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Baba’s Explainer – Wetland Conservation

  • IASbaba
  • September 7, 2022
  • 0
Environment & Ecology
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Syllabus

  • GS-3: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation
  • GS-2: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation. 

Context: Everyone is careful about consuming clean and pure water to protect their kidneys from malfunctioning. But what about the earth’s kidneys, the wetlands?

  • Natural wetlands have often been referred to as “earth’s kidneys” because of their high and long-term capacity to filter pollutants from the water that flows through them.

As India celebrates an increase in its total number of Ramsar sites to 75, this brings into sharp relief the deteriorating state of natural wetlands across the country, especially in urban areas.

Why were wetlands in the news recently?
  • According to the Press Information Bureau, on August 13, India added eleven new wetlands to its Ramsar sites, bringing the total number of Ramsar sites to 75, spanning an area of 12,26,677 acres.
  • Among the eleven new locations are four in Tamil Nadu, three in Odisha, two in Jammu and Kashmir, and one each in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
  • The designation of these locations as Ramsar sites will aid in the protection, management, and smart use of wetland resources.
What are wetlands and what is its importance?
  • A wetland is a distinct ecosystem that is flooded by water, either permanently or seasonally.
  • In other words, Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year.
  • Water saturation (hydrology) largely determines how the soil develops and the types of plant and animal communities living in and on the soil. Wetlands may support both aquatic and terrestrial species.
  • The prolonged presence of water creates conditions that favor the growth of specially adapted plants (hydrophytes) and promote the development of characteristic wetland (hydric) soils.
  • Wetlands are indispensable for the countless benefits or “ecosystem services” that they provide humanity. . They provide multiple services like water storage, groundwater recharge, carbon sequestration, coastal stability, soil erosion control, and multiple organic and inorganic nutrients.
  • Thus, their benefits ranges from freshwater supply, food and building materials, and biodiversity, to flood control, groundwater recharge, and climate change mitigation
  • Wetlands are vital for human survival. They are among the world’s most productive environments; cradles of biological diversity that provide the water and productivity upon which countless species of plants and animals depend for survival.
What are Ramsar Sites?
  • Wetlands are among the most diverse and productive ecosystems. They provide essential services and supply all our fresh water. However they continue to be degraded and converted to other uses.
  • The Convention on Wetlands is the intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.
  • 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, from all the world’s geographic regions, have acceded to become “Contracting Parties”.
  • The Convention’s mission is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”.
  • The Convention uses a broad definition of wetlands. It includes all lakes and rivers, underground aquifers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands, peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, mangroves and other coastal areas, coral reefs, and all human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs and salt pans.
  • Under the “three pillars” of the Convention, the Contracting Parties commit to:
    • work towards the wise use of all their wetlands;
    • designate suitable wetlands for the list of Wetlands of International Importance (the “Ramsar List”) and ensure their effective management;
    • cooperate internationally on transboundary wetlands, shared wetland systems and shared species.
  • A Ramsar site is a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

Criteria: One of the nine criteria must be fulfilled to be the Ramsar Site.

  • Criterion 1: If it contains a representative, rare, or unique example of a natural or near-natural wetland type found within the appropriate biogeographic region.
  • Criterion 2: If it supports vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered species or threatened ecological communities.
  • Criterion 3: If it supports populations of plant and/or animal species important for maintaining the biological diversity of a particular biogeographic region.
  • Criterion 4: If it supports plant and/or animal species at a critical stage in their life cycles, or provides refuge during adverse conditions.
  • Criterion 5: If it regularly supports 20,000 or more waterbirds.
  • Criterion 6: If it regularly supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies of waterbird.
  • Criterion 7: If it supports a significant proportion of indigenous fish subspecies, species or families, life-history stages, species interactions and/or populations that are representative of wetland benefits and/or values and thereby contributes to global biological diversity.
  • Criterion 8: If it is an important source of food for fishes, spawning ground, nursery and/or migration path on which fish stocks, either within the wetland or elsewhere, depend.
  • Criterion 9: If it regularly supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies of wetland-dependent non avian animal species.
Why India should be concerned?
  • Almost one decade after Ramsar convention, India registered the Chilika Lake in Odisha and the Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan as Ramsar sites in 1981.
  • Out of 75 Ramsar sites in India, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh have the maximum designated sites of 14 and 10 respectively.
    • Among the State parties, according to the Ramsar list, the United Kingdom has the maximum number of sites (175), Mexico has 142, and Bolivia has the maximum area of designated sites of almost 148,000 sq km.
  • However, India is also at the forefront of wetland conservation efforts; nearly 10 per cent of the country’s total wetland area has now been designated as Ramsar sites. This puts India at the top of the South Asian countries.
  • According to an estimate by the non-governmental organisation Wetlands International South Asia (‘WISA’), India has lost almost 30 per cent of its natural wetlands over three decades, mainly because of unsustainable urbanization, agricultural expansion, illegal construction and pollution.
    • Union Environment Ministry has also acknowledged that over 100 wetlands around the nation are under pollution stress and tourism pressure.
  • Furthermore, WISA data shows a more alarming situation for our urban ecosystem.
    • Almost 90 per cent of Chennai’s wetlands are lost, mostly because of unplanned urbanization.
    • Due to inadequate waste management, growing pollution, and unregulated urban growth, Hyderabad lost 55 per cent of its wetlands.
    • Even megacities like Mumbai have lost 71 per cent of their wetlands, while Ahmedabad has lost 57 per cent, Bengaluru 56 per cent, Pune 37 per cent.
  • Declining wetlands leaves the cities with the challenge of dealing with water security and environmental deterioration.
  • While we celebrate the doubling of our Ramsar sites since 2010, it must not be forgotten that the situation is getting worse as far as wetland conservation is concerned as a whole; this is the right time to wake up and conserve our wetlands.
What policy measures can be followed to better conserve wetlands?
  • The states have made little effort to identify wetlands. As per The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, all states must establish a wetlands authority comprised of ministers, officials, and specialists.
    • The authority would develop a list of activities that would be permitted, controlled, or forbidden inside wetlands and their zones of impact, and specify conservation methods and sensible wetlands usage.
  • Furthermore, experts in wetland ecology, hydrology, fisheries, landscape planning, and socioeconomics were expected to be appointed by these authorities.
  • Although all states and union territories have indeed set up wetlands authorities, information about their recent efforts in wetland conservation is not available in the public domain.
  • Therefore, it is time to show strong cooperative federalism to make the Union Government’s plan on wetlands a reality. Here, we can follow the American system of wetland management. In the U.S., they adhere to the no-net-loss policy.
  • No-net-loss policy means that no wetland, no matter how small, should be lost: it must be compensated for elsewhere.
  • Every plant associated with America’s wetlands is listed, and the boundaries of wetlands are determined based on this. The lists are easily accessible, and include a legal definition of wetlands. As a result, the wetlands have been listed, identified, and protected.

Mains Practice Question – What are the challenges faced by India in its conservation of Wetlands?

Note: Write answers to this question in the comment section.


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