World Wetlands Day 2019: Save Wetlands to Face Climate Change

The theme of the World Wetlands Day[i] 2019 is very fittingly, “Wetlands and Climate Change”. With climate change already upon us and its impact likely to increase due to increasing emissions and global temperatures, its high time we understand the importance of wetlands to face inevitable impacts of climate change, even as we must continue to do everything possible to reduce emissions.

On the occasion, Martha Rojas Urrego, Secretary General, Ramsar Convention on Wetlands has said[ii]: “Peatlands[iii] for example cover just three per cent of our world. Yet they store nearly a third of all land-based carbon. This is twice as much as all the world’s forests.

Coastal wetlands such as salt marshes, mangroves and sea grass beds are also some of the most carbon dense ecosystems on earth. Coral reefs and mangroves absorb the shock of storms surges and tsunamis in coastal areas, while Inland, wetlands soak up rain, reduce flooding and delay the onset of droughts. They are critical for climate adaptation and building resilience. Yet more than a third of all our wetlands were lost in just 45 years. Today, wetlands are disappearing three times faster than forests. The world’s corals face near extinction at 1.5ºC and certain extinction at a global warming of 2ºC.”

Ramsar Convention Report Wetlands vanishing 3 times faster than forests GLOBAL WETLANDS OUTLOOK 2018; FIRST EVER GLOBAL REPORT ON THE STATE OF THE WORLD’S WETLANDS. DOES NOT MAKE PRETTY READING. The 88-page report found that around 35% of wetlands — which include lakes, rivers, marshes and peatlands, as well as coastal and marine areas like lagoons, mangroves and coral reefs — were lost between 1970 and 2015 at an alarming speed amid urbanisation and agriculture shifts calling for urgent action to halt the erosion.

Image result for GLOBAL WETLANDS OUTLOOK 2018;

Today, wetlands cover more than 12 million sqkm, the report said, warning that the annual rates of loss had accelerated since 2000. Directly or indirectly, they provide almost all of the world’s consumption of freshwater and more than 40% of all species live and breed in wetlands. The Ramsar Convention has been ratified by most of the world’s nations, including the U.S., China and India, and has designated more than 2,300 sites of international importance.

On the occasion, we have put together some positive stories around wetlands from all over India, from media over the last one year. We hope this helps generate more energy and awareness to take up more actions to save and rejuvenate our wetlands. But let us begin with a warning from scientists.

Second Warning to Humanity and Wetlands Their first warning was in 1992, signed by 1700 scientists. This one is signed by 15 364 scientists from 184 countries. Unfortunately, Ramsar convention has no teeth and they provide no effective protection to wetlands, as is evident from Indian experience. The scientists needed to have said this clearly.

Here is animated video “Urban Wetlands Make cities Liveable”:

Protection and Rejuvenation News about protection, rejuvenation of wetlands, lakes.

  • Mumbai couple protects 80-ha wetland For the last three years, Sunil Agarwal, 55, and his wife Shruti, 50, residents of NRI Complex in Nerul, Navi Mumbai, have been guarding an 80-ha wetland near their home. In October 2016, the state urban development department issued a notification changing the land-use of the patch from a no-development zone to regional park based on a proposal by City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) to develop a golf course and a residential colony on 67 of the 80-ha.
Mumbai,Mission Mangroves,Wetland
Sunil and Shruti Agarwal protect a wetland, which is home to 80 different bird species, in Seawoods, Navi Mumbai. (Bachchan Kumar)
  • The couple met Vinod Punshi, president, Navi Mumbai Environmental Preservation Society, who has been actively involved in mangrove protection for a decade. “He (Punshi) was already aware of the development and had made it an additional prayer as a part of his PIL in the HC for mangrove protection. Based on his suggestion, we staged several protests in October and November last year, and ensured no construction began,” said Sunil. Since 2015, the couple has been cleaning the mangroves four times a year to ensure that garbage do not choke mangrove roots. “They (Agarwals) are a rare tribe and we need many more such role models to conserve what is remaining of our wetlands. I hope people take a cue from efforts made by this couple and replicate it,” said Stalin D, member of the wetland grievance committee constituted by the Bombay HC. 
  • Navi Mumbai residents organized largest awareness drive on the importance of the pristine Seawoods wetlands, which is being eyed by several realtors. A petition to save the wetland is being heard in the Bombay high court. Around 67.85 hectare of the wetland has been denotified from the ‘No Development Zone’ (NDZ) to the ‘Regional Park, including golf course and predominately residential zone’. Locals have pointed out how the Navi Mumbai municipal corporation has boasted about the wetland in their official calendars but it is not doing enough to save it from destruction. The BNHS report states that the Seawoods wetland is an extraordinary wetland that is used by a large number of migratory and resident water birds. It also recommended the site to be declared as protected area.
  • Friends of Lakes has grown from trying to conserve one lake in Bengaluru to now offering conservation services for around 22 water bodies in the city. They insist on involvement of the local villagers, farmers and fishermen in any conservation effort.
  • Hebbagodi lake in Bengaluru has India’s largest floating island with area of 12000 sqft with rafts that allow plants to grow hydroponically (without soil, and through mineral nutrient solutions) and act as cleaning agents.
  • A participatory planning workshop was held in Bengaluru by Sensing Local-Living along with Biome Trust, Varthur Rising and Whitefield Rising, bringing together the various stakeholders to discuss and arrive at the appropriate guidelines for designing the Varthur Lake wetlands. The objective was to adopt the right approach for the development of the wetlands around the lake, arriving at the right size, depth, capacity as well as appropriate type, so as to impact positively its biodiversity. The workshop witnessed representatives from four neighbourhoods, presenting their experience with rejuvenating their neighbourhood lake. These included Agara Lake, Puttenahalli Lake, Jakkur Lake and Lower Ambalipura Lake which had been revived with the active involvement of the local neighbourhoods and currently feature as fine examples of what citizen involvement and partnership can do to the city’s waterbodies. The workshop also had a lengthy presentation by T.V. Ramachandra, professor from IISc, on various components of wetland design, its type, biodiversity and the plant typologies best suited for it.
  • Locals were congratulated for coming together to fight against the illegal dumping of solid and sewage waste into Mylasandra Lake in Bengaluru.
  • In January 2018, the Jodhpur Jhaal, a colonial reservoir that till half a century ago sustained an extensive irrigation network between Mathura and Agra (UP), came to life as water from the Agra canal flooded the 155-acre dry wasteland.

Wetlands and Biodiversity Some striking instances when biodiversity of wetlands was in news during the year include the following.

  • An unusual sighting of black necked stork was recorded at the Surajpur Wetland in Greater Noida (UP) between December 2017 and January 2018.
  • Scientists have discovered six new species of water beetle in water bodies of Manipur during a three year study on importance of aquatic beetle (coleoptera) in fresh eco-systems of Manipur. Locals popularly call them Tharaikokpi macha (means beetle in local language).
Manipur wetlands,water beetle,new species
The water beetles’ scientific names (from left): Enochrus nigropiceus, Chasmogenus abnormalis, Paracymus Sp, Elmomophes brevicornis, Hydrocanthus guinuoti, Helochares atropiceus.(HT Photo)
  • In Jan 2018, the oriental white ibis or black-headed ibis (threskiornis melanocephalus), a near-threatened water bird (under the Birdlife International and IUCN Red list), which is locally known as Mayang Urok, was sighted after a gap of 16 years at Loktak and its associated wetlands in Manipur. Incidentally, in Loktak Paat (lake), the community believe in the presence of Loktak Lairembee (The Goddess of Loktak). She is the only goddess who will be whispered every day, believed to be the protector of the Paat and the Paat people.
  • राजस्थान का एक गांव है मेनार। यह उदयपुर से 40 किलोमीटर दूर चित्तौड़गढ़ मार्ग पर स्थित है। इसकी देश-दुनिया में पक्षियों के गांव ( बर्ड विलेज) के नाम से पहचान बन गई है। पक्षियों की सुरक्षा के लिए गांववाले और पक्षीप्रेमी सचेत हैं। उन्होंने तालाब के किनारे लगे पेड़ों को काटने पर पाबंदी लगाई है।
ब्लैक टेल्ड  गोडविट (जल पक्षी) का झुण्ड, मेनार, चित्र – अशीष कोठारी
  • तालाब के ऊपर से बिजली का हाईटेंशन तार गया था, इससे पक्षी तार से टकराकर मर जाते थे, उसे हटवाया। 170 से ज्यादा  पक्षियों की प्रजातियां हैं। जिसमें स्थानीय व प्रवासी पक्षी दोनों शामिल हैं। यहां जलीय व स्थलीय दोनों तरह के पक्षियों की प्रजातियां हैं। प्रवासी पक्षी ज्यादातर शीत ऋतु में आते हैं और यहां रहते हैं।शिवा डुबडुबी यहां की शान है।
  • The first ever summer night count of Charotar crocodiles conducted in May 2018 by the Voluntary Nature Conservancy (VNC) has revealed that wetlands of lush green Charotar belt (Anand and Kheda districts) of Central Gujarat are home to 233 crocodiles.
  • In January 2018, the Goan birders tramping around the bigger wetlands in North Goa on their annual water fowl count have seen rarely sighted black-legged Kittiwake bird.
  • The Great Crested Grebe a resident bird of the U.K. that breeds in Central Asia and migrates to Northern India for winter is spotted in Coimbatore. It is rarely seen in Tamil Nadu.
  • Urgent need to save wetlands across India The two-week Asian Waterbird Census that surveys sites across 25 countries in Asia and Australasia, including India, began in Jan 2018. While the data is still pouring in from this huge citizen science initiative, the census over the years has pointed to some clear trends. India has the biggest species diversity among the regions sampled by AWC. The survey tallied a mean figure of 1.8 million waterbirds over 300 sites in the country between 2008 and 2015.
  • Focus on conservation of wetlands Unplanned urbanization has resulted in urban floods in almost all towns in Kerala. Plugging of various natural flood escape routes following wanton conversion of wetlands and other natural water bodies for construction activities in the name of development has contributed to this, says N.K. Sukumaran Nair, environmentalist who was honoured with the State government’s maiden Paristhithi Mithram Award. 

Wise use of wetlands Some of the wetlands that were to be brought under Wetland Rules 2017 include the following.

  • EKW locks 60% of wastewater carbons The wetlands locks in over 60% of carbon from wastewater, which might otherwise pile up in the atmosphere. But the site is under threat of encroachment. It’s a mosaic of nearly 254 sewage-fed fishponds (bheris), agricultural land, garbage-farming areas and settlements make up the 125-square-km (12,500 hectare) wetlands that form an important portion of the mature delta of Ganga River.
A map of the East Kolkata Wetlands presented in the study.
A map of the East Kolkata Wetlands presented in the study.
  • The wetlands save Kolkata a staggering Rs 4,680 million a year in sewage treatment costs. About 1,000 million litres of wastewater each day is funneled into the wetlands that filter it and discharge it in the Bay of Bengal some three or four weeks later. It takes care of more than 80% of the metropolis’s sewage, supports around 50,000 agro-workers and supplies about one-third of Kolkata’s requirement of fish.

Related image

Inland fish-workers are important stakeholders to save rivers and wetlands Throughout the year news kept coming of the activities of National Platform for Small Scale Fish Workers, fighting for the cause of fish-workers dependent on wetlands, rivers and lakes. They are very important stakeholders if we are to sake our wetlands and rivers. Today they have no voice in the decisions about wetlands and rivers, but this must change.

Fishing in Loktak Lake Photo: e-pao.net
Fishing in Loktak Lake Photo: e-pao.net

India dilutes wetlands regulation While we wanted to put together positive stories around wetland conservation in India, we must face the reality that Indian Government has been diluting policies, legal norms and practices related to wetlands governance. So whatever positive action is happening, is happening in spite of these dilutions.

In this context it should be noted that the Supreme Court of India bench of Justice Madan Lokur and Justice Deepak Gupta in writ petition 230 of 2001 (MK Balakrishnan and others Vs Union of India and others) on July 18, 2018, ordered[iv]: “The petitioners are allowed to amend the write petition to challenge the Wetlands (Conservation and Preservation) Rules 2017.” That amended petition has been reportedly filed, but there has been no hearings in the matter since then. In the meanwhile, since Justice Madan Lodur has retired, the petition will now come up before the new Forest bench.

SANDRP (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)


[i] https://www.worldwetlandsday.org/, celebrated on Feb 2 every year.

[ii] https://www.worldwetlandsday.org/story/-/detail/wetlands-are-a-natural-solution-to-climate-change

[iii] Peatlands constitute about half the wetlands area on earth.

[iv] https://www.sci.gov.in/supremecourt/2000/17346/17346_2000_Order_18-Jul-2018.pdf

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