The UNEP report has a case study on the Bhitarkanika forests and mentions that this protected mangrove area provides important ecosystem services to dependent communities, and is also home to 300 plant species and 263 species of birds, including five different species of kingfishers of which two (Brown-winged and Ruddy Kingfisher) are globally threatened. In addition, it provides a home for the globally threatened Olive Ridley Turtles, the Saltwater Crocodiles and the Irrawaddy Dolphins.
Studies on the role of Bhitarkanika Mangrove Ecosystem in protecting villagers against the 1999 super cyclone have found out that villages which were protected by mangrove forests suffered less than the ones which had no protection from these unique forests. In fact, the report comes out with a very interesting finding that compares the loss suffered by villages with embankments with villages having mangrove forests.
A study that was referred to by the report has found out the following: The loss incurred per household was greatest (US$ 154) in the village, which was surrounded by the embankment (as a result of the embankment breaching and the flood water being slow to recede, increasing damage to crops), followed by the village that had neither mangrove nor an embankment (US$ 44).
The village which was protected by mangrove forests incurred the lowest loss per household (US$ 33).
Embankments near mangrove forests were not breached while those further away were breached at a number of places, implying that mangroves may have helped to protect these defences. The local people were aware of and appreciated the functions performed by the mangrove forests in protecting their lives and property from cyclones and were willing to cooperate with the forest department in mangrove restoration.
In fact, the Odisha coast has lost a huge chunk of its mangrove forests. Since the Bay of Bengal is increasingly vulnerable to cyclones and storms, future disasters will be much more fatal and devastating unless we take prompt and massive measures to restore, plant and conserve mangrove forests.