[NEW DELHI] The Indian National Commission on Farmers suggested last week (10 January) that India should form a 'bioshield' against coastal storms and tsunamis by planting a belt of vegetation along its coastlines.
M. S. Swaminathan, head of the commission and chair of the Chennai-based M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation, said plantations of mangrove forests, palms, bamboos and other plants that tolerate high levels of salt could play a double role.
As well as absorbing the force of severe coastal storms, cyclones and tsunamis, the bioshield could act as a 'carbon sink' — absorbing emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
Mangrove forests would also help fishing communities because their fallen leaves release nutrients into the water, and many species of fish live and breed among their above-ground roots – which are submerged when the tide is in.
In a report summarising its recommendations, the commission noted that local communities could plant salt-tolerant trees like Casuarina, Salicornia, and Atriplex, and intersperse them with hybrid pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan) as a pulse crop.
"The bioshield movement will confer multiple benefits to local communities as well as to the country as a whole," it said.
The idea is among several short-, medium- and long-term measures suggested by the commission to ease the distress of fishing and farming communities after the December 26 tsunami that devastated parts of India's east coast.
Another key recommendation was to help local communities build artificial coral reefs, among which fish could shelter and breed.
The commission said the Indian government should promote community involvement in the conservation of mangroves and other coastal wetlands, coral reefs, and marine biodiversity, through active participation in tree planting and through community-based management of natural resources.
It said a team of scientists from the Central Soil Salinity Research Institute and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, and from agricultural universities should survey areas where the soil has become salty because of being inundated with seawater, study the severity of the problem and propose remedial measures within the next two months.
Earlier, a high-level meeting convened by the Ministry of Environment and Forests on 5 January decided to assess the tsunami damage in two phases.
The first phase, to be completed by March, would comprise a scientific assessment based on satellite imagery and involve scientists from several institutes including the Space Application Centre, Institute for Ocean Management, Zoological Survey of India, and Botanical Survey of India.
The second phase would identify ecological resources that are important to the livelihoods of coastal communities, assess the damage to them and propose remedial measures. The detailed evaluation would lead to an action plan to restore the ecology and geology of the affected land.
The M. S. Swaminathan Research Foundation has done considerable work in mangrove conservation and restoration, which helped mitigate the impact of the tsunami in areas with dense mangrove plantations (see Mangrove forests 'can reduce impact of tsunamis').