India: Mangrove Restoration in Palk Bay, Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu restoration; Credit: The MANGREEN Project
Tamil Nadu restoration; Credit: The MANGREEN Project


The MANGREEN project intends to be a model for the community-based ecological restoration of mangroves through the application of scientific knowledge along with socio-economic development.

In September 2005, the project was initiated in two villages: Keezhathottam and Velivayal located at Agni estuary in the northern Palk Bay, where the natural and artificial regeneration sites have been successfully established after a careful study on the soil quality, suitable species composition, availability of natural recruitment, land elevation, distance from the water source, grazing effect and land-use. Convincing the fishing community was one of the first tasks, followed by official permission and support.

We have now planted more than 10, 000 mangrove seedlings in the selected sites of artificial regeneration, where there is little opportunity for natural recruitment, and 3,850 saplings are under constant observation in the nurseries. Local villagers have been recruited for the establishment of Ecological Mangrove Restoration (EMR) sites that include excavation and cleaning of water channels, fencing, seed collection, plantation and maintenance.

With reforestation underway, creating community awareness and facilitating community development have been other constant aspects of the project. A variety of lectures in local schools, as well as street plays, eco-clubs, professional training, and village self-help groups have been implemented in order to raise awareness about the projects along the entire Tamil Nadu coast. The villagers generally support the project as they have learned about the importance of healthy mangroves and fisheries.

Quick Facts

Project Location:
10.291632, 79.340498

Geographic Region:

Country or Territory:


Estuaries, Marshes & Mangroves

Area being restored:
20 hectares

Project Lead:
OMCAR Foundation

Organization Type:
NGO / Nonprofit Organization

Project Partners:
DEEPWAVE (Germany)


Project Stage:
Post-Implementation Maintenance

Start Date:

End Date:

Planning \ Design:


Post-Implementation Maintenance:

Monitoring & Evaluation:

Primary Causes of Degradation

Agriculture & Livestock, Fisheries & Aquaculture, Mining & Resource Extraction

Degradation Description

The coastline of Tamil Nadu in southern India was hit severely by the waves of the 2004 Sumatra Tsunami. Long before the Tsunami, however, the lives of local people at Palk Bay had already been affected by the destruction of the mangroves. As in many places, mangroves have been exploited for thousands of years all over India. Local uses include fuel wood, fisheries, honey production and the use of Nypa leaves for roofing materials. In modern times large areas of land have been reclaimed for agricultural purposes and urban development. Mangroves are also heavily exploited for the grazing of cattle. In the supralittoral zone, salt collection is also an important activity. Traditional mariculture has a long history of pond construction for shrimp cultivation, and heavy trawler operations by shrimp farmers have degraded the ecosystem. Linked to these issues, and to increasing population pressure, pollution from urban and agricultural runoff is an increasing threat. The need for mangrove restoration and proper management in Tamil Nadu results at least from the fact that only during the last century 40% of the mangrove area of this federal state has been lost.

Reference Ecosystem Description

Keezhathottam (10° 17`n.L.; 79° 21` e.L.) is situated at the lower course and the estuary of the
Agni river in south eastern Tamil Nadu. It immediately lies at the coast of the Palk Bay, which belongs
to the Indian Ocean.

The village lies within the tropical zone of the east coasts. The summers are very hot and arid,
while the winters are temperate and humid, due to the impact of the north- east monsoon from October
to February. There is no influence of south- west monsoon, because of the insulating effect of the West
Ghates, which range from south to north India and geographically divide the eastern from the western part. The average annual temperature is higher than 27.5°C and the rainfall is about 650-800mm/a. The soil consists of Pleistocene and recent sediments and is alluvial and tidal overlaid.

The mangrove forest in Keezhathottam surely hasn’t been monospecious like it is today (the forest solely consists of Avicennia marina trees). This recent condition is caused by human activities and the direct influence of them on abiotic and biotic factors, e.g. dam and dike construction for aquaculture and the following change of soil structure and water- holding capacity etc. which lead to parching and crusting of the soils in Keezhathottam.

Project Goals

– To carry out marine ecological studies on the Palk Bay coastal region.
– To document the marine flora and fauna, their current status and human impacts on the Palk Bay coastal environment.
– To restore and manage patchy mangroves of the Palk Bay region through community based conservation programmes.
– To save the stranded marine mammals by forming a communication network with the volunteers of coastal villages.
– To establish an environmental information centre that will give data about the local environmental issues of Palk Bay.
– To study the socio-economic status of fisher folks of Palk Bay.
– To create awareness among the fisher folk community about the importance of protecting the Palk Bay region and its endangered species through street plays and cultural programmes.
– To establish education and community development centers in coastal villages
– To improve the educational and economic status of fisher folks.
– To form eco-clubs in the schools of Palk Bay region to carry out school level environmental awareness programmes.
– To establish a plant nursery to supply seedlings of endemic plants to eco-clubs.
– To organize field trips for students to encourage their interest and knowledge on conservation.
– To cooperate with other educational, research and social organizations in conservation and community development.


The project does not have a monitoring plan.


The villagers of Keezhathottam and the surrounding area

Description of Project Activities:
We established a protected site on the northern side of the Agni estuary. The restoration site was split into 5 parts in order to facilitate a step-by-step extension of the project area. The area is protected by fences and has three artificial fish bone canals. After establishing the site, one of the project's first tasks was to address the Tamil fishermen in order to gain their support for our effort to create protected mangrove sites. With the support of the fisherman, and permission from the government, a total of 11,000 seeds of Avicennia sp. and Rhizophora sp. were initially sown. An annotated list of project activities follows: - Desiltation of canals Without cleaning the natural and artificial waterways, the replanted and wild mangrove seedlings would be under stress. Therfore in August 2005 one of the first steps of OMCAR was to recruite labourers in the nearby villages to help clear debris from the channels. - Fencing MANGREEN site 1 was encircled with wooden fences to prevent further cattle grazing. A team of local villagers was formed to carry out fence construction. Locally available eucalyptus woods were used for the fences. - Nursery construction A site near the coastal mangrove stretch in Keezhathottam was selected for nursery construction, which is close to a tidal creek. The square shaped nursery has 15 sunken nursery beds with a shadow of coconut thatches to prevent mortality and desertification by the sun. - Seed collection and plantation 4000 propagules of Rhizophora were collected from Pitchavaram mangrove forest through the forest department. 900 propagules were planted in the nursery and the remaining 3100 propagules were directly sowed into the desilted fish bone canals in the protected site. - Canal maintenance work The siltation of few fishbone canals and formations of dense debris of washed ashore sea grasses like Cymodocea sp. and Syringodium isoetifolium were removed from all canals to protect the newly planted propagules. - Avicennia Plantation 6000 seeds of Avicennia marina were collected and planted in mangreen site 1 the fish bone canals of southern side of Agni Estuary. - Avicennia marina nursery bed preparation Seeds were collected from southwestern side of Muthupet mangroves. 700 pockets of A. marina (2 seeds/pocket) were prepared in the nursery. A small fencing with fishing nets supported by wooden poles was arranged for protection. - Mangrove vegetation study in plots Nr. 4 and 5 This study was carried out in an islet that is located in the western side of mangrove swamp near Keezhathottam. The continuous monitoring of these plots will be helpful to know the changes in the mangrove community structure. - Fencing in MANGREEN Site 2 Local villagers were selected for fencing work. This fence covers the Plot.1 of AMANGREEN site 2, and will be used as evidence of the benefits of the restoration programme by the growth of shoreline mangroves through the prevention of cattle grazing. - Avicennia seed collections and sowing Seeds were collected from Keezhathottam mangroves and were segregated and directly planted inside MANGREEN site 1 and 2. The remaining seeds were planted along the opposite Agni river shore.

Ecological Outcomes Achieved

Eliminate existing threats to the ecosystem:
The mere plantation consists of 3 fishbone canals, each with a central main canal, on which 6 support canals converge. To each canal system there were given letters in ascending order seawards (A,B,C). The support canals were given numbers from 1 to 6, and the main canals were given number 7. The seedlings were monitored for their survival and growth in the last week of October 2005 and December 2005. The total number of both, Avicennia sp., and Rhizophora sp., seedlings was ascertained in each canal, as well as the number of diseased and damaged plants. After that the measurement on the individual plants took place. *** Avicennia sp., *** Regarding the survival of Avicennia seedlings in fish bone canals, canal C had lost 816 seedlings, canal A had lost 369 and canal B had lost 228 seedlings during the two month period. The reason is mainly due to heavy monsoon flooding in Tamil Nadu that led to the continuous submergence of seedlings by estuarine water and dense algal coverage. The algal deposition blocked photosynthesis and caused the weakening of seedlings. In October 2005 the maximum average height was recorded from canal B1 (52.6cm), maximum average number of leaves from A6 (68.6), maximum average of internode length from B2 (13.7cm), maximum average leaf length from B1 (18.5cm), maximum average leaf breadth from B2 (2.8cm) and maximum average number of diseased/damaged leaves from A6 (17.4) In the second study, maximum average height was recorded from the same canal B1 (59.1cm), maximum average number of leaves from A6 (99.8), maximum average of internode length from A4 (7.1cm), maximum average leaf length from C7 (16.1cm), maximum average leaf breadth from B6 (2.6cm) and maximum average number of diseased/damaged leaves form C6 (5.4). So, for Avicennia sp., seedlings, plant height, internode length, leaf length, leaf breadth were significantly increased. Average of diseased/damaged leaves was reduced. *** Rhizophora sp., *** Canal A had lost 62 propagules, canal B had lost 65 propagules and canal C had lost 85 propagules in two months period. Unlike Avicennia seedlings the Rhizophora seedlings were not affected by algal coverage, but their growth and survival were dependant upon the viability and time of transportation of propagules during plantation. The fresh propagules collected from Keezhathottam area showed 100% success as they were immediately planted, but the second batch of propagules collected from Pitchavaram by the forest department showed 40% mortality. In October 2005, the maximum average height was observed from Canal A7 as 37cm, maximum average number of leaves was recorded from canal B7 as 26, maximum average internode length was noticed from canal B7 as 4.2cm, maximum leaf length (9.2cm) and leaf breadth (4.1cm) was also recorded form the same canal. Maximum number of diseased/damaged leaves was recorded form B5 (2.15) In December 2005, the maximum average height was recorded at canal C6 (29.9cm), maximum average number of leaves at B7 (10.4), maximum internode length at C6 (14.8cm), maximum leave length at A7 (7.6cm), maximum leaf breadth at B7 (4.1cm) and maximum average number of diseased/damaged leaves at B1 (3.8). So, the average of plant height, internode length, and leaf length were shown positive correlation and total number of leaves was reduced while diseased/damaged leaves were increased in two months period in Rhizophora sp., seedlings.

Factors limiting recovery of the ecosystem:
The plots one to three are highly exposed to cattle grazing. This leads to a stunted growth of trees and keeps them in a shrubby form. Although plot 1 and 5 both show a high grade of small trees, this has different reasons. In plot five many seedlings occur, whereas in plot 1 a big part of small trees is older, but affected by grazing and therefore shows stunted growth. For making more clear statements about the actual impact of grazing in the Keezhathottam mangroves, one shall make a survey on the age distribution of vegetation in all plots. The distribution of height groups shows the formation of clusters, so that in most cases trees of the same height closely stand together. This could be a consequence of natural rejuvenation of mangroves, as mangrove seedlings need light for their establishment and therefore are hardly found in the under the shadow of mangrove trees, but at the fringe. But it could also be a consequence of intensive cattle grazing, by whom the outer trees of the clusters are affected and at the same time protect the inner standing trees.

Socio-Economic & Community Outcomes Achieved

Economic vitality and local livelihoods:
When the mangroves disappeared in Tamil Nadu, so too did the stocks of edible fish on which the coastal population lives--or else they were severely depleted. For the local population, the reafforestation of the mangroves and the re-creation of a functioning ecosystem are linked to the hope of long-term coastal protection and securing one of their major food sources.

Key Lessons Learned

Fish bone canals are considered one effective model for mangrove restoration in the Tamil Nadu region. But, the long-term sustainability of this method is still in question, as the canals will be blocked by their own mangroves, which will stop tidal flushing to rest of the canals. So, this study will help to compare the suitability of fish bone canals, through the periodic documentation.

Long-Term Management

Social and economic factors are often decisive for the long-term success of a rehabilitation project. Therefore, a serious attempt was made to address some of the pressing issues facing villagers in and around Keezhathottam and to develop thoughtful outreach programs that would invest them in the project and ultimately maximize the efficacy of the restoration. The following are some of the programs in which the villagers have been involved.

***Eco Clubs*** Eco-clubs of 6th, 7th and 8th grade students were formed in these schools. The eco-club members are actively involved in planting trees and maintaining hygiene in drinking water and classrooms. OMCAR distributed seedlings of endemic trees with bamboo fences to the coastal schools, and eco-club members planted the seedlings inside the school.

***Field Trip with Schools*** Batch school students were organized for an education field trip to the Muthupet mangrovesThe team started its boat journey in the morning from Muthupet to the Mullipallam lagoon. The students were interested to see the mangroves, artificial plantation of Rhizophora apiculata, birds, canal fishing and lagoon islets. The team returned to Muthupet in the evening with great enthusiasm for mangroves.

***Public street plays*** The villages closely situated to our mangrove sites were selected for a public street play programme. The plays last two hours and talk about a normal day in the life of a fishermen. Messages on conservation were added throughout the program about the benefits of mangroves, migratory birds, eco-tourism, and mangrove-supported fishery. Soil erosion, personal hygiene, gender equality, child-hood marriage, and the MANGREEN project were also discussed.

***Mangreen tailoring unit*** OMCAR has started a tailor training programme for village woman. Our field office was used as a training center and a professional from the nearby town taught them with two machines. This offers them a possibility to learn a new skill in their own village.

***Coir making*** The coir unit is using a simple machine to make a strong rope out of the dry fibers of coconuts. We provided the machines in different phases to the village women and arranged for professional trainers for making the coir. This effectively gives an alternative job and self-confidence to a skilled rural woman and improves the daily income for her family.

***Fishermen Self help group*** A group of 16 fishermen from Keezhathottam village was organized by OMCAR to start a self-help group. They met local bank and government administrative officers to start a group savings account. Each member of this group agreed to save a part of his earnings to the group account, which will be used for emergency or credit to one among them.

Sources and Amounts of Funding

The principal funders of this project are Lighthouse Foundation, DEEPWAVE, and Dr. Schmidt AG & Co.

Other Resources

OMCAR Inc. – Organization for Marine Conservation,
Awareness and Research
V. Balaji, President

DEEPWAVE Initiative
O. Gross, PhD, President

Lighthouse Foundation

Primary Contact

Organizational Contact