As you get closer to the coast, driving down Creek Road on the way to the Korangi Fish Harbour, the landscape switches from urban to backwoods in the blink of an eye. Thousands of ospreys begin to dominate the landscape. The osprey is not indigenous to this specific area but are birds of prey and opportunism brings them here for the easy prey from the nearby harbor.
The generous bounty of fish available in the waters around Port Qasim can be largely attributed to the mangroves which provide a fertile ecosystem for shrimp and fish to breed, but the nearby industries are slowly contributing to its degradation.
The first day of the national conference on mangroves by the Human Resource Development Network (HRDN) was held in the city to educate policymakers and the public about mangroves. But on the second day, Friday, participants got to visit what many of them have only seen on paper.
“I have come from Islamabad,” said one member. “And I have learned so much from just getting out here and seeing the mangroves in person and planting one myself.”
Another more experienced seafarer, ex-navy man Shakeel Ahmed Khan who has travelled the world, says, “It’s the smell of the salt in the air, the sand beneath your feet, and the beach that I love and want to take part in preserving.” Nothing spoke more of the need to preserve than the thick metallic grey sludgy mud that formed the beach, instead of white sands.
IUCN National Coordinator Rafiul Haq marshalled the participants to find a plant that was already prepared. “This is a noble cause but the credit goes to the Sindh forest department that does this on a regular basis to help protect us,” he said. “The ideal time for planting mangroves is a hot sunny day. These people are in the mud planting trees to help protect us and our coastline, the community, and the national assets such as the ports. This is one of the toughest jobs in the world.”
The Sindh forest department has been working to rehabilitate the mangroves for 25 years now and Haq says that while the government may be at fault for a lot of things, its work on the mangroves has been exemplary and should be applauded.
More funding and awareness is necessary to stem the manmade threats and the rehabilitation of certain tracts of mangroves as was made clear at the previous day’s seminar. Trips to plant trees are more a tool to spread awareness rather than a solution to the issue.
“This is a valuable part of our food chain, this is our food chain after all,” HRDN’s Fauzia Malik says. “If we don’t commit now, we won’t ever be able to.”
The cutting of mangroves has been a threat. According to experts, it is not as big a threat but still contributes to part of the degradation. Indeed, a boat of men collecting firewood from the mangroves was spotted on the boat ride back to the shore. Local communities can’t be blamed though and need to be provided an alternative source of fuel. They need to be made aware of the consequences of their actions before they can be asked to alter how they maintain their livelihoods.
“Everyone is an environmentalist and has the responsibility to be an environmentalist. We don’t want to change social events, we want to bring a social change, and that starts with yourself,” says the seafarer Shakeel Ahmed Khan.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2012.