called Saad or Bud Kaalve (Crassostera spp.), found in subtidal areas with muddy to sandy bottom (Gagan et al, 2013 – a beautiful paper, recently published, documenting the indigenous methods the local communities use to fish bivalves in southern Konkan). With the help of a small hammer and an iron bar with a sharp end, the locals break open the mature oysters from the clump, and collect them in cane baskets. I do not know how the oysters taste, but they’ve been in demand for many decades – rather centuries. Unfortunately, it has also been considered unsustainable in the long run, so how environment-friendly is this harvest of natural edible oyster of the mud forests, really?
A priceless book “The Present Depletion of the Oyster-bed of Sind [sic] – its causes and the remedies” authored by late zoologist James Hornell in 1923, documents the history of the rise and fall of the oyster industry in the Sindh region – mainly because of over exploitation of the edible oysters.
|A Grey Heron walks along the oyster bed|
|An oyster clump|
It was followed by a cyclone, but the oyster beds recovered over the years, however the general yield decreased. The report says that the Nawa Nar beds no longer exist.
This trend was observed over 100 years ago. Today, we’re again facing the similar dilemma. In the report “Conservation and Management of Mangrove Habitats and Associated Oyster Beds”, mangrove ecosystems are said to be suitable site for culturing oysters, however management of natural oyster beds is also considered crucial to ensure long-term sustainable yield. The remedies from Hornell’s and this report suggest monitoring of these beds, controlling overexploitation (eg. public awareness), and teaching suitable techniques for oyster culturing.
What lies in the base of this remedy is completely overlooked – the demand. The demand that cannot – shall not – be blamed on the local fishermen and oystermen. Although it is inherent in human-nature that if you get something good in return, try harder to achieve more of it, it is true not only for business but our (consumer) habits as well. The overfishing of oysters would not happen without our increasing appetite.
|A placard placed by the Forest Department spelling "Protected Forest" merely serves as a warning|
The beauty of mud forests lies in relishing and admiring its richness with minimum disturbance, and getting what you get in the most sustainable way. Some of you may wonder that you play no role in destruction of a wetland – any wetland – but we all do, and it should be a grave concern to us all. The reward of keeping this ecosystem undisturbed for our survival is invisible but priceless; the aftermath of its destruction, however, is unimaginable and apocalyptic.