Monday, March 18, 2013
"Sometimes, I feel I’m another mad mangrove tree."
Even though an illiterate , Pokkudan realizes that Mangroves are excellent buffers between the violent ocean and the fragile coast, especially during hurricanes, which can bring powerful storm surges onto shores. The massive mangrove root system is quite efficient at dissipating wave energy. This same root system also helps prevent coastal erosion. As tidal water flows through the root system, it is slowed substantially enough so that it deposits its sediment as the tide comes in, and the return flow is kept slow as the tide goes out to prevent re suspension of some of the finer particles. As a result, mangroves can build their own environment.
His real name is Pokkan, quite an earthly name for an untouchable pulaya (a downtrodden caste group of agricultural labourers and fisherfolk) born in the 1930s in Kerala. When he was born, his umbilical cord was like a blown-up balloon, or the bloated, elongated, seeds of the common mangrove tree. Out of affection, his kith and kin called him Pokkudan. He is now known as Kallen Pokkudan.
All his life, Pokkudan has lived close to the wetlands and, for over a decade, he has been collecting, preserving and planting the seeds of the ‘mad mangrove’ tree (long-fruited, stilted mangrove know as rhizophora mucronata). The association between the man and the tree is so close that Pokkudan says, "Sometimes, I feel I’m another mad mangrove tree." His name is now synonymous with mangrove conservation in Kerala.
When Pokkudan started planting mangrove seedlings in 1989, at the age of 52, he was all alone. Environmentalists had not begun to pay attention to the destruction of mangrove forests, the rainforests of the coastal ecosystem. The Coastal Regulation Zone Act had not come into force. Researchers had not begun to make a beeline to the pockets of wetlands in Kannur district in north Kerala, where Pokkudan lived. In just four decades, the extent of mangrove forests in the state had dropped from over 700 sq. km to a paltry 17 sq. km. Yet, Kannur still possessed nearly 45 per cent of the remaining wetlands in the state.
Kallan Pokkudan's message to mankind is simple to write
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