India is a country well-endowed with a diverse culture, a rich history and an extensive biodiversity. A sweeping view of the country brings forth all that there can be in terms of geography. A perfect example of mother nature’s generosity; there is much to learn from our country’s geography. Mountains, plateaus, plains, deserts, oceans and seas, these are not merely physical features but the sources of the existence of human and other species. Needless to say, there is a reason why it is said that “geography shapes history”.
In the time and age of climatic changes, water crisis, forests and natural resources being our chief concern, it’ll be a crime to overlook the steps and measures taken to prevent our natural resources from coming undone.
THE CONVENTION ON WETLANDS
One such step is the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (initiated by UNESCO) which took place in 1971 in a small Iranian town called Ramsar, hence, the name RAMSAR CONVENTION. This convention aims to conserve and protect wetlands through international cooperation. Once a wetland becomes a part of the Ramsar Convention, it is then entitled to be protected under an international management framework for conservation and wise use of its resources.
Just so you know, a wetland is a place where the land is covered by water. Thus, swamps, marshes, lakes, rivers, wet grasslands, peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas, tidal flats, near-shore marine areas, mangroves and coral reefs are covered under the convention’s mission. Human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs and salt pans are also included in the list.
If you are wondering, what’s so special about wetlands for them to have such protection, then know this; wetlands can be of ecological, botanical, zoological, limnological or hydrological importance. To put it in simple words, they play an important ecological role in regulating biodiversity, they are of great economic, cultural, recreational and scientific value, they play an important role in adapting and buffering climate change and damage to wetlands causes severe damages to the environment. Need we state more?
There are in total 2,231 Ramsar sites all over the world. India is home to 26 Ramsar sites. Here’s a state-wise look at each one of them from “conserving the environment” point of view.
JAMMU & KASHMIR
Just about 10 Km from Srinagar, in the north-western Himalayan province of Kashmir lies the Hokera wetlands. It is known to be the feeding and breeding ground for a large number of water birds, besides being a spawning and breeding ground for fish as well.
Tso Moriri Lake:
The wet meadows and wetlands of this lake are the only breeding ground of the endangered black-necked crane outside of China. They are the only breeding ground for the bar-headed geese in India. The surrounding Changthang plateau, which is an extension of the Tibetan Plateau is home to the great Tibetan Sheep (Argali) and the Tibetan Wild Ass. It is also an important tourist destination as major trekking routes pass through the area.
It is the largest freshwater lake in India. A valuable source of irrigation and water for domestic use, the lake, is also an important source of economy to the state through its floating vegetation of water chestnut and fishing.
Surinsar and Mansar:
A fresh water lake adjoining the Jhelum basin with a high content of micro-nutrients that make the area a favourable breeding ground and habitat for a large number of migratory waterfowl like the common coot, common moorhen, black-necked grebe, tufted duck, and various anas species. The surrounding temples associated with the Mahabharat make the site a popular religious destination.
A manmade lake, it was made by constructing headworks at the confluence of the rivers Beas and Sutlej. The thirteen islands in this area attract a large number of migratory waterfowl and other globally threatened species. The entire lake is leased every year to commercial fishery organizations.
The Ropar wetland, made by constructing a barrage to divert the water from Sutlej river for irrigation and drinking purpose is also a breeding ground for the smooth Indian Otter, Hog deer, Sambar, several reptiles and the endangered Indian Pangolin. The wetland houses some 35 species of fish and 150 species of migratory and local birds.
Constructed by converting a permanent stream into an area for storing water for irrigation purposes, this site plays a very important role in the agriculture of the surrounding regions. It is also known to have a diverse collection of flora and fauna and helps to regulate groundwater according to the season.
It is India’s largest inland Salt lake. Fed by seasonal rivers and streams, this wetland harbours various wintering water birds, including a large number of Flamingos. As a means of sustenance for the humans, the area provides much scope for salt production and livestock grazing.
Keoladeo National Park:
The ten artificial lagoons inside the Keoladeo National Park and the surrounding vegetation of scrubs and grasslands makes it a perfect wintering, breeding and staging spot for migratory birds. It also supports five species of ungulates, four species of cats, two species of primates as well many plants, reptiles and fish. It also provides water for irrigation and domestic consumption to the surrounding areas.
Pong Dam Lake:
This reservoir was created in 1975 in the northern Indo-Gangetic plains on the Beas river. The reservoir is built in such a way that it helps to prevent monsoon floods through water regulation, groundwater recharge, silt trapping and by preventing soil erosion. It is also a source for generating electricity and irrigation for the neighbouring states. Ecologically, it is home to over 220 species of birds out of which 54 are of the waterfowl species.
In the Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh lies the Chandra Tal. Its expansive meadows are known to be one of the most popular camping sites in the country. The spring season brings with it a plethora of beautiful wildflowers in the meadow.
Named after the mother of the famous sage Parshuram, Renuka lake is an important site of pilgrimage and tourism. The area is a natural wetland with freshwater springs and underground cave waterholes (karst topography). The lake is fed by the Giri river and supports the existence of 443 species of animals and 19 species of fish. It is also home to 103 species of birds of which 66 are non-migratory.
It is a permanent freshwater lake in an old channel of the Brahmaputra river. The importance of the Beel lies in the fact that it is the only major stormwater storage basin for the city of Guwahati. It is also an important assembling ground for migratory birds and has a large gathering of aquatic birds especially in the winter season. Some globally endangered birds like the spot-billed pelican, lesser and greater Adjutant Stork, Baer’s Pochard are found here apart from the 50 fish species that provide a source of livelihood to the surrounding villages. The people also benefit economically from the flowers and plants found in the area in and around the lake.
Loktak Lake Wetlands:
Loktak Lake is home to the only “floating National park in the world” called the Keibul lamjao National Park. The floating substance called Phumdis are basically decomposing organic matter along with vegetation and soil. The largest of such Phumdis houses the National Park which is home to the endangered “Sangai” or the Manipur Brow Antlered Deer. The attributes and the flora and fauna of the place make it a major tourist attraction.
Fed by three perennial streams, the Rudrasagar Lake is a naturally formed reservoir through the process of sedimentation. The clear water thereafter is discharged to the river Gomti through a connective channel. The lake attracts a large number of waterfowl, especially during winter.
East Kolkata Wetlands:
East Kolkata Wetlands are considered to be one of the rare examples of environmental protection, development and management where the locals have adopted an ecological process to recover the natural resources. The wetland is used as a water treatment facility where the wastewater from the city is efficiently treated to be reused for agriculture and pisciculture. These man-made wetlands are situated in the east of the city of Kolkata, they provide a source of income to the locals by facilitating farming and fishing.
The area of the Gahirmatha beach and a portion of the Bay of Bengal, near the Bhitarkarnika Wildlife sanctuary, are known to have the largest known Olive Ridley Sea Turtle nesting beach in the world. The site also has the highest population of the saltwater crocodile in the country. It also attracts a large number of migratory and local birds and is a major nursery for fishes. With a higher mangrove density than the Sundarbans, the Bhitarkarnika mangroves provide protection to millions of people from cyclones and tidal surges.
The largest coastal lagoon in India and the second largest in the world, the Chilka lake is the first ever designated Indian Ramsar Site. The Lagoon attracts over 160 species of birds during the migratory season. These migratory birds come from as far as the Caspian Sea, Aral Sea, Baikal Lake, Russia, Mongolia, Central and South-East Asia, Ladakh, Himalayas, etc. Nalbana bird sanctuary is the core area of the Chilka site. The Chilka lake is the only lake in India to have the Irrawaddy Dolphin which is a critically endangered species.
Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary:
A freshwater lake, the salinity and depth of which varies with the density of rainfall it receives, it is also the largest natural wetland in the Thar desert. The area is home to 210 species of birds. It is a staging ground for many globally endangered species of birds like the Sociable Lapwing, The vulnerable Marbled Teal and many more. The Sarus Crane also takes refuge in the area during summers. It also also home to the endangered Indian Wild Ass.
Located in the city of Bhopal are the two man-made reservoirs which comprise the Bhoj Wetland. The upper lake which was constructed in the 11th century is the source of water for the entire city and the lower lake was constructed some 200 years ago. The lakes are home to a rich biodiversity of aquatic plants, fish, migratory and resident birds, insects, reptiles and amphibians. White storks, black-necked storks, bar-headed geese, spoonbills are often sighted. The largest bird in India, the Sarus Cranes are found here.
Upper Ganga River:
Stretching from Brijghat to Narora, this shallow stretch of river Ganga provides stretches of deep-water pools and reservoirs. The river is home to the Ganges River Dolphins, Ghariyal crocodiles, 6 species of turtles, otters, 82 species of fish and hundreds of bird species. Some very valuable medicinal plants are known to grow in this region. This stretch of river also holds a deep religious significance to Hindus and is used for holy baths and cremation purposes.
A natural lake situated between the basins of the rivers Godavari and Krishna, is rich in nutrients and supports a dense plant population. A number of drains and channels that are attached to it enables it to function as a flood-balancing reservoir between the deltas of the two rivers. The site attracts migratory and resident birds in large numbers. The water from the site aids in agriculture and fishery apart from other related opportunities for the people of the neighbouring areas.
Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary:
The shallow waters, shores, seasonal mangroves and intertidal forests make this natural site a breeding ground for prawns and crabs, which serves as an important source of income to some 35,000 fishermen.
It is a natural backwater which forms an estuary with the sea at Neendakara which is known to be a famous fishing harbour in Kerala. With almost 100 species of fish, it forms a great source of income for thousands of dependent fishermen.
Vembanad Kol Wetland:
A fine example of large estuarine systems, the Vembanad Kol lake in Kerala is fed by ten rivers. The most sought-after tourist destinations of Kumarakom and Alappuzha are a part of this wetland. The area is also famous for its clams and is known to support the third largest population of waterfowls in India during the winter season.
This lake is the largest freshwater lake in Kerala. It provides drinking water to more than half a million people in the Kollam district. The purity of the water is credited to the presence of a larva called “cavaborus” which is responsible for eliminating bacteria from the water.
Interesting? Isn’t it? There is so much we have overlooked when it comes to our own nation. This is in no way a geography lesson. It is just a whole new revelation. We have more than often looked at the aforementioned sites as either tourist attractions or a means of recreation, but the concept of Ramsar sites brings about a whole new dimension. It makes us feel responsible for preserving and respecting our natural resources, rather than being completely ignorant of their role in sustaining the ecological balance.
Stay tuned to Dopewope for more such stories.