Wetlands

NOV 16

Mains   > Environment & Ecology   >   Biodiversity   >   Wetland conservation

IN NEWS:

  • The 14th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP14) to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands began November 5, 2022, to discuss the state of wetlands globally.
  • The event is being held in two different venues: Wuhan in China and Geneva in Switzerland from November 5-13.

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).

WHAT ARE WETLANDS?

  • Wetlands can be defined as lands transitional between terrestrial and aquatic eco-systems where the water table is usually at or near the surface or the land is covered by shallow water.
  • 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:
    1. Marine (coastal wetlands including coastal lagoons, rocky shores, seagrass beds and coral reefs)
    2. Estuarine (including deltas, tidal marshes, mudflats, and mangrove swamps)
    3. Lacustrine (wetlands associated with lakes)
    4. Riverine (wetlands along rivers and streams)
    5. 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.

STATISTICS:

  • India nearly has 4.6% of its land as wetlands that cover an area of 15.26 million hectares.
  • As of August, 2022, India has a network of 75 Ramsar sites covering an area of 13,26,677 hectares.
  • India is one of the Contracting Parties to Ramsar Convention. India signed it on 1st Feb 1982.
  • During 1982 to 2013, a total of 26 sites were added to the list of Ramsar sites, however, during 2014 to 2022, the country has added 49 new wetlands to the list of Ramsar sites. 

IMPORTANCE OF WETLANDS:

  • Ecological significance:
    • Rich reservoirs of biodiversity:
      • Wetlands are rich reservoirs of biodiversity.
      • For instance, around 40% of the world's plant and animal species live or breed in wetlands.
      • Also, wetlands are essential to bird life, breeding and migration
    • Biogeochemical Cycling:
      • Wetlands play a huge role in biogeochemical cycling.  They supply nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, and carbon to surrounding ecosystems.  Further, they are capable of storing such elements for long periods of time in the soil.
      • For instance, Nitrogen is largely cycled within the wetlands’ soil, but also escapes to neighboring ecosystems.  Thus wetlands provide nutrients not only for their own uses, but for use by other systems as well.
    • Carbon sink:
      • Wetlands are a major carbon sink. They have a high capacity to sequester and store carbon.
      • Carbon is taken from the air as CO2 and used in photosynthesis, but instead of later being released again as carbon dioxide, wetlands are capable of storing carbon in the sediment in the form of deteriorating organic substances.  This storage technique allows wetlands to help decrease the greenhouse effect.
    • Natural barriers:
      • 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.
  • Economic significance:
    • Highly productive ecosystem:
      • Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, comparable to rain forests and coral reefs.
      • 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 etc.
      • For example, wetlands provide the world with nearly two-thirds of its fish harvest.
      • Urban wetlands are essential for preserving public water supplies.
    • Sources of food and other diverse products:
      • Wetlands are a vital source for food, raw materials, genetic resources for medicines.
      • For instance, wetlands are a source of timber in many areas and many plants like blueberries, mints, and wild rice are produced in wetlands.
      • Also, some wetlands are major sources of hydroelectric power. E.g.: Pong Dam Lake (Ramsar Site) in Himachal is a major hydroelectric project across river Beas.
    • Promotes tourism:
      • 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.
  • Recreational and cultural significance:
    • Wetlands have high recreational and cultural values.
    • Wetlands have played an important part in human development and are of significant religious, historical or archeological value to many cultures around the world.
    • For example, the Tso Moriri lake in Jammu Kashmir is a renowned pilgrimage destination for Buddhists.
    • They are also often inviting places for popular recreational activities including hiking, fishing, bird watching, photography and hunting.

THREATS TO WETLANDS:

  • Urbanization:
    • 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. For instance, following the Green Revolution of the 1970s, vast stretches of wetlands have been converted to paddy fields.
    • Construction of a large number of reservoirs, canals and dams to provide for irrigation 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.
  • Pollution:
    • 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.
    • For example, 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.

CONSERVATION EFFORTS:

NATIONAL:

  • National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Eco-systems (NPCA):
    • It is a centrally sponsored scheme currently being implemented by the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change (MoEF&CC) for the conservation and management of identified wetlands (including lakes) in the country on a cost sharing basis between the central government and respective state governments.
    • It was formulated by merging of the National Lake Conservation Plan and the National Wetlands Conservation Programme.
  • Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017:
    • The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has notified Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017 under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 as regulatory framework for conservation and management of wetlands across country to conserve, manage and maintain the ecological character of the wetlands without restricting the wise use.
  • Web Portal:
    • A dedicated Web Portal (https://indianwetlands.in/ ) for Wetlands has been developed by MoEF&CC, which is a publicly available information and knowledge platform in order to facilitate knowledge sharing, information dissemination, host capacity building material, and provide a single-point access data repository for processing information and making it available to the stakeholders in an efficient and accessible manner.
  • Centre for Wetlands Conservation and Management (CWCM):
    • A Centre for Wetlands Conservation and Management (CWCM) under the MoEF&CC’s National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM) has been established to serve as a knowledge hub and enabling to exchange between wetland users, managers, researchers, policy-makers and practitioners and to assist the national and State/ UT Governments in the design and implementation of policy and regulatory frameworks, management planning, monitoring and targeted research specifically related to wetlands.

INTERNATIONAL:

  • The Ramsar Convention
    • The Convention was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and came into force in 1975. Since then, almost 90% of UN member states have become “Contracting Parties” and committed to the Convention’s three pillars:  
      1. Work towards the wise use of all their wetlands 
      2. Designate suitable wetlands for the list of Wetlands International Importance and ensure their effective management 
      3. Cooperate internationally on transboundary wetlands, shared wetland systems and shared species 
  • The Montreux Record:
    • The Montreux Record is a register of wetland sites on the List of Wetlands of International Importance where changes in ecological character have occurred, are occurring, or are likely to occur as a result of technological developments, pollution or other human interference. It is maintained as part of the Ramsar List.
    • Currently, two wetlands in India are in the Montreux record: Keoladeo National Park (Rajasthan) and Loktak Lake (Manipur).
    • Chilika lake (Odisha) was placed in the record but was later removed from it.
  • Wetlands International:
    • Wetlands International is a global not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation and restoration of wetlands.
    • It is an International Organisation Partner (IOP) of the Ramsar Convention.

WAY FORWARD:

  • Integrated approach
    • Wetland ecosystems are interconnected and interactive within a watershed. In India, unplanned urbanization and a growing population have taken their toll on wetlands. To counter these, management of wetlands has to be an integrated approach in terms of planning, execution and monitoring.
  • Utilizing local expertise
    • Effective tie-ups of trained academicians and professionals, including ecologists, hydrologists, economists, watershed management specialists, planners and decision makers must be linked with local expertise for overall management of wetlands.
  • Spreading awareness
    • Spreading awareness by initiating educational programs about the importance of wetlands in local schools, colleges and among the general public in the vicinity of the water bodies, besides constant monitoring of wetlands for their water quality, would provide vital inputs to safeguard the wetlands from further deterioration.
  • Comprehensive wetland policy:
    • A comprehensive wetland policy is the need of the hour as wetlands jurisdiction is diffused and falls under various departments like agriculture, fisheries, irrigation, revenue, tourism, water resources and local bodies. For instance, all mangroves in the country fall under the direct control of forest department.
    • The lack of a comprehensive wetland policy, with each department having its own developmental priorities, works against the interests of conservation of wetlands resulting in intended or unintended spill-over that further aggravates the problem.