The Soonabai Pirojsha Godrej Foundation is a public charitable Trust registered under the Bombay Public Trust Act, 1950.
The Foundation works mainly in social fields like education and medical aid etc. Soonabai Pirojsha Godrej Marine Ecology Centre (SPGMEC) is part of the Foundation., and is partly funded by the Trust and partly by M/s. Godrej & Boyce Mfg.Co. Ltd., a multi-product Indian corporate. The Foundation also seeks aid from donor agencies for general or specific programmes for mangrove conservation. The project is managed by trustees of the SPG Foundation and an Environment Cell – an advisory body.
Members of the Environment Cell are eminent environmentalists and scientists. The renowned ornithologist Dr. Salim Ali, was one of the founder members and headed Environment Cell during his lifetime. The day-to-day functions of the Mangrove Project are handled by the Sr. Manager, Mangrove Project, and an Education Officer. Both posts are funded by M/s. Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Ltd.
For further information, please visit http://www.godrej.com/
SPMEC was formally inaugurated in 1985 under the leadership of the late Dr. Salim Ali, one of the world’s most honoured ornithologists, the late Dr. A.K. Ganguly (a reputed botanist) and Dr. H.N. Sethna. The aim was to protect the 1750 acres of mangrove forest on land owned by the Foundation and the Godrej & Boyce company. The scope of the project was further expanded by creating a research, education and conservation base.
This is the first privately managed mangrove area in India and probably the first mangrove management project in the world to formally adopt ISO14001 standards for Environment Management System. This system has been amalgamated with the corporate environment policy of the parent company, Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Ltd. and is looked at as a success story for the corporate environment.
Several short- and long term research projects have been undertaken including the biodiversity of Thane creek, vegetation mapping, satellite imagery studies, pollution of Thane creek etc. Researchers from various universities and organisations are encouraged to conduct research projects and surveys in Pirojshanagar mangroves.
Regular mangrove plantation activities have been conducted since the project’s inception. Studies reveal an 18% increase in vegetative cover due to conservation measures taken so far. This is an outstanding achievement since more than 50% of Mumbai’s mangroves have been destroyed in the last 20 years.
The Mangrove Interpretation Centre (MIC) is situated in Udayachal Primary School, Vikhroli (total area = 475.3 square metres). The Centre is involved in educati9onal activities such as nature trails, audio-visual shows and other activities related to the mangrove ecosystem. The objective of the MIC is to spread environmental awareness using mangroves as a platform. MIC has been largely responsible for promoting mangrove awareness in Mumbai and the State of Maharashtra.
Thousands of people have visited the centre, including many forest officials on training programmes. New mangrove conservation groups have become established in the city as a result of MIC awareness and conservation programmes. As part of the Centre’s ISO 14001 certification, it complies with the requirements of the evaluating agency, TUV International.
Feedback is collected from visitors and forwarded to the management.
Relevant suggestions are adopted to improve the effectiveness of conservation measures.
The general responsibility of the area is with the Trustees of the Soonabai Foundation. The Sr. Manager is Head of the Centre and is responsible for education activities. The plantation activities are supported by the horticulture staff of Godrej and Boyce industry.
Situated in the midst of one of the most populated cities (Mumbai), the Pirojshanagar mangroves have an amazing biodiversity. There are approximately 15 mangrove species and associates in the 1,750 acre area.
The total plant diversity exceeds 200 species. Marine biodiversity is represented by 20 fish spp., 15 crab spp., 7 prawn spp., and several molluscs. Terrestrial fauna includes 206 bird spp., 33 reptile spp., 12 mammal spp.
Examples of prominent animals include Jungle Cat, Asiatic Jackal, Wild Boar, Indian Mongoose, Binocellate Cobra, Russell’s Viper, Rat Snake, Rock Python, Indian Monitor , Dog-faced Water Snake, Wart Snake, Common Skini, Snake Skink, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Greater Spotted Eagle, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, and Buzzard.
The wetland is an important stopover for over 100 species of migratory birds. A recent study showed 29 spider spp. within just eight hours of a field search. Surveys are ongoing for a detailed biodiversity inventory of the wetland.
SPGMEC has adopted a three-fold approach for mangrove protection – research, conservation and education. All the activities of the Centre are planned and conducted to equally justify these three aspects.
SPGMEC believes in the ‘wise use’ of wetlands and discourages unsustainable development activities that would adversely affect the mangrove ecosystem. The SPGMEC has been involved in mangrove conservation much before mangroves were classified as forests and protected by Indian legislation.
There is little community education work. Most of the population around the wetland is an urban one which is not directly dependent on the wetland for its livelihood. There a minority of fisherfolk but no CEPA programmes for them. The situation may change if the Thane Creek area is designated a Ramsar site as proposed by Maharashtra State to the Government of India.
There is wide scope for community work as over 10,000 people live in the surrounding area and depend on the wetland for fish and shellfish.
The wetland has also been linked to the Industrial Garden Township of M/s. Godrej & Boyce Mfg. Co. Ltd. Being a part of the Environment Management of the Township and industry, it has been made mandatory for the industrial processes and the Township activities to rigorously observe environmental norms.
Garbage is treated on the reduce-recycle-reuse principle. Effluents and seage are strictly monitored and recycled to the maximum capacity. To keep the wetland safe, the only secured landfill in the city has been built to avoid land or water contamination. The SPGMEC mangroves are being treated as ecological indicators for the environmental performance of the industrial and residential township.
An Animal Rescue Programme was started in 1993. Over 1,000 birds, 400 reptiles (mostly snakes), and some mammals (monkeys, jackals, mongoose and a Leopard) have been rescued and rehabilitated.
The programme has changed people’s mentality and is helping in creating a comfortable relationship between people and animals.
The Foundation published a book, ‘ Symbiosis of Industry and Nature’, about wildlife and particularly urban wildlife. The book is available to employees at a subsidised price.
Interpretation and exhibitry
The Mangrove Interpretation Centre is designed for the interests and needs of a variety of target groups. These include students, teachers, ngos, Government departments (related to environment, forests and urban development), and common citizens. The Centre contains attractive posters depicting information about aspects of the mangrove ecosystem including world distribution of mangroves, Indian distribution, mangrove adaptations, associated biodiversity, and the ecological and economical importance of mangroves.
Since the major target group is students, some of the posters describe the role of students and laymen in nature conservation. Some rotating displays with a picture on one side and its description in verse form on the other side is a simple play for children.
Another activity is the ‘Tree of life’ where descriptions of various types of plants and animals found in a mangrove ecosystem are written on a wooden panel shaped in tree form. The children are given pictures of these lifeforms and asked to place them at the correct places.
To make children aware about underwater biodiversity and seashore animals, two dioramas have been specially designed. The Centre also has a collection of natural specimens such as snake moults, abandoned bird nests and marine shells that are used to discuss biodiversity and related issues.
SPGMEC believes in informal techniques rather than classroom sessions for effective education, and has adopted the ‘learn with fun’ approach with students.
The nature trails are guided by an Education Officer and sometimes by volunteers. A new MIC is being planned at the periphery of the Pirojshanagar mangroves so that it is easy for visitors to visit the mangroves and to relate the information displayed in the Centre with actual sightings in the field. Work is in progress to develop and maintain a marine aquarium.
Formal (school and university) learning
Mangrove Education is not a part of the formal curriculum. Hence, activities for schools, colleges and universities are mainly considered as extracurricular activities.
As a general rule, schools and colleges are contacted at the beginning of the year and, as and when requests come from them, the programmes are structured, scheduled and conducted.
Some colleges and university students take up short term projects on subjects related to the mangrove habitat. These programmes are mainly college/university programmes and infrastructure for the field studies and guidance is provided by the Centre. The projects range from 15 days to a maximum of three months duration. Project evaluation is done separately by the Centre and parent institution of the student.
Informal (general public) learning
The Soonabai Pirojsha Godrej Foundation has published a book, ‘ Godrej – A Symbiosis of Industry and Nature’, a pictorial guide with lay person information about the flora and fauna of Pirojshanagar, Godrej Township and Pirojshanagar mangroves.
Every year, a number of awareness programmes are conducted to discuss a range of environmental issues for the residents of Pirojshanagar mangroves. Education programmes for students of the Godrej schools are conducted regularly to make them aware about the importance of the mangrove ecosystem situated in their ‘backyard’.
Activities such as nature walks, bird watching (etc.) are conducted on weekends for the public to create concern for the environment and mangroves in particular. Thus, the mangrove conservation project is used as a platform to create awareness among citizens about environmental issues in general.
Every year since 1998, World Wetland Day has been celebrated with the participation of the Township residents and other interested citizens with a series of entertaining and educative activities.
The Centre is currently not acting as a professional service due to lack of funds and staff. The activities are generally conducted on a voluntary basis and within the budgetary constraints.
However, mangrove plantation techniques are a strong asset of the Centre, and the Centre has provided expertise in mangrove afforestation to different agencies.
The Centre has undertaken mangrove plantation for the Indian Navy and some residential fora in the city as well as massive afforestation programmes in its own mangrove areas.