The Maharashtra Forest Department (MFD) is working on a proposal to notify up to 7 to 8 kilometres of mangrove forests and adjoining mudflats along the western part of the Thane creek as a ‘wildlife protected area’.
The stretch that will be given the ‘legally protected status’ will fall between Vashi and Airoli bridges and will exclude the main creek. Besides untouched mangrove forests that are notified forests, this area is home to more than 25,000 flamingos and various bird species such as painted storks, ospreys, terns and little herons, ibis, white-bellied sea eagle and plovers.
“Notifying this area is important as this stretch is the breeding ground for fish, several species of birds and home to mangroves. Traditional fishing and related activities will not be hampered as the protected areas do not include the main creek where fishing takes place,” said Praveen Pardeshi, Principal Secretary, Revenue and Forests Department (Forests). “Notifying this stretch as a protected area was a environmental impact mitigation condition for the Navi Mumbai International Airport and Mumbai Trans Harbour Link projects.”
Once this area is notified, MFD will start educational boat tours from Gateway of India to these protected areas. The tour would include a stop at Elephanta Island, where the MFD guesthouse will be converted into a nature interpretation centre that will have information regarding coastal biodiversity. For these tours, the forest department will rope in local fishermen and boat operators. The MFD will also involve local fishermen in crab farming and creek cleaning activities within the protected area.
Forest officials from the mangrove cell and the Thane forest division will be surveying the area on March 9 to finalise the boundaries for the proposal, which is likely to be ready within a month. The state wildlife board which met recently recommended that this stretch, which is already declared as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International, become a Ramsar site, said Pardeshi. Ramsar sites are wetlands of international importance, recognised globally due to the Ramsar Convention, an international treaty for the conservation of wetlands.
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“Notifying this stretch of mudflats and mangrove forests will be a great move. This will safeguard the mangroves, give a boost to tourism and ensure that persons found violating norms will be punished under the stringent Wildlife Act. Even rights of fishermen will be protected and it is a win-win situation for them as well as the forest department,” said D Stalin, project coordinator of NGO Vanashakti.