The Indian islands, which are located off the coast of West Bengal, plunge into the Bay of Bengal like dozens of bright green fingers, taking their color from the sundari, as the dominant local species of mangrove is known. The trees thrive in the delta’s slushy mud flats and are the first line of defense against storms. Because they have a dense network of roots that can survive both above and below the waterline, the mangroves reduce wave force and capture sediments. But they are under constant threat from illegal logging. They are also vulnerable to crown death, a disease that has already killed millions of mangroves.
The mangroves are “mobile,” says Susmita Dasgupta, an economist at the World Bank: they move back and forth to avoid getting overwhelmed by the water. But dense human settlements have reduced the amount of free space available to them.
The triple whammy—deforestation, crown death, and overpopulation—is proving too much for the trees. Because they’re an essential component of the Sundarbans, any change to them automatically affects people with forest-based livelihoods—fishers, crab and honey collectors, and those who rely on the forest for fodder and fuel.
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