Zoological Survey of India has taken the initiative to document the details about the various faunal elements present in the Ramsar sites and published a book titled ‘Faunal Diversity in Ramsar Wetlands of India. The book also provides a list of protected species and the conservation policies that are being implemented in India for aquatic habitats of national and international importance.
Wetlands: An Overview
Wetlands are one of the most productive ecosystems on the Earth, providing many important services to human society but are highly ecologically sensitive. Water for irrigation, fisheries, non-timber forest products, water supply, nutrient removal, toxics retention and biodiversity maintenance are some of the Ecosystems good provided by wetlands.
Of primary importance, these major services include Carbon sequestration; Erosion control (wetlands support vegetation that acts as a flood buffer and reduces stream bank erosion during flooding events); Flood water storage (store water during heavy rain and flooding events and then slowly release the water thereby significantly reducing damage downstream0; Groundwater recharge (store surface water infiltrates into the ground and recharge the aquifers which slowly release water back to adjacent surface water bodies, such as streams, providing water during low flow periods); water purification (trap sediemnst, utilize excess nutrients present in runoff, and breakdown many waterborne contaminants); Recreation & Economic Benefits (cultural heritage, visited for recreation purposes, hiking, bird watching, wildlife photography, and hunting).
The genesis, geographical location, water regime and chemistry, dominant species present, and soil and sediment characteristics of the wetlands supporting enormous diversity defines each one of them.
Currently, there are over 2,200 Ramsar Sites designated around the world spread over 2.1 million sqauer kilometers. The world’s first Ramsar site was the Cobourg Peninsula in Australia, designated in 1974.
Wetlands: Rich Repository Of Biodiversity
Wetlands possess a rich repository of biodiversity and are known to play a significant role in carbon sequestration. They occur in all climatic zones – from tropical deserts to cold tundra, and at all altitudes — from below the sea level to about 6000 m elevations in the Himalayas.
Wetlands come into being wherever water accumulates for long enough periods allowing the establishments of plants and animals specially adapted to the aquatic environment.
Presence of water permanently is not not a criterion and its depth may generally fluctuate. Wetlands therefore, occur in or along water bodies — from temporary ponds to shallow or deep lakes, springs, streams and rivers.
Wetlands are “lands transitional between terrestrial and aquatic systems where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by “shallow water” and must have one or more of the following attributes:
- At least periodically, the land supports predominantly hydrophytes; 2. the substrate is predominantly undrained hydric soil, and 3. the substrate is non-soil and is saturated with water or covered by shallow water at some time during the growing season of each year”.
- Wetlands in India are grouped on the basis of topographical variation into four major types: 1. Himalayan wetlands, 2.) Wetlands in Gangetic plain, 3.) Wetlands in the desert and 4.) Coastal Wetlands.
It has been observed that wetlands lower the impact of flooding by absorbing water and reducing the speed of the water flow. Due to this, wetlands are considered to be a natural capital substitute for conventional flood control investments such as dams, and embankments.
Further, they trap suspended solids and nutrient load during flooding. They also play a major role in carbon sequestration expecially the coastal wetlands. In agricultural and urban landscapes they act as a sink for the contaminants. Natural wetlands remove nitrates and phosphorus from the surface and subsurface runoffs.
Wetlands also help in maintaining species diversity since many faunal species depend on them for their entire life cycles or during a particular stage of their life history.\Basically, wetlands support the food chain by providing an environment where photosynthesis can occur and the cycling of nutrients takes place.
Overlooking these values of wetlands and the interface by humans due to rapid population growth, intensified industrialization, commercial and residential development leading to pollution by domestic and industrial sewage, the very existence of these resources due to development activities and population pressure being witnessed currently.
Disappearance Of Indian Wetlands
The disappearance of Indian wetlands are primarily due to two reasons,
i. Acute (filling up of wetlands with soil) and ii. chronic (gradual elimination of forest cover and, or, soil unfriendly practices in the catchment areas leading to erosion and sedimentation over a period of time).
Thus, the loss of wetlands at a current rate is of great concern since 74% of the Indian population is rural, the total requirement of water in rural areas will rise to 1,050 billion cubic meters from the present consumption of 750 billion cubic meteres.
Nearly 40% of the Indian urban population has a rather limited quantity of access to drinking water. TERI investigated the downward transition of India’s water sustainability since 1947 and has predicted a dismal scenario for 2047 that states “Annual per capita water availability in India fell by 62% in the first fifty years of Independence, a trend that is likely to worsen in the next fifty years with a projected 67% decline..”.
This emphasises the need for taking appropriate measures for the survival of Indian wetlands.