Cover Green: ONGC’s project for Coastal Vegetation Revival

Today there is widespread recognition within business circles that economic or financial success is directly linked to environmental and social performance. Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), one of the largest Public Sector Units in India, joined hands with the Bombay Natural History Society to combat impacts of sea level rise due to climate change by undertaking an ambitious Project Cover Green in 2007. This project is based in two states — Maharashtra and Gujarat — and aims to effectively establish mangroves as coast stabilisers. The project also involves spreading awareness about mangroves among students and coastal people.
Mangrove forests are among the world’s most productive and diverse eco-systems. These salt-tolerant plants thrive in sheltered shores, islands and estuaries of tropical regions.

Mangroves have adapted themselves to survive in areas where other plant life cannot grow. To survive they need to overcome extremely variable situations of high salinity, tidal variations, strong winds, high temperatures and muddy
oxygen-deficient swamps. To overcome such adverse environmental conditions, mangrove plants have developed remarkable adaptations such as salt gland, and various root modifications such as stilt roots and pneumatophores.

The seeds start germinating while they are still attached to the mother plant, which increases their chances of survival in the harsh environment.

Mangrove forests have rich plant and animal biodiversity. According to a study by the National Institute of Oceanography, over 1,600 plant and 3,700 animal species have been identified residing in mangrove habitats.

Mangroves have enormous ecological and economic value. They protect the coast from tropical cyclones. These forests help to prevent soil erosion, enrich the coastal waters and contribute significantly to the global carbon cycle. They provide breeding, nursery and feeding areas for aquatic plants and animals. These forests are a source of firewood, timber, tannins and medicines. They also provide food and shelter to the local population.

Though natural damage due to tropical storms is common, human activities are the single major threat to the survival of these forests.

ONGC has undertaken a massive mangrove afforestation programme in Gandhar, Gujarat. Three large nurseries were developed in Gandhar with about 300,000 saplings. The mangrove propagules and seeds were planted at testsites and promising results were observed. Subsequently over 120 hectares of planting has been done successfully with five lakh saplings at various locations in Gandhar since 2007.

The task of mangrove restoration is incomplete without educating the locals about the importance of these forests. In order to reach out to the villages all along the coast, two fully-equipped mobile units are being developed each for Maharashtra and Gujarat. The units visit various coastal areas organising mangrove education programmes for students, fisherman and other coastal communities.

For the large number of enthusiastic children various fun-filled activities like Nature trails, slide shows, exhibitions, film shows, games, painting competition, quiz etc are organised. The education units are equipped with resource material in local and regional languages.

During the very first year, the team of Project Cover Green was successful in reaching out to over 1,000 tea­chers, 10,000 students and an equal number of local community members. This is just the beginning.

The true value of mangroves has gone unrecognised for many years. Technological advances are now allowing researchers to map and monitor mangrove habitats to
get a full extent of the damage done.
The results of such studies are disturbing as mangrove cover continues to shrink rapidly in many parts of India. Thus, it is absolutely essential that we take positive measures before the mangrove forests are forgotten and lost forever.

Bioethics is an integral part of ONGC’s corporate credo. In 2007, ONGC took the prophetic step ‘Cover Green’ to save the coast. Brimming with life, mangrove forests in the Gandhar Coast are now biological powerhouses. Project Cover Green continues to energise the environment.

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