Pichavaram, The Mangrove Forest

Sharon St Joan

The water is not deep at Pichavaram, maybe two or three feet. It is dark green. Waterways run between the islands of mangrove trees. Pichavaram lies along the coast of the Bay of Bengal, in south India.

In February, 2015, our rowboat sailed quietly along the waterways which came together, parted, divided again. The water rippled peacefully.

Beautiful great egrets landed on the mangrove trees, taking off and circling, then returning. In the shadows, a little yellow bittern waited, perched on a mangrove root near the water’s edge, half-concealed behind the leaves and branches, watching hopefully for his dinner to swim by.

Mangrove roots grow into the water

When cyclones come, the mangrove roots, which sink deep into the mud below the water, protect the mangrove forest from destruction and the land from erosion. Along one side, the mangrove trees of Pichavaram have been cleared to make way for grazing goats. This is unfortunate since, without the protection of the mangrove roots, the land is left open to being washed away. The expanse of the mangrove forest is being whittled away, bit by bit.

Like the roots of the peepal tree, the roots grow down from the Mangrove branches into the water. The leaves are thick and dark green. This is the second largest mangrove forest in India, with the Sundarbans of West Bengal being the largest. Pichavaram lies 142 miles (229 kilometers) south of Madras (Chennai).

Seven or eight hundred years ago, the mangrove forest, called

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