Attitudes of local communities towards conservation of mangrove forests: A case study from the east coast of India
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R. Badola, S. Barthwal & S. A. Hussain


The ecological and economic importance of mangrove ecosystems is well established and highlighted by studies establishing a correlation between the protective function of mangroves and the loss of lives and property caused by coastal hazards. Nevertheless, degradation of this ecosystem remains a matter of concern, emphasizing the fact that effective conservation of natural resources is possible only with an understanding of the attitudes and perceptions of local communities. In the present study, we examined the attitudes and perceptions of local communities towards mangrove forests through questionnaire surveys in 36 villages in the Bhitarkanika Conservation Area, India. The sample villages were selected from 336 villages using hierarchical cluster analysis. The study revealed that local communities in the area had positive attitudes towards conservation and that their demographic and socio-economic conditions influenced peoples attitudes. Local communities valued those functions of mangrove forests that were directly linked to their wellbeing. Despite human-wildlife conflict, the attitudes of the local communities were not altogether negative, and they were willing to participate in mangrove restoration. People agreed to adopt alternative resources if access to forest resources were curtailed. Respondents living near the forests, who could not afford alternatives, admitted that they would resort to pilfering. Hence, increasing their livelihood options may reduce the pressure on mangrove forests. In contrast with other ecosystems, the linkages of mangrove ecosystem services with local livelihoods and security are direct and tangible. It is therefore possible to develop strong local support for sustainable management of mangrove forests in areas where a positive attitude towards mangrove conservation prevails. The current debates on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and payment for ecosystem services provide ample scope for development of sustainable livelihood options for local communities from the conservation of critical ecosystems such as mangroves.

Main Results and Conclusions:
  • The mangrove forest in the Bhitarkanika Conservation Area (BCA) is extremely important to local fauna, and provides many types of ecosystem goods and services to local communities:
    • “It is the largest known rookery of the olive ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) in the world and supports the last of the three remaining populations of estuarine crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) in India, the largest known population of the king cobra (Ophiophagus hannah) and the water monitor lizard (Varanus salvator) (Patnaik et al., 1995). It is also one of the largest heronries in India and an important refuge for migratory waterfowl (Nayak, 2002), besides being rich in fish and shellfish (Chadha and Kar, 1999)”(189).
    • “The mangrove and associated forests help meet subsistence requirements of the local communities, including timber, fuelwood, tannin, honey, fodder and thatch, and provide livelihood opportunities for local communities (Hussain and Badola, 2010)”(189).
  • Conservation issues are central in the area due to the conflict between people living illegally within the sanctuary and the forest department protection mandate: “As the mangrove forest of BCA has a PA [Protected Area] status, the local communities dependent on the mangrove resources for their livelihoods do not have legal access to this forest. The situation has resulted in conflicts between the forest department and the local communities, fuelled by the human-wildlife conflict (largely due to the estuarine crocodile)”(190).
  • Residents living both in proximity to and at a distance from the conservation area generally tolerated or favored mangrove conservation strategies. The opinions are as follows:
    • “Ninety percent of the respondents were aware about the protected status of Bhitarkanika mangrove forests, 84% of the people felt responsible for conservation, and 93% were in favour of an integrated conservation and development programme.
    • “Forty-three percent of the people were willing to cooperate with the forest department in mangrove restoration.
    • “Eighteen percent of the people felt that their rights were violated due to the national park, the main reason being the loss of access to firewood” (191).
    • “…30.6% people were willing to buy alternatives to fuel, timber and thatch; 10% responded that they would resort to pilfering from the forest.
    • More people (12.6%) living close to the forests (</= 3 km) would resort to pilfering compared to 2.9% of those living away (>3 km) from the forests, because more people (68.2%) closer to the forests were dependent on them compared to those living away from the forests (38.6%) (x2 = 33.7, df = 15, p < 0.05) (Table 5).
    • “Only 0.7% respondents favoured cutting down the forests, while 76.9% favoured more mangrove plantations. 18.3% respondents believed that the present management situation of PA was good(Table 5).
    • “Significant difference was found among the management alternatives for mangrove forests opted by the people (x2 = 755.18; df = 5; p < 0.001).
    • “The construction of the port at Dhamra was favoured by 87.7% people (coastal development). Out of those who did not own aquaculture farms, only 8.6% favoured aquaculture (Table 5). Increased salinity, which is detrimental to crop production, pollution caused by aquaculture, lack of money and the infrastructure required for setting up and maintaining aquaculture farms were the main reasons for not preferring it”(192).
    • “Although saline embankments have been constructed all along the Orissa coast to prevent such intrusions, but these are ineffective in some cases. Therefore, people perceived saltwater intrusion into the agricultural fields as a problem and favoured more mangrove plantations”(193).
  • The biggest problem presented regarding the conservation of mangroves in the PA is that “…the villages located inside the sanctuary have no option but to use the resources from the PA”(195).
  • Education played a large role in the willingness to conserve mangroves: “Respondents with a higher education level were more aware of the conservation status of the Bhitarkanika mangrove forests and had a positive attitude towards conservation issues as found in other areas (e.g. Chen et al. 2005). This emphasizes the need for improving the educational infrastructure in and around BCA, though the literacy of the respondents (85%) was higher than the average levels in India and the state of Orissa (65.38% and 63.09%, respectively)”(194).
Works Cited:

Badola, R. and S. A. Hussain. 2005. Valuing ecosystem functions: an empirical study on the storm protection function of Bhitarkanika mangrove ecosystem, India. Environmental Conservation 32: 85-92.

Chadha, S. and C. S. Kar. 1999. Bhitarkanika: Myth and Reality. Natraj Publisher, Dehra Dun. 388 pp.

Chen, Z., Yang, J., and Z. Xie. 2005. Economic development of local communities and biodiversity conservation: a case study from Shennongjia National Nature Reserve, China. Biodiversity and Conservation 14: 2095-2108.

Nayak, A. K. 2002. Nesting ecology of resident birds in the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary. Cheetal 41(3-4): 43-54.

Patnaik, M.R., Purohit, K.L., and A. K. Patra. 1995. Mangrove swamps of Bhitarkanika Orissa, India: a great eco habitat for wildlife. Cheetal 34(1): 1-9.