Environment & Ecology > Biodiversity > Wetland conservation
WHY IN NEWS?
Ten new sites from India were added to the ‘List of Wetlands of International Importance’, popularly known as Ramsar sites. With this, a total of 37 sites in the country have been recognized under the international treaty.
DEFINITION OF WETLANDS:
- Article 1 of the Ramsar Convention states that “wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peatland 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”.
- Based on this definition, five major wetland types are generally recognized:
- Marine (coastal wetlands including coastal lagoons, rocky shores, seagrass beds and coral reefs)
- Estuarine (including deltas, tidal marshes, mudflats, and mangrove swamps)
- Lacustrine (wetlands associated with lakes)
- Riverine (wetlands along rivers and streams)
- Palustrine (marshes, swamps and bogs)
- In addition, there are human-made wetlands such as fish and shrimp ponds, farm ponds, irrigated agricultural land including rice paddies, salt pans, dams, reservoirs, gravel pits, wastewater treatment ponds and canals. There are even underground wetlands.
IMPORTANCE OF WETLANDS:
- Ecological significance:
- They are key components in the biogeochemical cycles of water, Nitrogen and Sulphur. For e.g.: Wetlands filter and purify water as it flows through the wetland system.
- The combination of shallow water, high levels of nutrients is ideal for the development of organisms that form the base of the food web and feed many species of fish, amphibians, shellfish and insects.
- Wetlands are a major carbon sink. They have a high capacity to sequester and store carbon.
- Wetlands are indispensable for the countless benefits or “ecosystem services” ranging from freshwater supply, food and building materials, and biodiversity, to flood control, groundwater recharge, and climate change mitigation.
- Economic significance:
- They are among the world’s most productive environments. They provide the world with nearly two-thirds of its fish harvest. Urban wetlands are essential for preserving public water supplies.
- Wetlands function as natural barriers against forces of nature. They reduce the speeds and heights of tidal bores, storm and tsunami waves, control floods and reduce soil erosion.
- Wetlands are a vital source for food, raw materials, genetic resources for medicines, and hydropower. E.g.: Pong dam lake in Himachal is a major hydroelectric project across river Beas.
- Many wetlands are areas of natural beauty and promote tourism. E.g.: Odisha's Chilka Lake attracts tourists on a large scale as it is an important habitat and breeding ground of flamingos in India.
- Cultural significance:
- They play an important role in transport, tourism and the cultural and spiritual well-being of people. E.g.: The Tso Moriri lake in Jammu Kashmir is a renowned pilgrimage destination for Buddhists.
THREATS TO WETLANDS:
- Wetlands are under increasing developmental pressure for residential, industrial and commercial facilities. Often wetlands are drained or reclaimed to meet the rising demands for land.
- Groundwater withdrawals for water supply can lower water levels in some wetland systems, changing habitats for plants, fish or other aquatic life. Over withdrawal can also lead to rise in salinity.
- Agriculture and allied activities:
- Vast stretches of wetlands have been converted for agriculture. Construction of reservoirs, canals and dams for irrigation has significantly altered the hydrology of the associated wetlands.
- Livestock grazing, unless managed carefully, can remove plants that stabilize streambanks and protect soils from erosion. This can damage some wetland types by causing channel formation and drainage, or can clog streams with sediment.
- Wetlands are being severely polluted by the discharge of municipal sewage, agricultural run offs and industrial heavy metal wastes such as lead and mercury. This results in rapid eutrophication and subsequent deterioration of wetlands.
- Invasive Species:
- Wetlands are threatened by exotic plant and animal species, often termed as invasive alien species. E.g.: Indian wetlands are threatened by species such as water hyacinth, Salvinia and Amazon catfish. They infest the waterways and compete with native vegetation.
- Climate Change:
- Increased air temperatures, variations in rainfall, droughts and floods; and sea level rise could affect wetlands.
THE RAMSAR CONVENTION:
- The Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.
- The signing of the Convention on Wetlands took place in 1971 at the small Iranian town of Ramsar, on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea. Since then, the Convention on Wetlands has been known as the Ramsar Convention.
- The official name of the treaty is ‘The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat’.
- The Convention entered into force in 1975. It is neither legally binding and nor is a part of UN & UNESCO conventions.
- There are more than 170 Contracting Parties to the Convention, who have designated more than 2300 wetland sites throughout the world.
- The Contracting Parties meet every three years at a Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP). The next Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP14) will be held in Wuhan, China in October 2021.
DESIGNATION OF RAMSAR SITES:
- The Ramsar Convention encourages the designation of sites containing representative, rare or unique wetlands, or wetlands that are important for conserving biological diversity.
- Any wetland which meets at least one of the criteria for identifying Wetlands of International Importance can be designated by the appropriate national authority to be added to the Ramsar List.
- The national authority completes an online Ramsar Information Sheet, with the support of the regional team which shows how the Site meets relevant criteria and describes its ecological character. The Secretariat ensures that the data and map meet the standards set by the Conference of the Parties, before publishing the same.
- Once designated, the sites are added to the Convention's List of Wetlands of International Importance and become known as Ramsar sites.
BENEFITS OF BEING A RAMSAR SITE:
- Recognition and Conservation:
- It helps identify wetlands that are under threat and facilitates development of national level policies and actions for the wise use of wetlands. Wise use under the Convention is the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development.
- It also helps to increase publicity and prestige for wetlands.
- Professionalism in conservation:
- Countries agree to establish and oversee a management framework aimed at conserving the wetland and ensuring its wise use. The convention also mandates countries to train personnel competent in wetland research, management, and development.
- It also establishes internationally-accepted standards, such as guidelines on application of the wise use concept and management planning in wetlands.
- Information sharing:
- Brings access to information and advice on application of the Conventions’
- It also mandates the creation of national wetland inventories which will identify major sites for wetland biodiversity and store critical data regarding them.
- International collaboration:
- The convention encourages international cooperation on wetlands and brings access to expert advice on national and site-related problems of wetland, conservation and management.
- It also presents an opportunity for a country to be heard in the principal forum on conservation and wise use of wetlands.
- Financial assistance:
- The Ramsar Small Grants Fund has been established to provide financial aid for developing countries in the protection and wise use of wetlands.
EXISTING RAMSAR SITES IN INDIA:
NEW RAMSAR SITES:
Q. What is the Ramsar convention? Discuss the benefits of a site being declared as a Ramsar site?