December 12th, 2020
72-year-old Sughra Naz, a resident of Kakapir, a fishing village at the Karachi harbour around 15 kilometers away from the city, has dedicated her entire life to nurturing mangrove forests that buffer the delta from tropical storms.
An old face among thousands of young sprouts in the Kakapir nursery, her entire livelihood depends on the continued planting of seedlings so that the forests can flourish.
“We are fisherman, we earn from them. Mangroves are not just havens for fish varieties, but they are also home to shellfish, crustaceans and other marine life,” Naz explains. Siberian birds are also a common sight, as they often nest in these forests.
She recalls that the trees that grow now are much bigger than they were some 30 years ago. She along with other women in her community have been raising saplings for decades, and only recently have planted approximately 70,000 trees. They venture into the dense fauna to collect seeds, which they then plant in their nurseries. She notes however, that the mangroves near and around Karachi are not as dense as compared to the ones in the forest in Kakapir.
“All the contaminated water from the city seeps into the waterways here, because of which so many animals have died,” she said. “Even the marine life here has been badly affected.”
Noor Jehan, another arborist at the Kakapir mangrove nursery, lives in her shaky little home at the beach where it has managed to survive every storm because of the mangroves acting as her silent protectors. There are very few hospitals or clinics nearby, but the locals have made their own remedies with leaves from the mangrove trees. Their children and the elderly bounce back from illnesses with cures obtained from the mangroves.
“Our forefathers were born on this land, we come from a line of fishermen,” says Ejaz Ahmed, President of the Fisher Folk Development Organization. “These trees are a great benefit to our environment, and they only grow on deltas. An incredible variety of migratory birds come here to feed on the abundant fish, shrimp and crab in these forests. Moreover, they mitigate erosion, and are our natural defence against hurricanes and tsunamis. If these trees are cut down, the elements will wreak havoc upon Karachi. The mangroves are not just a forest, they are our guardians.”
He says his organization creates awareness among the local communities, and engages them in plantation drives to ensure employment and continued earning for many in the region.
Abdullah Omar, who lives in the mangrove forest, says that he has been caring for the mangroves ever since he became enlightened of their importance.
“I never had an education, but I realise that these forests are my everything. It’s unfortunate that these trees are being cut down nowadays when there’s so much life depending on them. So many marine creatures are born, so many animals lay their eggs and nest their babies in these forests. There’s no harm in planting more saplings, there would be more jobs that way too.”