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A review on the status, ecological importance, vulnerabilities, and conservation strategies for the mangrove ecosystems of Pakistan

Muhammad Rafique

All over the world, mangroves are considered one of the highly vulnerable forest ecosystems. These are mainly found along the coastlines of tropical and subtropical regions where rivers bring freshwater and silt from the mainland to sea. They provide livelihood and numerous ecosystem services to millions of people living in the deltaic and coastal areas. These forests safeguard the properties, lands and lives of the people from storms, hurricanes and cyclones. They provide important habitats for plants and animal biodiversity. Hundreds of species of mammals, birds, reptiles, fishes, crabs, shrimps, mollusks, barnacles, jellyfishes and other invertebrates depend on mangroves for feeding, breeding, development and shelter. In Pakistan, mangrove forests are dominantly restricted to the Indus Delta which represents 97% of these forests whereas the Balochistan coast only harbors rest of the 3%. Despite their vital importance, the area under mangrove forests is continuously decreasing for the last 50 years, both in the world as well as in Pakistan. The rate of decrease is the highest in Asia and also in Pakistan. Main causes of the decline of the mangrove forests in Pakistan are the reduced freshwater and silt flow into the sea, pollution, fast pace of urbanization and development, global warming, climate change, complex tenure system, and overgrazing and extraction of timber and fuel wood. Time to time, various policies and plans have been initiated by the concerned forest departments, federal agencies, NGOs, and funding organizations leading to protection, management and enhancement of mangrove forests. Local communities have also been involved in almost every programme for implementation and achieving the targets and objectives of various projects. The actual main cause of issue is, however, never been addressed which is the release of environmental flows downstream of dams and barrages constructed on the river Indus and its tributaries. Many new approaches involving widely tested international lines of action, sound research and data collection and data analysis techniques, and use of modern technologies and gadgets like remote sensing and GIS, need to be applied for restoration and regular estimation and monitoring of the mangrove forests.

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