Pichavaram Chidambaram Mangrove Forest by Shandiin Vandervere

The Pichavaram Chidambaram forest, resting within the Cuddalore District of Tamil Nadu, is the world’s second largest mangrove forest. Its expansive growth covers about 45 square kilometers along southern India’s Uppanaru River and offers immeasurable ecological value.

The river’s freshwater mixes with saltwater from its source, the Bengal Bay, forming the calm Killai backwaters that saturate the mangroves. Protected by a sandbar, the river runs smoothly and slowly through the bottom of the country. Though the water’s depth is no more than 3-4 feet, its ecosystem flourishes with countless plants and animals.

Interconnected by more than 400 river system routes, the diverse range of unique habitats offers ideal territories for countless species of birds and animals. So far, over 170 different species of both migrant and local birds have been identified within the Pichavaram Mangrove Forest. These distinct environments range from channels, creeks, gullies, mudflats, sandflats, to the neighboring seashore.

The area is designated as a national forest but is situated between two large estuaries, the Velar in the north and the Coleroon in the south, which makes environmental protection even more of a priority.

Apart from offering an incredible level of biodiversity to the area, the mangroves themselves hold immense value for the human populations nearby. The dense roots of the tree help provide natural infrastructure and protection by absorbing storm surges from extreme natural events like tsunamis. Tamil Nadu experienced this in 2004 when a large tsunami hit the coast, killing over 100,000 people. Without the mangroves, the death toll would have been much worse.

Visual representation of mangroves’ effect in extreme natural events.

They also help stabilize the ecosystem year round by mitigating coastline erosion. Their roots, again, help bind and build soil below the ground. Above the earth, they slow down water flow and allow sediment deposits to increase. In a simple scientific process, mangrove root systems filter nitrates, phospates, and other pollutants from the water as it passes by. By improving the water quality at the start of the river, the mangroves help ensure all other ecosystems downriver have clean, healthy water.

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