The minister of Tourism and Natural Resources, Mr Ezekiel Maige

Careless destruction of the mangrove forest in Pangani district, Tanga region, has accelerated the disappearance of eight unique mangrove species rarely found in other places in the country for research work.

Pangani District Forest and Tourism Officer, Twaheri Mkongo, has said that destruction of the forests also has paved the way for gradual sinking of the historical township of Pangani as almost a quarter (2000 hectares) has been occupied by water.

A larger part of Pangani is situated less than a metre above sea level. “Mangrove forests are found in different parts of the world. But the specialty of Pangani Mangrove Forests is that all eight uncommon species are found in the area, a feature not easily found in other places,” Mkongo explained.

Two of the rare mangrove species are preferred for construction of sea vessels while the others are a source of traditional medicine, he said. During a recent visit to the area, the Minister for Natural Resources and Tourism, Mr Ezekiel Maige, was informed that the disappearance of the mangrove forests would have serious ecological impact as well as academic consequences because researchers prefer Pangani for academic studies.

Minister Maige called for an immediate step up of efforts to salvage the 9,360 hectares of mangrove forests found in the area, which cushion off incoming sea waves and offer samples for research studies. Among other factors behind destruction of the mangrove forests include ongoing smuggling of mangrove poles, charcoal making and systematic cut down of wood for construction work.

“Some residents in Mkwaja, Kisosora and Kipumbwi villages apply a poisonous stuff known as Todon to dry up mangrove trees so they reclaim land from the sea for the establishment of makeshift settlements.  “The destruction is senseless especially among fishing communities because water keeps pushing them out of site. Some are said to pour hot water at the tree trunks.

It is difficult to apprehend them because the offence is usually committed at night,” Mkongo explained. The official is worried that since the elimination of mangrove forests that previously stopped incoming sea waves from reaching higher ground has not stopped, many families especially in Kizingitini area would be relocated shortly as sea water is close to their doors at the moment.

The minister has a suggestion: “It is time to carry out serious awareness campaign in collaboration with the district council to educate the public on the need to conserve the environment for people’s survival. Destruction must be checked regularly,” Mr Maige said.

Earlier, another Senior Forest Officer in the region, Ms Caroline Malundo, presented a Regional Forest Management Report informing the minister about the challenges experienced.  These included ongoing smuggling of tonnes of mangrove poles to Zanzibar and cessation of coastal surveillance operations for explanation that two of the patrol boats owned by the forest division in Tanga region were out of order for the last three months.

She informed the minister that the wooden engine footrests of the boats were broken and the repair cost would amount to 1.2m/- to have the boats back in water for surveillance. Listening carefully to explanation given to defend inefficiency in control of destruction of the mangrove forests, the minister showed disapproval of the report and lack of commitment to stop destruction of the forests and conservation of the marine ecology.

“I just cannot understand how come two boats that can be fixed in less than two hours would take that long to be repaired. Think of the extent of destruction that has happened so far due to lack of control measures.  “Millions of shillings disappear in revenue as hundreds of tonnes of mangrove poles disappear. I want the boats back in operation by Monday (January 29, 2012) and coastal surveillance to resume immediately,” Maige ordered.

He questioned the legality for unimpressive delivery of forest officials in the region and failure to control destruction in Pangani district with a population of 46,000 with twelve forest officers.   Intelligence reports further revealed that out of 20 marine vessels (dhows) known to dock at the Malindi port in Zanzibar loaded with smuggled mangrove poles, six came from Tanga.

A single dhow for example, would carry 1,600 poles each selling at 5,000/- with a total value of 8m/-. If three of those dock at Malindi port in Zanzibar, it means that 24m/- from forest products is lost a day without replacement. The Acting Executive Director of the Tanzania Forest Services (TFS), Monica Kagya, assured regional forestry authorities of funds set aside for coastal surveillance and a tree planting drive which would successfully be carried out through community participation under Joint Forest Management initiative.

“Proper instruction on beekeeping will help the community raise income. The forest cover provides an ideal condition for beekeeping and the project which is environmental friendly assured the community of comparatively better income,” Kagya said.

Asked whether they  were aware of global warming leading to climatic changes and effects associated with the situation, Hassan Bura (42), a resident of Pangani, admitted not to be well versed with climatic changes except that he was surprised to see waves from the ocean reaching locations contrary to what it used to be.

“It is true that sea water comes nearer residential areas day-by-day. I think destruction of mangrove forests has propelled the situation. We used to catch crabs quite easily but disappearance of forests has made it difficult,” Bura explained.

By BILHAM KIMATI, Tanzania Daily News

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