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Coastal wetlands are unusual habitats. The soil is squelchy and full of clay, the water is salty because of the mingling of seawater, and the landscape is always changing — continually moulded and remoulded by the daily tides. The salinity and constant flooding makes it difficult for most species of plants to grow, which is what makes mangroves so wondrous.

Mangroves are trees and shrubs found in tropical inter-tidal zones, between sea and land. To thrive in their unusual habitat, these species have evolved in remarkable ways. Some have raised roots that look like skeletal legs, others have aerial roots that stick out of the soil, like snorkel tubes. There are over 100 species of mangroves in the world, and they are integral to the balanced working of coastal ecosystems.

In India, mangroves protect our coastlines from erosion, weather events like cyclones, and keep our groundwater sources from being infiltrated by saline water. Among the many mangrove habitats in our country is Coringa Wildlife Sanctuary, a protected area on the eastern coast of Andhra Pradesh. Coringa (originally Korangi) covers an area of 235 sq km and hosts the second-largest contiguous mangrove forest in the country, after the Sundarbans.

It has 24 species of mangroves, and has numerous species of wildlife, from jackals and fishing cats to pit vipers and yellow fiddler crabs, each of which has evolved to thrive in their wetland homes. Mornings in the park are marked by bird call, afternoons by the gentle sound of lapping water, and evenings by the buzz of insects. It is truly a special ecosystem, worthy of our respect and protection.

The mangrove forests of Coringa are situated just south of Kakinada Bay in Andhra Pradesh, on the eastern coast of India, where the Godavari river meets the sea. The river is a lifeline for the state, and a deep-rooted part of Telugu culture. For centuries, poets have been inspired by the river, and more recently, regional cinema too. “I grew up watching Telugu movies featuring this area,” remembers wildlife biologist Giridhar Malla, who founded the Godavari Fishing Cat Project with Paromita Ray. “In films, if they want to depict a beautiful, rural landscape, the film crews come here. Understandable, because it really is beautiful.”  Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

The mangrove forests of Coringa are situated just south of Kakinada Bay in Andhra Pradesh, on the eastern coast of India, where the Godavari river meets the sea. The river is a lifeline for the state, and a deep-rooted part of Telugu culture. For centuries, poets have been inspired by the river, and more recently, regional cinema too. “I grew up watching Telugu movies featuring this area,” remembers wildlife biologist Giridhar Malla, who founded the Godavari Fishing Cat Project with Paromita Ray. “In films, if they want to depict a beautiful, rural landscape, the film crews come here. Understandable, because it really is beautiful.”
Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Malla was drawn to the curiosities of the habitat, and motivated by the lack of research from the region. “In Andhra, we have a very huge coastline, but there are few studies on the coastal habitat,” he said in a phone interview. “Fewer still on wildlife and conservation.”  For the last eight years Malla has been studying the region to understand the possible impacts of climate change on this ecosystem. “Without the Godavari, the GDP of this state would fall dramatically”, he says, and yet, the health of the river is constantly compromised by dams and fish farms in the name of “development”. This is what makes Coringa so special: it is a rare, protected habitat for the mangroves and its inhabitants. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Malla was drawn to the curiosities of the habitat, and motivated by the lack of research from the region. “In Andhra, we have a very huge coastline, but there are few studies on the coastal habitat,” he said in a phone interview. “Fewer still on wildlife and conservation.” For the last eight years Malla has been studying the region to understand the possible impacts of climate change on this ecosystem. “Without the Godavari, the GDP of this state would fall dramatically”, he says, and yet, the health of the river is constantly compromised by dams and fish farms in the name of “development”. This is what makes Coringa so special: it is a rare, protected habitat for the mangroves and its inhabitants. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Among the species that live in Coringa, is the yellow fiddler crab, a small, colourful resident that can be seen scurrying across the mangrove floor during low tide. Fiddler crabs are exquisite foragers: they feed on mud, extract the organic matter, and return the rest to the forest floor in the form of perfectly formed balls. They are crucial to maintaining the microbial harmony of the soil. Like many mangrove species, the movement of fiddler crabs depends on tidal cycles. During high tide, when the floor is submerged, they seek refuge in their burrows, sealed inside with a layer of thick clay.  Photo: Srikanth Mannepuri

Among the species that live in Coringa, is the yellow fiddler crab, a small, colourful resident that can be seen scurrying across the mangrove floor during low tide. Fiddler crabs are exquisite foragers: they feed on mud, extract the organic matter, and return the rest to the forest floor in the form of perfectly formed balls. They are crucial to maintaining the microbial harmony of the soil. Like many mangrove species, the movement of fiddler crabs depends on tidal cycles. During high tide, when the floor is submerged, they seek refuge in their burrows, sealed inside with a layer of thick clay. Photo: Srikanth Mannepuri

Jumping spiders are entertaining to watch. Named for their ability to leap large distances while hunting (or under duress), jumping spiders are found in diverse forest habitats, including mangroves. These acrobatic arachnids are expert hunters that keep insect numbers in check.  Photo: Srikanth Mannepuri

Jumping spiders are entertaining to watch. Named for their ability to leap large distances while hunting (or under duress), jumping spiders are found in diverse forest habitats, including mangroves. These acrobatic arachnids are expert hunters that keep insect numbers in check. Photo: Srikanth Mannepuri

Coringa is one of the most important birding spots in Andhra Pradesh. It supports over 200 avian species, including the endangered oriental white-backed vulture and painted stork. More commonly seen are wader species such as whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) (left) and lesser sand plovers (Charadrius mongolus) (right). Both species can be sighted on the mud flats of the Godavari estuary and survive on a diet of molluscs, insects, worms, and small crabs. Photos: Srikanth Mannepuri

Where there is water and fish, herons are likely to be found. These elegant, water-loving birds spend much of their day hunting fish, spiders, beetles, dragonflies, and locusts. This is the purple heron (Ardea purpurea), named for its violet-hued plumage, a social species that breeds in colonies, and lays its eggs in reed beds.  Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Where there is water and fish, herons are likely to be found. These elegant, water-loving birds spend much of their day hunting fish, spiders, beetles, dragonflies, and locusts. This is the purple heron (Ardea purpurea), named for its violet-hued plumage, a social species that breeds in colonies, and lays its eggs in reed beds. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Snakes such as this red-tailed pit viper (known by numerous other names including spot-tailed pit viper) are generally found closer to creeks in the mangroves.  “Whenever I go into the forest, I see them sitting on top of a tree branch, or curled up on a rock,” says Malla. “They prey on bush rats, which build nests in treetops because of changing water levels.” In addition to pit vipers, Malla says the mangrove forests also has Russell’s vipers, rat snakes, cat snakes, and cobras.  Photo: Srikanth Mannepuri

Snakes such as this red-tailed pit viper (known by numerous other names including spot-tailed pit viper) are generally found closer to creeks in the mangroves. “Whenever I go into the forest, I see them sitting on top of a tree branch, or curled up on a rock,” says Malla. “They prey on bush rats, which build nests in treetops because of changing water levels.” In addition to pit vipers, Malla says the mangrove forests also has Russell’s vipers, rat snakes, cat snakes, and cobras.
Photo: Srikanth Mannepuri

Common kukris are non-venomous snakes found in Coringa, and identified by their bands, and arrow-shaped markings on their heads. They hunt small mammals, but also eat the eggs of birds and other reptiles. The snakes are named after their rear fangs, which are curved, like the Nepali kukri knife.  Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Common kukris are non-venomous snakes found in Coringa, and identified by their bands, and arrow-shaped markings on their heads. They hunt small mammals, but also eat the eggs of birds and other reptiles. The snakes are named after their rear fangs, which are curved, like the Nepali kukri knife. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Among the more popular species in Coringa, is the smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata), an endangered species found all over the country, from the Himalayas to the south. In Coringa, the otters spend their time in the mangrove forests, where they live and hunt in groups, They are skilled at catching fish, and prefer sections of the river with bankside vegetation, which allows them protection and cover from predators. Photo: Srikanth Mannepuri

Among the more popular species in Coringa, is the smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata), an endangered species found all over the country, from the Himalayas to the south. In Coringa, the otters spend their time in the mangrove forests, where they live and hunt in groups, They are skilled at catching fish, and prefer sections of the river with bankside vegetation, which allows them protection and cover from predators. Photo: Srikanth Mannepuri

The fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus, roughly double the size of a house cat, is the pride of Coringa and the mascot of the sanctuary. The small feline is found across wetlands in India, from the Himalayan foothills to the Godavari and Krishna deltas. In Coringa, the cat feeds on fish, small mammals, and birds.  Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

The fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus, roughly double the size of a house cat, is the pride of Coringa and the mascot of the sanctuary. The small feline is found across wetlands in India, from the Himalayan foothills to the Godavari and Krishna deltas. In Coringa, the cat feeds on fish, small mammals, and birds.
Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Coringa also hosts visitors such as olive Ridley turtles. Every year, during nesting season, scores of pregnant turtles visit Hope Island ⁠— a 14-km sandbar on the seaward side of the sanctuary ⁠— on their way to larger mass nesting sites further north. “In addition to nesting in their natal beach, olive Ridleys also lay smaller clutches of eggs on beaches along the way,” explains Malla. “This might be due to premature development of eggs, or to improve chances for the offspring, but they come every year.”  Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Coringa also hosts visitors such as olive Ridley turtles. Every year, during nesting season, scores of pregnant turtles visit Hope Island ⁠— a 14-km sandbar on the seaward side of the sanctuary ⁠— on their way to larger mass nesting sites further north. “In addition to nesting in their natal beach, olive Ridleys also lay smaller clutches of eggs on beaches along the way,” explains Malla. “This might be due to premature development of eggs, or to improve chances for the offspring, but they come every year.”
Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

The golden jackal (Canis aureus) is another top predator in Coringa’s ecosystem. Its howl is sometimes heard ringing through the forest, but it is hard to spot these stealthy canines in the dense mangroves. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

The golden jackal (Canis aureus) is another top predator in Coringa’s ecosystem. Its howl is sometimes heard ringing through the forest, but it is hard to spot these stealthy canines in the dense mangroves. Photo: Dhritiman Mukherjee

Dhritiman Mukherjee
Dhritiman Mukherjee

is one of India's most prolific wildlife and conservation photographers. His work has been featured in leading publications. He is also a RoundGlass Ambassador, and an RBS Earth Hero awardee.

Srikanth Mannepuri
Srikanth Mannepuri

is a wildlife conservationist and photographer. He currently works with Fishing Cat Conservancy as lead field conservationist in coastal Andhra Pradesh for conservation of mangrove and marine species.

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