This article was originally published by Earth Day Network – India in its eBook ‘Pathways to Green India: Innovative Ideas From Students, Volume 1′.
Students of Shree Vasishtha Vidhyalaya (SVV), Surat, Gujarat, run Project 1600 that aims to help sustain marine ecosystems. Gujarat has the longest coastline of any Indian state. It has more than 20% of India’s 7,500 km of coastline. Situated on the south bank of the River Tapi, about 14 km from the sea, Surat has always attracted traders and merchants from afar.
The students of SVV were of the opinion that although there was such a large coastline in the state, often, not enough attention was paid to the problems of the coastal ecosystems. Increasing degradation was happening at an accelerating pace. They had learned in school about the many benefits of the rich mangrove vegetation that historically grew along the coast but wondered whether those who didn’t have any formal education also knew this.
The students decided to take up a pilot project to see what could be done. They selected the coastal village of Junagaon, a swampy coastal belt that was just 15 km away from their school, so easy to reach and make frequent visits to. Teams of students, accompanied by their teachers and other experts, first surveyed the area. They observed that while there were rich mangrove forests in some parts, there was scanty growth in some areas and bald patches in others. The mangrove growth in the latter areas was likely stunted by overgrazing and pollution from the factories, while other areas had been cleared to make way for the development of infrastructure.
The surprising fact was that experiments confirmed that the area had temperatures suitable for the profusion of mangroves. So why wasn’t there abundant growth? Even if the areas had been denuded in the past, reforestation programs would have brought back the area to its former self. These were the questions that needed answers, and the students began an exhaustive search for the reasons.
After discussions with the villagers, the conclusion the students came to was that the locals had limited knowledge about the many uses of mangroves. They also lacked the specialized training required to develop mangrove nurseries. The students decided they would address both these issues. Thus, Project 1600 was born. “Our strategy was based on 3Cs (Classroom, Campus, Community) and 3Ss (Students, Search Research, Sustainable Development),” say the students of SVV.
The students first put together relevant data that showcased the many uses of mangroves. These include: mangroves act as buffers against the effects of natural disasters such as cyclones and the onrush of high tide; they reduce the engulfing of land and seawater (and thus protecting shorelines); their roots play a vital role in stabilizing soil (which is crucial as coastal regions have a high density of population); and they provide a conducive environment for the breeding of several species of fishes and crabs, amongst others.
Working with the forest department and the local village administration, the students of SVV learned to identify the different mangrove species, the ideal season to plant, the most suitable sites and the most favorable techniques. The forest officers explained the unique way mangrove seeds need to be planted, in raised beds of mud to ensure that the seeds get embedded and not washed away during high tide. Armed with all this knowledge, these students made presentations on “The Benefits of Mangroves” during morning assemblies at local schools. Intense workshops were then conducted for those students, who expressed their willingness to be a part of Project 1600, using video clips, PowerPoint presentations and other interest-generating communication means.
The attendees were encouraged to share what was learned with their families and communities as well. When planting season came, SVV students and their newly-formed friends from the local schools demonstrated their acquired skills with great zeal and enthusiasm. There were 200 enthusiasts who worked alongside local forest officials. 500 mangrove seeds were collected and sown in the ocean bed at Junagaon. The villagers got enthused and came forward to help. They assured the students of SVV that they would care for the plants.
This was the first time that such a large number of students from the Surat area had taken part in an environmental program. The most striking feature was that it was a student-centered exercise that reinforced the school’s motto, ‘Passion for Excellence’. Small hands, but what a mega environmental program they created!