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In this article, we will learn the following:
- What is a wetland? What are the major characteristics of wetlands?
- Classification of Wetlands
- Why are wetlands important?
- What is the Ramsar Convention?
- What is the Montreux Record?
- A detailed description of Ramsar Sites in India
- India’s effort in Wetland Conservation
What is a Wetland?
A wetland is a unique ecosystem where water is the primary factor controlling the environment and the associated plant and animal life. They occur in areas where land is covered by water, either permanently or seasonally.
They are transition zones i.e. they lie between deep water and terrestrial ecosystems.
Wetlands exist in every kind of climate- from Tropical to Tundra! They are found on every continent except Antarctica!
Swamps, marshes, bogs, lagoons, mangroves, tidal flats, ox-bow lakes, salt pans, coral reefs, underground aquifers, paddy fields, delta areas are some of the examples of wetlands.
What are the major characteristics of wetlands?
There are three major characteristics that describe a wetland:
- Hydrology: There is the presence of water at or near the surface of the land for a particular amount of time in a year. The sources of water into wetlands include precipitation, surface water (from rivers and sea) and groundwater.
- Soil Type: Wetlands are covered with hydric soils. In such soils, the spaces between each grain of soil are filled with water. These soils are anaerobic- the soil lacks oxygen.
- Biota: Plants that live in wetlands and are adapted to the hydric soil are called hydrophytes. Examples: cypress, silver maple, mangroves.
Classification of Wetlands
- Marine– coastal wetlands including coastal lagoons, rocky shores, seagrass beds and coral reefs
- Estuarine– deltas, tidal marshes and mudflats, and mangrove swamps.
- Lacustrine– wetlands associated with lakes.
- Riverine -wetlands along rivers and streams.
- Palustrine– (meaning “marshy”) – marshes, swamps and bogs.
Why are wetlands important?
Wetlands are amongst the most productive ecosystems. They provide a wide range of ecosystem services. The importance of wetlands can be understood from the following services they provide:
Firstly, wetlands help in flood control by acting as natural sponges. They temporarily storing and gradually releasing stormwater. Also, roots of wetland vegetation hold soils in place, thus stabilizing the banks of rivers and streams.
Secondly, wetlands play an important role in maintaining the quality of water in deep-water ecosystems. Wetlands trap the sediments suspended in water- a process called sediment trapping. They also remove phosphorus and nitrogen and help prevent eutrophication of lakes and ponds. For this function, wetlands are often referred to as “Kidneys of the Earth”.
Thirdly, wetlands host of a large number of species of microbes, plants, insects, amphibians, reptiles, birds, fish and mammals.
Fourthly, wetlands help in carbon sequestration. They act as carbon sinks and wetland soil contains a high amount of carbon.
Fifthly, wetlands help in natural groundwater recharge and discharge. They store water that replenishes the groundwater. Further, they discharge groundwater into lakes, rivers, and streams during dry periods.
Sixthly, wetlands help in regulating local climatic conditions particularly temperature and climate.
Finally, wetlands provide a large number of economic benefits. These include water supply; fisheries; timber and other building materials; energy resources, such as peat and plant matter; wildlife resources; medicinal plants, recreational and tourism opportunities.
What is the Ramsar Convention?
Wetlands have been subjected to destruction and degradation due to human activities such as agriculture, urban and rural development, industrial and municipal pollution. According to global estimates, the extent of wetland in the world has declined between 64-71% in the 20th century.
As a result, the ecosystem services that wetlands provide to society have declined drastically. In order to address this issue, the Ramsar convention was put forward to drive international attention to wetland decline and degradation.
It is an intergovernmental environmental treaty that calls for international cooperation and national action to safeguard and sustainably use wetlands.
The official name for the convention is the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat. It is the first and only global treaty for the conservation of a particular ecosystem.
The Convention was signed on 2nd February 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar. This is where it gets its name from-The Ramsar Convention. 2nd February is celebrated as World Wetlands Day every year.
The Convention entered into force in 1975. As of 2019, it has 171 member states including India.
It is important to note that the Ramsar Convention is not legally binding i.e. it has no punitive sanctions for violations upon treaty commitments. It is also not part of the United Nations and UNESCO system of environmental conventions and agreements.
List of Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar List)
The key feature of the Ramsar Convention is the Ramsar List. It is a list of wetlands accorded the status of international importance based on their ecology, botany, zoology, limnology or hydrology. Each wetland included in the list is known as a Ramsar Site.
These sites are designated for inclusion by the member states. Upon inclusion, the respective national governments have to formulate and implement planning for sustainable use and management of the Ramsar Sites. As of 2018, there are 2,331 Ramsar Sites.
Transboundary Ramsar Sites: These are wetlands which extend across national boundaries. Such Ramsar sites are managed in collaboration by member states. Example: Domica – Baradla Cave System (Hungary and Slovakia), “Complexe Transfrontalier Lac Télé – Grands Affluents – Lac Tumba” (Congo and DRC)- the largest trans-boundary Ramsar site.
Did you Know?
- The world’s first Ramsar Site was the Cobourg Peninsula (Australia).
- The United Kingdom has the highest number of Ramsar Sites (175)
- Ngiri-Tumba-Maindombe in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Queen Maud Gulf in Canada is the largest Ramsar sites
What is the Montreux Record?
It is a register of wetland sites in the List of Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar List). It includes all those wetlands where changes in ecological character are occurring/ have occurred or likely to occur due to anthropogenic activities. The registered was established in 1990.
Keoladeo National Park and Loktak lake from India are included in the Montreux Record. Earlier Chilka Lake was part, but, it has been removed in 2002.
Ramsar Sites in India
- At present, the number of Ramsar Sites in India stands at 37 with 10 wetlands from India declared as sites of international importance in January 2020.
- Chilka Lake was the first wetland to be included in the Ramsar List.
- Uttar Pradesh has the highest number (7) of Ramsar Sites in India.
|Ashtamudi Wetland/Kayal||Location: Kerala
· It is a backwater.
· Kallada River is a major river discharging into the Ashtamudi Lake.
· Munroe Island is a cluster of eight tiny islands in the Lake.
|Beas Conservation Reserve||Location: Punjab
· It is a 185-kilometre stretch of the Beas River.
· It hosts the only known population in India of the endangered Indus river dolphin
|Bhitarkanika Mangroves||Location: Odisha
· It is a mangrove wetland in the Brahmani and Baitarani river deltas.
· It is a part of the Bhitarkanika wildlife sanctuary whose core is the Bhitarkanika national park.
· It is popular for Olive Ridleys turtles and Gharials
|Bhoj Wetland||Location: Madhya Pradesh
· It consists of two manmade reservoirs- Bhojtal (Upper Lake) & the Lower Lake
|Chandra Taal||Location: Himachal Pradesh
· It is a high-altitude lake on the upper Chandra valley, located near the Kunzam pass joining the Himalayan and Pir Panchal ranges.
· It supports Snow Leopards, Snow Cock, Chukor, Red fox etc.
|Chilika Lake||Location: Odisha
· It is Asia’s largest brackish water lake.
· It is located at the mouth of the Daya River, flowing into the Bay of Bengal.
· First wetland from India to be included in the Ramsar List.
|Deepor Beel||Location: Assam
· It is a permanent freshwater lake, in a former channel of the Brahmaputra River
|East Calcutta Wetlands||Location: West Bengal
· They are a complex of natural and man-made wetlands located in the east of Kolkata.
· They serve variety of functions- treating Kolkata’s sewage, and the nutrients from wastewater support pisciculture and agriculture
|Harike Wetland||Location: Punjab
· It is man-made. The wetland and the lake were formed by constructing the headworks across the Sutlej river. the headworks is located dowsntream of the confluence of the Beas and Sutlej rivers.
|Hokera Wetland||Location: UT of Jammu and Kashmir
· It is a natural perennial wetland contiguous to the Jhelum basin.
|Kanjli Wetland||Location: Punjab
· It is a man-made wetland, which subsumes the Kanjli Lake. The lake was created by constructing the headworks across the bien river, a tributary of the Beas River.
|Keoladeo National Park
-Included in Montreux Record
· It is a man-made wetland. It was formerly known as Bharatpur Bird sanctuary
It is formed by inundation of Gambira and Banganga rivers
· It is also a World Heritage Site
|Kolleru Lake||Location: Andhra Pradesh
· Largest shallow freshwater lake in Asia
· It is located between Krishna and Godavari deltas
|Keshopur-Miani Community Reserve||Location: Punjab
· It is the first-ever notified community reserve of India under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972
-Included in Montreux Record
· It is a freshwater lake
|Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary||Location: Gujarat
· It is a natural freshwater lake (a relict sea).
· It is the largest natural wetland in the Thar Desert Biogeographic Province.
· It supports wild ass population
|Nandur Madhmeshwar||Location: Maharashtra
· It was created by construction of the Nandur Madhameshwar Weir at the confluence of the Godavari and Kadwa Rivers
· It provides sanctuary to critically endangered species including Deolali minnow, Indian vulture, white-rumped vulture
|Nangal Wildlife Sanctuary||Location: Punjab
· It occupies a human-made reservoir constructed as part of the Bhakra-Nangal Project.
· It supports endangered Indian pangolin and Egyptian vulture
· It is of historic importance as the Indian and Chinese Prime Ministers formalized the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” here in 1954
|Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary||Location: Uttar Pradesh
· It supports endangered Egyptian vulture and Pallas’s fish eagle
|Parvati Arga Bird Sanctuary||Location: Uttar Pradesh
· It is a permanent freshwater environment consisting of two oxbow lakes.
|Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary||Location: Tamil Nadu
· It is home to near threatened blackbuck antelope, an endemic mammal species of India.
|Pong Dam Lake||Location: Himachal Pradesh
· Pong dam is a man-made dam on Beas river.
· The lake is also known as Maharana Pratap Sagar
|Renuka Wetland||Location: Himachal Pradesh
· It is a natural wetland with freshwater springs and inland subterranean karst formations
|Ropar Wetland||Location: Punjab
· It is a man-made freshwater riverine and lacustrine wetland.
|Rudrasagar Lake||Location: Tripura
· It is a lowland sedimentation reservoir, fed by three perennial streams discharging to the River Gomti
|Saman Bird Sanctuary||Location: Uttar Pradesh
· It is a seasonal oxbow lake on the Ganga floodplain
|Samaspur Bird Sanctuary||Location: Uttar Pradesh
It is a perennial lowland marsh on Indo-Gangetic Plains
|Sambhar Lake||Location: Rajasthan
· It is India’s largest inland saltwater lake.
|Sandi Bird Sanctuary||Location: Uttar Pradesh
· It is a freshwater marsh on Indo-Gangetic plains
|Sarsai Nawar Jheel||Location: Uttar Pradesh
· It is a permanent marsh.
· It hosts sarus cranes.
|Sasthamkotta Lake||Location: Kerala
· It is a freshwater lake
|Sundarban Wetland||Location: West Bengal
· It is the largest Ramsar site of India
· It is located within the largest mangrove forest in the world-the Sundarbans
· The Sundarban Tiger Reserve is situated within the Site
|Surinsar-Mansar Lakes||Location: UT of Jammu and Kashmir
· It is a freshwater composite lake, adjoining the Jhelum Basin
|Tsomoriri||Location: UT of Ladakh
· It is an endorheic lake. Water is brackish.
· It hosts endangered Black-necked cranes. It is also the only breeding ground for Bar-headed geese in India.
|Upper Ganga River (Brijghat to Narora Stretch)||Location: Uttar Pradesh
· It hosts Gangetic River Dolphin and Gharial
|Vembanad-Kol Wetland||Location: Kerala
· It is the longest lake in India
· It is fed by 10 rivers- all of which originate from the Western Ghats, flow westwards through the wetland system and join Arabian Sea.
|Wular Lake||Location: UT of Jammu and Kashmir
· It is the largest freshwater lake of India
· The lake basin was formed as a result of tectonic activity. It is fed by the Jhelum River.
Ramsar sites In India
India’s effort in Wetland Conservation
- Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017: It prohibits conversion for non-wetland uses, setting up or expansion of industries in wetland areas and disposal of construction and demolition waste within the wetlands.
- National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems (NPCA): It was launched in 2015 by merging of the National Lake Conservation Plan and the National Wetlands Conservation Programme. It aims at holistic conservation and restoration of lakes and wetlands.
- Wetland health cards: In 2019, the government identified 130 wetlands in the country to be restored in the next five years. Each wetland will be issued a health card, which will denote its health.
- Wetland Mitras: Selected individuals for taking care of the 130 identified wetlands across India.
Check your progress with these UPSC Previous year Questions
Q 1) Consider the following pairs : (2014)
|Wetlands||Confluence of Rivers|
|1. Harike Wetlands||Confluence of Beas and Sutlej|
|2. Keoladeo Ghana||Confluence of national Park Banas and Chambal|
|3. Kolleru Lake||Confluence of Musi and Krishna|
Which of the above pairs is/are correctly matched?
a) 1 only
b) 2 and 3
c) 1 and 3
d) 1, 2 and 3
Q2) If a wetland of international importance is brought under the ” Montreux Record’, what does it imply? (2014)
a) Changes in ecological character have occurred, are occurring or are likely to occur in the wetland as a result of human interference.
b) The country in which the wetland is likely located should enact a law to prohibit any human activity within five kilometers from the edge of the wetland.
c) The survival of the wetland depends on the cultural practices and traditions of certain communities living in its vicinity and therefore the cultural diversity therein should not be destroyed.
d) It is given the status of ‘World Heritage Site’
Q3. Consider the following statements: (2019)
- Under Ramsar Convention, it is mandatory on the part of the Government of India to protect and conserve all the wetlands in the territory of India.
- The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010 were framed by the Government of India based on the recommendations of Ramsar Convention.
- The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010 also encompass the drainage area or catchment regions of the wetlands as determined by the authority.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 and 2 only
(b) 2 and 3 only
(c) 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3
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