Envis Centre, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Govt. of India

Printed Date: Monday, February 26, 2024

Green crusader on mangrove mission

 KOLKATA: Nothing hurts him more than watching his beloved Sunderbans lose its mangrove cover. He has seen thousands of trees being chopped or damaged over the last 10 years that almost altered the look of the forest. This prompted him to take up cudgels for the "lifeline of Sunderbans".

Nine years after he planted his first mangrove at Sagar Island, Pranabesh Maity — a farmer-turned-green activist — is ready to launch a massive campaign to save the trees that have been central to Sunderbans' existence.

Born and brought up in Sagar Island of Sunderbans, Maity is set to plant 20,000 mangroves there this June. Thousands of villagers from across the island, schoolchildren and NGOs will join him. The effort will be like a living a dream that he has always had, he says.

"My island, like most other islands in Sunderbans, looked completely different thirty years ago. They were greener and didn't have bald patches in the forest. Trees have disappeared now and the number of animals also dwindled as their habitat changed. If we do not act now, Sunderbans may cease to exist," he said.

Maity has formed a group of 12 activists who work round-the-clock to protect and plant mangroves. Four clubs in Sagar assist them. He has also formed a group of 40 youngsters who travel across the islands observing the growth of the mangroves.

"I started the plantation drive in 2007 when I noticed that Sagar no longer had the major mangrove trees such as hetal, keora, goran or dhundhul. I realized that if the trend was not reversed, all Sunderbans islands will suffer. So, I started planting mangroves on my own," he recalled.

Maity embarked on a research before he plunged into it, though. He did a survey of the embankments, forest fringes and the island interiors. It led him to the conclusion that not all parts of the island were suitable for mangroves. But they had a better chance of survival along the embankments.


"They not only helped to preserve the Sunderbans environment, but also reinforced the embankments. It was proved after the strike of Aila in 2009. Most embankments that had mangroves along them survived," said Maity.

Wildlife expert Biswajit Roy Choudhury also said that survival of the mangroves was the key to the ecology of south Bengal. News, an NGO run by Roy Choudhury, has also been planting mangroves. "Mangroves prevent storm surges. They act as a natural shield, serving as a second layer of protection after the embankments. Several agencies have been planting mangroves in Sunderbans, but we need to preserve them better for the first 3-4 years. This is the period when most are lost either to grazing animals or to human intervention. If Maity can ensure that the trees survive, he will have done a great service," said Roy Choudhury.

Roy Choudhury said News has planted mangroves on 6000 hectares across Gosaba, Bali, Thakurain, Patharpratima and Sagar islands since 2007. Bappaditya Mukhopadhyay of Prantakatha, an NGO, said, "Maity has been a grassroots worker, a thoroughly-dedicated green activist who has been working tirelessly. He has made a lot of difference to his island almost singlehandedly."