Explained: What are Ramsar Sites, and what is the significance of this listing?

What is the News?

On World Wetlands Day, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands designated Khijadia Bird Sanctuary in Gujarat and Bakhira Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh as wetlands of international importance.

What is Wetland?

Ramsar Convention on Wetlands defines wetlands as “areas of marsh, fen, peat land or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six meters.

However, the Indian government’s definition of wetland excludes river channels, paddy fields and other areas where the commercial activity takes place.

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Wetlands in India

Globally, wetlands cover 6.4% of the geographical area of the world. 

In India, wetlands make up 4.63% of the total geographical area of the country. Among them, inland-natural wetlands account for 43.4% and coastal-natural wetlands 24.3%. India has 19 types of wetlands.

In the state-wise distribution of wetlands, Gujarat is at the top with 22.7% of total wetlands areas of the country. It is followed by Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.

Ramsar Sites globally and in India

The countries with the most Ramsar Sites are the United Kingdom (175) and Mexico (142). Bolivia has the largest area under Convention protection.

India has a total of 49 designated wetlands spread over 18 states and two Union Territories. Of the 49 sites, 10 are in UP, 6 in Punjab, 4 each in Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir among others.

India’s Wetlands importance in the Central Asian Flyway (CAF)

Dozens of species of birds of Central Asia and Siberia migrate to warmer tropical regions, including India and equatorial regions, to escape harsh winters in their breeding grounds.

Wetlands in India act as foraging and resting grounds for these migratory birds during winter.

What is the significance of Ramsar Listing?

Ramsar secretariat designating a wetland as a wetland of global importance may not lead to any extra funding by the global body. But from the management point of view, it is like an ISO certification.

Moreover, not every Ramsar Site is a notified protected area under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972. Hence systematic protection and conservation regimes might not be in place there. But a Ramsar tag makes it incumbent upon the authority to strengthen the protection regime.

Source: This post is based on the article “Explained: What are Ramsar Sites, and what is the significance of this listing” published in Indian Express on 5th Feb 2022.

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