India should conserve its wetlands, says BNHS director

By Vishal Gulati, IANS
Wednesday, February 2, 2011

MUMBAI - There is urgent need to conserve India’s wetlands, home to rare bird and mammal species, which are shrinking gradually due to the dumping of debris, siltation and encroachment, Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) director Asad Rahmani said on World Wetlands Day Wednesday.

“On World Wetlands Day, we strongly emphasise on the need to conserve India’s wetlands that are home to thousands of water birds,” Rahmani told IANS.

“In a country like India, which is so vast and geographically diverse, we have identified 160 wetlands as potential Ramsar Sites. Till now, only 25 among them have got recognition as Ramsar Sites. This highlights the need to make conservation of wetlands a priority,” Rahmani said in an email interview.

The importance of wetlands was first globally recognised as an exclusive habitat for freshwater aquatic birds at a convention held in Iran’s Ramsar town in 1971. India is one of the signatories to the Ramsar treaty.

Every year, Feb 2 is observed as World Wetlands Day globally as it marks the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands in Ramsar.

The Switzerland-based Ramsar Bureau that aims to arrest the worldwide loss and degradation of wetlands and promote conservation of the existing ones has designated wetlands as Ramsar Sites.

Rahmani said water pollution, dumping of waste and debris, reclamation, weed infestation and poaching are some of the major threats to wetlands and birds in the country.

Of the 160 potential Ramsar Sites identified by the BNHS, seven sites are in trans-Himalayas region, five in Himalayas, 31 in the Gangetic plains, 38 in the deccan, and 20 in the northeast, among others.

Some potential Ramsar sites in northern India are Okhla Sanctuary (Delhi), Sultanpur National Park (Gurgaon), Chandertal and Pong Dam (Himachal Pradesh), Chushul marshes (Leh), Haigam Reserve (Baramulla), Bhoj wetlands (Bhopal) Harike Lake (Amritsar), Alniya dam (Kota), Bardha dam (Bundi), Asan barrage (Dehradun), Bakhira Sanctuary (Sant Kabir Nagar), Katerniaghat sanctuary (Bahraich) and Lakh Bahosi Sanctuary (Farrukhabad).

The Ramsar Bureau defines wetlands as: “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 waters, the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres.”

Wetlands occupy about six percent of the total landmass of the globe and in India they cover roughly 1.5 percent of the area.

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