Dams · Wetlands

India Ramsar Wetlands in Crisis in 2020

Ramsar wetlands in India require urgent intervention for central, state governments and Ramsar Convention as this 2020 report shows. The five regional reports from India in 2020 show that despite Ramsar tag, the fate of these wetlands has seen no marked improvement. This raises the question as to how helpful for wetlands in India is the Ramsar tag.

In 2019, India has added 10 more wetlands selected under Ramsar Convention taking total number of Ramsar wetlands in the country to 37 covering about 10,679.39 sq km area across 15 different Indian States and two Union Territories (UTs).  A description of each of India’s 37 Ramsar wetlands, as given on official Ramsar website is given in Annexure below. A decade after the first meeting at Ramsar in Iran for wetland protection in 1971, India got its first wetlands, Chilika lake (Odisha) and Keoladeo National Park (Rajasthan) registered as Ramsar wetland of global significance in Oct 1981.

Out of 37 Ramsar wetlands in India now, 20 are located in three states and two UTs in North India, 13 of them are situated in just two states of Uttar Pradesh (7) and Punjab (6), where the large states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have just one Ramsar site each. Major states like Karnataka, Telangana, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and several states of North East India have none. Only one Ramsar site of India, namely the Upper Ganga River (Brijghat to Narora Stretch) is a river.

In terms of size the four wetlands in East India cover 6170 sq km area which is about seven times more than the areas under 20 Ramsar sites of North India. The largest Ramsar sites are Sundarbans (4230 sq km) followed by Chilika (1165 sq km). 

Ramsar Convention Signed in 1971 the Ramsar convention is a global treaty focusing on management and protection of important wetlands. India is among 170 signatory countries that agreed to pay attention and initiate needful actions towards conservation of wetlands. Globally, so far over 2300 wetlands have been identified as Ramsar sites.

One of the key objectives of Ramsar convention is to achieve and maintain the ecological character of the wetlands and facilitate sustainable use for the benefit of people and the environment. It also mandates them to frame National Wetland Policies, form wetland inventories, conduct and create monitoring, research and awareness and prepare integrated management plans. However this report shows that the very purpose of the convention stand defeated considering the state of Ramsar wetlands in India. The continual degradation require urgent intervention.

Common Problems Some of the common problems that India’s Ramsar wetlands face, as illustrated by our regional reports are listed here.

  • The tourists footfall and disturbing adventure seeking expeditions are unsustainably increasing around Ramsar lake areas exposing the lake based eco-system and local communities to unseen changes and newer challenges.
  • One of the important reasons for granting Ramsar recognition to the wetlands is their being safe haven for migratory birds and endangered animal species. Owing to increasing pollution loads, siltation, disturbing human activities there has been marked reduction in number of avian numbers in most Ramsar sites in India.
  • The construction of dams, barrages without credible impact assessments, options assessment or democratic decision making and their faulty operation have become one of the biggest reason behind continual degradation of many Ramsar sites in India.
  • Most of the Ramsar sites are located along the rivers making them essential part of river eco-system. The impact of dams on rivers aquatic life and dependent communities have been well known. Despite this, the Convention has selected many man-made reservoirs as Ramsar sites.
  • While the increasing human development pressures, destruction of mangroves and deforestation have worsened the crisis, holistic preparatory or remedial action plans are missing.
  • It’s an irony that the central and state government mandated to be guardians of crucial wetlands resources are themselves deliberately pushing destructive developmental projects playing havoc on the Ramsar wetlands.
  • Though the Ramsar convention acknowledging fishing communities’ rights & allows sustainable management of wetlands to provide livelihood opportunities to dependent people, on ground the traditional fisherfolks have been constantly affected and their rights ignored disrupting their income and connection with wetlands.
  • At the same time due to commercial fishing, overfishing the diversity and numbers of fish species found on many Ramsar wetlands have been receding with no significant interventions by respective authorities.
  • In commercial fishing, invasive variety are being preferred over native species. Water is diverted from streams joining the wetlands or pumped from the wetlands itself. In process some chemical are used and before refilling of fish ponds, effluents are released back in the wetlands. Similarly, the prawn fishing applies thin nets which traps the eggs and fishlings killing scores of young fish affecting eco-system and aquatic diversity of the wetlands.
  • The invasion of exotic plants species in Ramsar wetlands in India has become another serious issue over the years which still largely remains unaddressed.
  • The Ramsar wetlands in India are also facing to severe climate related threats. The lakes in hills are suffering from irregular rains, landslides, cloud bursts and flash floods. The inland wetlands have been suffering from drought resulting in frequent drying up stretches. The coastal wetlands are at the mercy of cyclonic storms which are increasing in numbers and severity. 
  • Other issues commonly affecting the Ramsar wetlands in India includes shrinkage in areas due to increasing encroachments, concretization of surrounding and catchment areas, land use change, siltation and growing loads of pollution in the form of solid, liquid waste, industrial effluents, domestic sewage, chemical farming run offs, waste dumping requiring urgent attention and interventions from respective governments.

Table of India Ramsar Wetlands sites

SN Names State/UTs/ Area (sqkm) GPS Coordinates  Designated

NORTH INDIA

1 Wular lake Jammu 189 34°22’7.83″N

74°33’28.04″E

23 March 1990
2 Hokersar Jammu 13.75 34° 6’10.52″N 74°42’42.46″E 08 November 2005
3 Surinsar- Mansar Lakes Kashmir 3.50 32°46’13.14″N 75° 2’29.04″E 32°41’47.60″N 75° 8’39.56″E 08 November 2005
4 Tsomoriri Ladakh 120 32°54’33.66″N 78°18’14.94″E 19 August 2002
5 Chandra Taal Himachal Pradesh 0.49 32°28’56.49″N 77°36’56.39″E 08 November 2005
6 Pong Dam Lake Himachal Pradesh 156.62 31°58’35.70″N 76° 3’2.91″E 19 August 2002
7 Renuka Lake Himachal Pradesh 0.2 30°36’37.21″N 77°27’26.74″E 08 November 2005
8 Harike Wetland Punjab 41 31° 8’9.40″N 74°58’7.41″E 23 March 1990
9 Kanjli Wetland Punjab 1.83 31°24’39.98″N 75°22’31.37″E 22 January 2002
10 Ropar Wetland Punjab 13.65 30°59’27.45″N 76°31’19.28″E 22 January 2002
11 Nangal Wildlife Sanctuary Punjab 1.16 31°24’15.01″N  76°22’24.23″E 26 September 2019
12 Beas Conservation Reserve Punjab 64.29 31°23’11.36″N 75°10’33.52″E 26 September 2019
13 Keshopur-Miani Community Reserve Punjab 3.44 32° 5’32.13″N 75°24’19.43″E 26 September 2019
14 Upper Ganga River

(Brijghat to Narora stretch)

Uttar Pradesh 265.90 29°14’13.22″N 78° 5’29.00″E 08 November 2005
15 Nawabganj Bird Sanctuary Uttar Pradesh 2.25 26°36’49.31″N 80°39’11.67″E 19 September 2019
16 Parvati Agra Bird Sanctuary Uttar Pradesh 7.22 27°15’7.22″N 77°50’22.18″E 02 December 2019
17 Saman Bird Sanctuary Uttar Pradesh 5.26 27° 1’28.67″N 79°10’54.39″E 02 December 2019
18 Samaspur Bird Sanctuary Uttar Pradesh 7.99 25°59’57.67″N 81°23’14.30″E 03 October 2019
19 Sandi Bird Sanctuary Uttar Pradesh 3.09 27°18’51.05″N 79°58’19.74″E 26 September 2019
20 Sarsai Nawar Jheel Uttar Pradesh 1.61 26°58’8.64″N 79°14’47.91″E 19 September 2019

WEST INDIA

21 Keoladeo National Park Rajasthan 28.73 27°10’36.63″N 77°30’43.30″E 01 October 1981
22 Sambhar Lake Rajasthan 240 26°57’43.82″N 75° 1’55.54″E 23 March 1990
23 Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary Gujarat 120 22°48’9.03″N 72° 1’40.35″E 24 September 2012
24 Bhoj Wetland Madhya Pradesh 32.01 23°14’59.02″N 77°20’37.53″E 19 August 2002
25 Nandur Madhameshwar Bird Sanctuary Maharashtra 14.37 20° 0’26.13″N 74° 7’13.60″E 21 June 2019

NORTH EAST INDIA

26 Deepor Beel Assam 40 26° 7’18.90″N 91°38’33.16″E 19 August 2002
27 Loktak Lake Manipur 266 24°33’31.08″N 93°48’52.01″E 23 March 1990
28 Rudrasagar Lake Tripura 2.40 23°30’1.27″N 91°19’0.48″E 08 November 2005

EAST INDIA

29 East Kolkata Wetlands West Bengal 125 22°33’13.40″N 88°26’41.34″E 19 August 2002
30 Sundarban Wetland West Bengal 4230 21°46’38.79″N 88°47’16.75″E 01 February 2019
31 Chilika Lake Odisha 1165 19°44’36.43″N 85°18’38.48″E 01 October 1981
32 Bhitar Kanika Mangroves Odisha 650 20°43’18.63″N 86°51’32.28″E 19 August 2002

SOUTH INDIA

33 Kolleru Lake Andhra Pradesh 901 16°36’13.70″N 81° 7’16.42″E 19 August 2002
34 Point Calimere Wildlife & Bird Sanctuary Tamil Nadu 385 10°18’13.93″N 79°44’20.55″E 19 August 2002
35 Ashtamudi Wetland Kerala 614   8°58’3.10″N 76°35’4.00″E 19 August 2002
36 Sasthamkotta Lake Kerala 3.73   9° 2’14.04″N 76°38’21.88″E 19 August 2002
37 Vembanad Kol Wetland Kerala 1512.5   9°37’2.44″N 76°23’50.48″E 19 August 2002

India and Ramsar Convention India’s National report to Ramsar, submitted at the latest Conference of Parties (13th) in 2018 says that the designated Ramsar Administrative authority is Mr Anil Kumar Jain (asaj.moefcc@gov.in), Additional Secretary, Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC for short), Designated National Focal Point for Ramsar related matters is Ms Manju Pandey (manju.pandey@nic.in), Joint Secretary, MoEFCC and designated non government national focal point is Dr K. Sankar (salimalicentre@gmail.com), Director, Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON). The report seems to indicate everything is fine with Ramsar sites in India, a lot of which sounds fictional considering this compilation. The description of each of the 37 Ramsar wetlands as given on the official Ramsar website is given in Annexure.

Ramsar sites in South Asia Besides India, there are Ramsar wetland sites in Pakistan (19 wetlands, 13438.07 Sq km area), Nepal (10 sites, 605.61 sq km), Bhutan (3 sites, 12.25 sq km) and Bangladesh (2 sites, 6112.00 sq km).

Ramsar Silent in spite of threats and violations in India All these issues raise many questions. Why the Ramsar Convention is overlooking these aspects while providing those Ramsar tags? What does the Ramsar convention do to ensure that the wetlands with that tag are protected? The convention seems to have hardly any role in improving the health of the wetlands with steps to ensure adherence to regularity guidelines, periodic reviews, recommendations.

This report shows that the governance of India’s Ramsar wetlands violate a number of articles of the Ramsar convention, including those on “wise use” of wetlands as outlined in Article 4.2 and 1.7.2. of the Ramsar Convention – “…formulate and implement their planning so as to promote the conservation of the wetlands included in the List, and as far as possible the wise use of wetlands in their territory”, on migratory water birds (Criterion 5 of the Convention), among others. But there are no remedial steps in sight from the Ramsar convention to take steps to stop these violations.

The 5th edition of Ramsar Handbook published in 2016 as “An introduction to the Convention on Wetlands” mentions (Section 3.8): “Recommendation 5.7 of the COP and the Strategic Plan 2016-2024 (paragraph 26) both encourage Contracting Parties to establish National Ramsar Committees (or National Wetland Committees) which can provide a broader focus at national level for the implementation of the Convention, involving relevant government agencies from various sectors and ministries, scientific and technical institutions, regional and local authorities, local communities, NGOs, and the private sector.” There is no such National Committee in India, going by the information in public domain.

Interactive map of Ramsar Wetlands sites in India (Surinsar and Mansar lakes in Jammu jointly share Ramsar tag but are located at different locations hence the map shows one additional numbers as 38 in stead of 37. 

One would like to see response from Ramsar Convention and governments at various levels to these issues. But so far there are far from adequate response to these realities either from Ramsar convention or from any of the relevant governments. We hope, this report helps them pay deserving attention to these issues.

Bhim Singh Rawat (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com)

P S: For detailed account of the threats and issues faced by India’s Ramsar wetlands, see:

Ramsar Wetlands in Crisis: North India

Ramsar Wetlands in Crisis: West India

Ramsar Wetlands in Crisis: North East India

Ramsar Wetlands in Crisis: East India

Ramsar Wetlands in Crisis: South India

Annexure

Description of India’s Ramsar Wetlands

The description as given on official Ramsar website.

WULAR LAKE: The largest freshwater lake in India with extensive marshes of emergent and floating vegetation, particularly water chestnut, that provide an important source of revenue for the State Government and fodder for domestic livestock. The lake supports an important fishing industry and is a valuable source of water for irrigation and domestic use. The area is important for wintering, staging and breeding birds. Human activities include rice cultivation and tree farming.

ASHTAMUDI WETLAND: An extensive estuarine system, the second largest in Kerala State, which is of extraordinary importance for its hydrological functions, its biodiversity, and its support for fish. The site supports a number of mangrove species as well as over 40 associated plant species, and 57 species of birds have been observed, including six that are migratory. Nearly 100 species of fish sustain a lively fishing industry, with thousands of fishermen depending directly upon the estuary for their livelihood. Population density and urban pressures pose threats to the site, including pollution from oil spills from thousands of fishing boats and from industries in the surrounding area and conversion of natural habitat for development purposes.

BHOJ WETLAND: Two contiguous human-made reservoirs – the “Upper Lake” was created in the 11th century by construction of an earthen dam across the Kolans River, and the lower was constructed nearly 200 years ago, largely from leakage from the Upper, and is surrounded by the city of Bhopal. The lakes are very rich in biodiversity, particularly for macrophytes, phytoplankton, zooplankton, both natural and cultured fish species, both resident and migratory birds, insects, and reptiles and amphibians. Since implementation of a management action plan was begun in 1995 with financial support from the government of Japan, a number of bird species have been sighted which had rarely or never before been seen in the region. WWF- India has been of great assistance in preparing the site’s designation. A photo essay is available at http://ramsar.org/photo_essay_india_bhoj.htm.

DEEPOR BEEL: Sanctuary. A permanent freshwater lake in a former channel of the Brahmaputra river, of great biological importance and also essential as the only major storm water storage basin for the city of Guwahati. The beel is a staging site on migratory flyways and some of the largest concentrations of aquatic birds in Assam can be seen, especially in winter. Some globally threatened birds are supported, including Spotbilled Pelican (Pelicanus philippensis), Lesser and Greater Adjutant Stork (Leptoptilos javanicus and dubius), and Baer’s Pochard (Aythya baeri). The 50 fish species present provide livelihoods for a number of surrounding villages, and nymphaea nuts and flowers, as well as ornamental fish, medicinal plants, and seeds of the Giant water lily Euryale ferox provide major revenue sources in local markets; orchids of commercial value are found in the neighboring forest. Potential threats include over-fishing and hunting pressure upon waterbirds, pollution from pesticides and fertilizers, and infestation by water hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes. A proposal to create a sewage canal from the city directly to the beel is considered to be disastrous in its potential effects.

EAST CALCUTTA WETLAND: World-renowned as a model of a multiple use wetland, the site’s resource recovery systems, developed by local people through the ages, have saved the city of Calcutta from the costs of constructing and maintaining waste water treatment plants. The wetland forms an urban facility for treating the city’s waste water and utilizing the treated water for pisciculture and agriculture, through the recovery of nutrients in an efficient manner – the water flows through fish ponds covering about 4,000 ha, and the ponds act as solar reactors and complete most of their bio-chemical reactions with the help of solar energy. Thus the system is described as “one of the rare examples of environmental protection and development management where a complex ecological process has been adopted by the local farmers for mastering the resource recovery activities” (RIS). The wetland provides about 150 tons of fresh vegetables daily, as well as some 10,500 tons of table fish per year, the latter providing livelihoods for about 50,000 people directly and as many again indirectly. The fish ponds are mostly operated by worker cooperatives, in some cases in legal associations and in others in cooperative groups whose tenurial rights are under legal challenge. A potential threat is seen in recent unauthorized use of the waste water outfall channels by industries which add metals to the canal sludge and threaten the edible quality of the fish and vegetables.

HARIKE LAKE: Bird Sanctuary. A shallow water reservoir with thirteen islands, at the confluence of two rivers. Dense floating vegetation covers 70% of the lake. An important site for breeding, wintering and staging birds, supporting over 200,000 Anatidae (ducks, geese, swans, etc.) during migration. The entire lake is leased on an annual basis to commercial fishery organizations.

KOLLERU LAKE: Wildlife Sanctuary. A natural eutrophic lake, situated between the two major river basins of the Godavari and the Krishna, fed by two seasonal rivers and a number of drains and channels, which functions as a natural flood balancing reservoir between the deltas of the two rivers. It provides habitat for a number of resident and migratory birds, including declining numbers of the vulnerable Grey Pelican (Pelecanus philippensis), and sustains both culture and capture fisheries, agriculture and related occupations of the people in the area. Damage and losses due to flooding in monsoon seasons and partial drying out during summers, the results of inadequate management planning and action, are seen as areas for improvement. WWF-India has been of great assistance in preparing the site’s designation.

LOKTAK LAKE: A large, but shrinking freshwater lake and associated swamplands supplied by several streams. Thick, floating mats of weeds covered with soil (phumids’) are a characteristic feature. The lake is used extensively by local people as a source of water for irrigation and domestic use and is an important wintering and staging area for waterbirds, particularly ducks. It also plays an important role in flood control. Included on the Montreux Record in 1993 as a result of ecological problems such as deforestation in the catchment area, infestation of water hyacinth, and pollution. The construction of a dam for hydroelectric power generation and irrigation purposes has caused the local extinction of several native fish species.

NALSAROVAR: Wildlife Sanctuary. A natural freshwater lake (a relict sea) that is the largest natural wetland in the Thar Desert Biogeographic Province and represents a dynamic environment with salinity and depth varying depending on rainfall. The area is home to 210 species of birds, with an average 174,128 individuals recorded there during the winter and 50,000 in the summer. It is an important stopover site within the Central Asia Flyway, with globally threatened species such as the critically endangered Sociable Lapwing (Vanellus gregarius) and the vulnerable Marbled Teal (Marmaronetta angustirostris) stopping over at the site during migration, while the vulnerable Sarus Crane (Grus antigone) takes refuge there during summer when other water bodies are dry. The wetland is also a lifeline for a satellite population of the endangered Indian Wild Ass (Equus hemionus khur) which uses this area in the dry season. Local communities heavily rely on the lake as it provides them with a source of drinking water and water for irrigiation, as well as an important source of income from fishing for Catla fish (Catla Catla) and Rohu (Labeo rohita). An average of 75,000 tourists visit the wetland annually.

SAMBHAR LAKE: A large saline lake fed by four streams set in a shallow wetland and subject to seasonal fluctuations. It is surrounded by sand flats and dry thorn scrub and fed by seasonal rivers and streams. The site is important for a variety of wintering waterbirds, including large numbers of flamingos. Human activities consist of salt production and livestock grazing.

SASTHAMKOTTA LAKE: The largest freshwater lake in Kerala state in the southwest of the country, spring-fed and the source of drinking water for half a million people in the Kollam district. Some 27 freshwater fish species are present. The water contains no common salts or other minerals and supports no water plants; a larva called “cavaborus” abounds and eliminates bacteria in the water, thus contributing to its exceptional purity. The ancient Sastha temple is an important pilgrimage centre. WWF-India has been of great assistance in preparing the site’s designation.

TSOMORIRI: Wetland Reserve. A freshwater to brackish lake lying at 4,595m above sea level, with wet meadows and borax-laden wetlands along the shores. The site is said to represent the only breeding ground outside of China for one of the most endangered cranes, the Black-necked crane (Grus nigricollis), and the only breeding ground for Bar-headed geese in India. The Great Tibetan Sheep or Argali (Ovis ammon hodgsoni) and Tibetan Wild Ass (Equus kiang) are endemic to the Tibetan plateau, of which the Changthang is the westernmost part. The barley fields at Korzok have been described as the highest cultivated land in the world. With no outflow, evaporation in the arid steppe conditions causes varying levels of salinity. Ancient trade routes and now major trekking routes pass the site. The 400-year-old Korzok monastery attracts many tourists, and the wetland is considered sacred by local Buddhist communities and the water is not used by them. The local community dedicated Tsomoriri as a WWF Sacred Gift for the Living Planet in recognition of WWF-India’s project work there. The rapidly growing attraction of the recently opened area to western tourists (currently 2500 per summer) as an “unspoilt destination” with pristine high desert landscapes and lively cultural traditions brings great promise but also potential threats to the ecosystem.

VEMBANAD-KOL WETLAND: The largest brackish, humid tropical wetland ecosystem on the southwest coast of India, fed by 10 rivers and typical of large estuarine systems on the western coast, renowned for its clams and supporting the third largest waterfowl population in India during the winter months. Over 90 species of resident birds and 50 species of migratory birds are found in the Kol area. Flood protection for thickly-populated coastal areas of three districts of Kerala is considered a major benefit, groundwater recharge helps to supply well water for the region, and the value of the system for the local transport of people and trade is considerable.

RUDRASAGAR LAKE: A lowland sedimentation reservoir in the northeast hills, fed by three perennial streams discharging to the River Gomti. The lake is abundant in commercially important freshwater fishes like Botia spp, Notopterus Chitala, Mystus spp., Ompok pabda, Labeo bata, and freshwater scampi, with annual production of 26 metric-tons, and an ideal habitat for IUCN Redlisted Three-striped Roof Turtle Kachuga dhongka. Owing to high rainfall (2500mm) and downstream topography, the wetland is regularly flooded with 4-5 times annual peak, assisting in groundwater recharge. Aquatic weeds are composed of rare marginal-floating- emergent-submerged weeds. Lands are owned by the state with perennial water areas leased out to the subsistent fishermens’ cooperative, and surrounding seasonal waterbodies are cultivated for paddy. Main threats are increasing silt loads due to deforestation, expansion of agricultural land and intensive farming, and land conversion for population pressure. Vijaya Dashami, one of the most important Hindu festivals with various sports events, attracts at least 50,000 tourists and devotees every year.

SUNDARBAN WETLAND: Sundarban Wetland is located within the largest mangrove forest in the world, the Sundarbans, that encompasses hundreds of islands and a maze of rivers, rivulets and creeks, in the delta of the Rivers Ganges and Brahmaputra on the Bay of Bengal in India and Bangladesh. The Indian Sundarban, covering the south-westernmost part of the delta, constitutes over 60% of the country’s total mangrove forest area and includes 90% of Indian mangrove species. The mangrove forests protect the hinterland from storms, cyclones, tidal surges, and the seepage and intrusion of saltwater inland and into waterways. They serve as nurseries to shellfish and finfish and sustain the fisheries of the entire eastern coast. The Sundarban Tiger Reserve is situated within the Site and part of it has been declared a “critical tiger habitat” under national law and also a “Tiger Conservation Landscape” of global importance. The Sundarbans are the only mangrove habitat which supports a significant population of tigers, and they have unique aquatic hunting skills. The Site is also home to a large number of rare and globally threatened species such as the critically endangered northern river terrapin (Batagur baska), the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), and the vulnerable fishing cat (Prionailurus viverrinus). Two of the world’s four horseshoe crab species, and eight of India’s 12 species of kingfisher are also found here. The uniqueness of the habitat and its biodiversity, and the many tangible and intangible, local, regional and global services they provide, makes the Site’s protection and management a conservation priority.

BHITARKANIKA MANGROVES: Wildlife Sanctuary. One of the finest remaining patches of mangrove forests along the Indian coast – 25 years of continued conservation measures have made the site one of the best known wildlife sanctuaries. The site’s Gahirmatha beach is said to host the largest known Olive Ridley sea turtle nesting beach in the world, with half a million nesting annually, and the site has the highest density of saltwater crocodile in the country, with nearly 700 Crocodylus porosus. It is a major breeding and wintering place for many resident and migratory waterbirds and is the east coast’s major nursery for brackish water and estuarine fish fauna. Like many mangrove areas, the dense coastal forests provide vital protection for millions of people from devastating cyclones and tidal surges – of India’s 58 recorded species of mangroves, 55 species are found in Bhitarkanika, a wider mangrove diversity than in the Sundarbans! Traditionally, sustainable harvesting of food, medicines, tannins, fuel wood, and construction materials, and particularly honey and fish, has been the rule, but population pressures and encroachment may threaten that equilibrium.

CHANDERTAL WETLAND: A high altitude lake on the upper Chandra valley flowing to the Chandra river of the Western Himalayas (4,337m asl.) near the Kunzam pass joining the Himalayan and Pir Panchal ranges. It supports CITES and IUCN Redlisted Snow Leopard and is a refuge for many species like Snow Cock, Chukor, Black Ring Stilt, Kestrel, Golden Eagle, Chough, Red Fox, Himalayan Ibex, and Blue Sheep. These species, over the years, have developed special physiological features as adaption strategies to cold arid climate, intense radiation, and oxygen deficiency. Some 65% of the larger catchment is degraded forest due to overgrazing by the nomadic herdsmen, while 35% are covered by grasslands. Other threatening factors to this fragile and sparse vegetation are summer trekking, littering waste, and lack of sanitation facilities. Since declaring the site a nationally important wetland in 1994, the authorities have been providing funds for ecotourism facilities.

CHILIKA LAKE: Brackish lake separated from the Bay of Bengal by a long sandy ridge and subject to sea water exchange, resulting in extreme seasonal fluctuations in salinity in different sections of the lake. Saline areas support aquatic algae. The site is an important area for breeding, wintering and staging for 33 species of waterbirds. It also supports 118 species of fish, including commercially important species. Significant numbers of people are dependent upon the lake’s resources. Placed on the Montreux Record in 1993 due to problems caused by siltation and sedimentation which was choking the mouth of the lake; removed from the Record in 2002 following rehabilitation efforts for which the Chilika Development Authority received the Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award for 2002.

HOKERA WETLAND: Located at the northwest Himalayan biogeopgraphic province of Kashmir, back of the snow-draped Pir Panchal (1,584m asl.), Hokera wetland is only 10 km from scenic paradise of Srinagar. A natural perennial wetland contiguous to the Jhelum basin, it is the only site with remaining reedbeds of Kashmir and pathway of 68 waterfowl species like Large Egret, Great Crested Grebe, Little Cormorant, Common Shelduck, Tufted Duck and endangered White-eyed Pochard, coming from Siberia, China, Central Asia, and Northern Europe. It is an important source of food, spawning ground and nursery for fishes, besides offering feeding and breeding ground to a variety of water birds. Typical marshy vegetation complexes inhabit like Typha, Phragmites, Eleocharis, Trapa, and Nymphoides species ranging from shallow water to open water aquatic flora. Sustainable exploitation of fish, fodder and fuel is significant, despite water withdrawals since 1999. Potential threats include recent housing facilities, littered garbage, and demand for increasing tourist facilities.

KANJLI: A permanent stream, the Kali Bein, converted by construction of a small barrage in 1870 into a water storage area for irrigation purposes. The site fulfils Criteria 3 because of its importance in supporting a considerable diversity of aquatic, mesophytic, and terrestrial flora and fauna in the biogeographical region, and acts also as a key regulator of groundwater discharge and recharge with the seasons. By this means and by direct abstraction of water for irrigation by the local population, the site plays a crucial role in the agriculture which predominates on the surrounding fertile plain, with fewer pressures upon water supplies than elsewhere in the Punjab. The invasive water hyacinth is present and must be removed from time to time; increasing pollution levels, deforestation in the catchment area, and excessive grazing are seen as potential threats. The stream is considered to be the most significant in the state from the religious point of view, as it is associated with the first guru of the Sikhs, Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. The stream itself and surrounding marsh is under provincial ownership and surrounding areas privately owned. The site is a center for environmental tourism and picnicking.

KEOLADEO NATIONAL PARK: Added to the Montreux Record, 4 July 1990. World Heritage Site; National Park; Bird Sanctuary. A complex of ten artificial, seasonal lagoons, varying in size, situated in a densely populated region. Vegetation is a mosaic of scrub and open grassland that provides habitat for breeding, wintering and staging migratory birds. Also supported are five species of ungulates, four species of cats, and two species of primates, as well as diverse plants, fish and reptiles. The canal provides water for agriculture and domestic consumption. Cattle and water buffalo graze on the site. A field research station exists. Placed on the Montreux Record in 1990 due to “water shortage and an unbalanced grazing regime”. Additionally, the invasive growth of the grass Paspalum distichum has changed the ecological character of large areas of the site, reducing its suitability for certain waterbird species, notably the Siberian crane. Subject of Ramsar Advisory Missions in 1988 and 1990.

POINT CALIMERE WILDLIFE AND BIRD SANCTUARY: Wildlife Sanctuary. A coastal area consisting of shallow waters, shores, and long sand bars, intertidal flats and intertidal forests, chiefly mangrove, and seasonal, often-saline lagoons, as well as human-made salt exploitation sites. Some 257 species of birds have been recorded, 119 of them waterbirds, including the vulnerable species Spoonbill Sandpiper (Euryhorhynchus pygmaeus) and Grey Pelican (Pelecanus philippensis) and some 30,000 Greater and Lesser Flamingos. The site serves as the breeding ground or nursery for many commercially important species of fish, as well as for prawns and crabs. Some 35,000 fishermen and agriculturalists support their families around the borders of the sanctuary. Illegal collection of firewood and forest produce such as fruits (gathered by lopping off tree branches), the spread of Prosopis chilensis (Chilean mesquite), increasingly brackish groundwater caused by expansion of the historical salt works, and decreasing inflow of freshwater are all seen as potential causes for concern. Visitors come to the site both for recreation and for pilgrimage, as it is associated with Lord Rama.

PONG DAM LAKE: Wildlife Sanctuary. A water storage reservoir created in 1975 on the Beas River in the low foothills of the Himalaya on the northern edge of the Indo- Gangetic plain. The RIS notes that “at a time when wetlands in northern India are getting reduced due to extensive drainage and reclamation, the avian habitats formed by the creation of the Pong Dam assume a great significance” – given the site’s location on the trans-Himalayan flyway, more than 220 bird species have been identified, with 54 species of waterfowl. Hydrological values include monsoon-season flood prevention, both in the surroundings and downstream due to water regulation, groundwater recharge, silt trapping and prevention of soil erosion; electricity is generated for this and neighboring states, and irrigation water is being channeled to fertile areas of the Punjab and Rajasthan deserts. Low-yield subsistence fishing existed prior to impoundment, but since, a lucrative fishery has grown up, with 27 fish species and a yield increasing markedly each year – some 1800 fishermen now have direct employment and 1000 families benefit indirectly. A nature conservation education centre is found on the island of Ransar or Ramsar (sic). Recent management strategies have shifted away from law enforcement and use restrictions towards more participatory approaches and community awareness, and the site is well suited to “community-based ecotourism”.

RENUKA WETLAND: Wildlife Sanctuary, Reserve Forest. A natural wetland with freshwater springs and inland subterranean karst formations, fed by a small stream flowing from the lower Himalayan out to the Giri river. The lake is home to at least 443 species of fauna and 19 species of ichthyofauna representative of lacustrine ecosystems like Puntius, Labeo, Rasbora, Channa. Prominent vegetation ranges from dry deciduous like Shorea Robusta, Terminalia tomentosa, Dalbergia sissoo to hydrophytes. There are 103 species of birds of which 66 are residents, e.g. Crimson-breasted barbet, Mayna, Bulbul, Pheasants, Egrets, Herons, Mallards and Lapwing. Among ungulates Sambhar, Barking deer and Ghorals are also abundant in the area. The lake has high religious significance and is named after the mother of Hindu sage Parshuram, and is thus visited by thousands of pilgrims and tourists. Conservation measures so far include community awareness, and prevention of silt influx from eroded slopes and 50 ha. of massive plantation in the catchment. The site is managed by the Shimla Forest Department, Himachal Pradesh.

ROPAR: National Wetland. A human made wetland of lake and river formed by the 1952 construction of a barrage for diversion of water from the Sutlej River for drinking and irrigation supplies. The site is an important breeding place for the nationally protected Smooth Indian Otter, Hog Deer, Sambar, and several reptiles, and the endangered Indian Pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) is thought to be present. Some 35 species of fish play an important role in the food chain, and about 150 species of local and migratory birds are supported. Local fisheries are economically significant, and wheat, rice, sugar cane, and sorghum are cultivated in the surrounding area. Deforested local hills leading to siltation, and increasing industrialization causing an inflow of pollutants, are potential threats, and invasive weeds are a further cause for concern. Nature lovers, birdwatchers, swimmers and boaters visit the site in considerable numbers.

SURINSAR-MANSAR LAKES: Wildlife Sanctuary, Hindu sacred site. Freshwater composite lake in semi-arid Panjab Plains, adjoining the Jhelum Basin with catchment of sandy conglomeratic soil, boulders and pebbles. Surinsar is rain-fed without permanent discharge, and Mansar is primarily fed by surface run-off and partially by mineralised water through paddy fields, with inflow increasing in rainy season. The lake supports CITES and IUCN Redlisted Lissemys punctata, Aspideretes gangeticus, and Mansariella lacustris. This composite lake is high in micro nutrients for which it is an attractive habitat, breeding and nursery ground for migratory waterfowls like Fulica atra, Gallinula chloropus, Podiceps nigricollis, Aythya fuligula, and various Anas species. The site is socially and culturally very important with many temples around owing to its mythical origin from the Mahabharata period. Although the lakes support variety of fishes, fishing is discouraged for religious values. The main threats are increasing visitors, agricultural runoff, bathing and cremation rituals. Conservation is focused on awareness-raising.

UPPER GANGA RIVER: A shallow river stretch of the great Ganges with intermittent small stretches of deep-water pools and reservoirs upstream from barrages. The river provides habitat for IUCN Red listed Ganges River Dolphin, Gharial, Crocodile, 6 species of turtles, otters, 82 species of fish and more than hundred species of birds. Major plant species, some of which have high medicinal values, include Dalbergia sissoo, Saraca indica, Eucalyptus globulus, Ficus bengalensis, Dendrocalamus strictus, Tectona grandis, Azadirachta indica and aquatic Eichhorina. This river stretch has high Hindu religious importance for thousands of pilgrims and is used for cremation and holy baths for spiritual purification. Major threats are sewage discharge, agricultural runoff, and intensive fishing. Conservation activities carried out are plantation to prevent bank erosion, training on organic farming, and lobbying to ban commercial fishing.

BEAS CONSERVATION RESERVE: The Beas Conservation Reserve is a 185-kilometre stretch of the Beas River located primarily in the north-west of the State of Punjab. The River meanders down from the Himalayan foothills to the Harike Headworks, where its course is diverted into a number of channels. The River is dotted with islands, sand bars and braided channels creating a complex environment supporting substantial biodiversity. More than 500 species of birds are documented along this stretch, along with more than 90 fish species. The Reserve also hosts the only known population in India of the endangered Indus river dolphin (Platanista gangetica minor). Further threatened species include the endangered masheer (Tor putitora) and hog deer (Axis porcinus) as well as the vulnerable smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata). In 2017, a programme was initiated to re-introduce the critically endangered gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) with 47 individuals released into the River 30 years after their disappearance. Major threats include urban and domestic pollution as well as impacts of agriculture along most of the River’s course. The Department of Forests and Wildlife Preservation, Punjab, conduct the scientific management of the wetland.

SAMASPUR BIRD SANCTUARY: The Samaspur Bird Sanctuary, in the Raebareli district of Uttar Pradesh, is a perennial lowland marsh typical of the Indo-Gangetic Plains. Its six connected lakes are heavily relevant on monsoon rains. Annual counts regularly find more than 75,000 birds present, with over 250 resident and migrant species documented. The Sanctuary harbours threatened species such as the endangered Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) and Pallas’s fish eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus), and more than 1% of the South Asian population of the vulnerable common pochard (Aythya ferina). At least 46 freshwater fish species use the wetland, with some migrating in from nearby rivers during monsoon flood periods. The Site provides food products and agricultural fodder, as well as maintaining this biodiversity. However, invasive species threaten its ecological character, with over 40% of documented floral species being exotic. The Office of the Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and State forest officers undertake joint management of the Sanctuary.

PARVATI AGRA BIRD SANCTUARY: Parvati Agra Bird Sanctuary is a permanent freshwater environment consisting of two oxbow lakes. These wetlands are characteristic of Uttar Pradesh and offer exceptional habitats for waterbirds, providing both roosting and breeding sites with over 100,000 birds documented in annual counts. The Sanctuary is a refuge for some of India’s threatened vulture species: the critically endangered white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis) and Indian vulture (Gyps indicus), and the endangered Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) have all been recorded. It is also critical in the maintenance of hydrological regimes, ensuring groundwater recharge and discharge. Meanwhile ancient temples around the lakes provide religious significance and encourage tourism. Invasive species such as the common water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) along with the development of roads and railways present significant threats. The Uttar Pradesh Divisional Forest Officer and Chief Conservator of Forests along with Sanctuary Officers share management duties.

SARSAI NAWAR JHEEL: Sarsai Nawar Jheel is a permanent marsh in the Etawah district of Uttar Pradesh. This typical wetland of the Indo- Gangetic floodplain is fed by precipitation run-off from the South West monsoon rains. It is an example of co- habitation of humans and wildlife: farming practices across most of the Site play important roles in sustaining the waterbird habitats. A particular beneficiary is the vulnerable sarus crane (Grus antigone), with a population of 400 individuals making up the largest flock in the region. The Site’s name is derived from this large non-migratory crane. Other threatened species present include the critically endangered white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis) and endangered woolly-necked stork (Ciconia episcopus). The wetland is also a site of spiritual and religious significance with the nearby Hajari Mahadev temple visited by thousands of pilgrims each year. Droughts along with drainage have the potential to threaten the Site’s ecological character. It is recognized by Birdlife International as an Important Bird Area.

NANGAL WILDLIFE SANCTUARY: Located in the Shiwalik foothills of Punjab is the highly eco-sensitive Nangal Wildlife Sanctuary, which supports abundant flora and fauna including threatened species, such as the endangered Indian pangolin (Manis crassicaudata) and Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) and the vulnerable leopard (Panthera pardus). It occupies a human-made reservoir constructed as part of the Bhakra-Nangal Project in 1961. The site is of historic importance as the Indian and Chinese Prime Ministers formalized the “Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence” there in 1954. More than half a million people downstream benefit from the reservoir as the flow of water is regulated, reducing the risks to both people and property from floods. The Department of Forests and Wildlife Preservation (Rupnagar Wildlife Division), Punjab is responsible for managing the Sanctuary.

KESHOPUR-MIANI COMMUNITY RESERVE: The Keshopur-Miani Community Reserve is located in the State of Punjab. The Reserve is a mosaic of natural marshes, aquaculture ponds and agricultural wetlands maintained by the annual rainfall runoff. It is heavily human- influenced, and includes a series of managed fishponds and cultivated crops such lotus and chestnut. This management helps support a variety of flora, with 344 species of plants recorded in the area. In this way, the Site is an example of wise use of a community-managed wetland, which provides food for people and supports local biodiversity. Threatened species present include the vulnerable common pochard (Aythya ferina) and the endangered spotted pond turtle (Geoclemys hamiltonii). The Department of Forests and Wildlife Preservation, Punjab, forms the management committee.

SANDI BIRD SANCTUARY: Sandi Bird Sanctuary is a freshwater marsh in the Hardoi district of Uttar Pradesh. The wetland is typical of the Indo- Gangetic plains and receives most of its water from monsoon rains. Rich in aquatic plants, the Site provides a productive habitat for waterfowl with over 40,000 individuals counted in 2018. It is home to over 1% of the South Asian populations of common teal (Anas crecca), red-crested pochard (Netta rufina) and ferruginous duck (Aythya nyroca), while the vulnerable sarus crane (Grus antigone) has a population of 200 individuals within the Sanctuary. These figures justify its designation as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International. The wetland is a popular recreational and tourism destination and supports surrounding farmers as a source of livestock fodder. Drought presents a threat; the Sanctuary dried out leading to a subsequent collapse in waterbird populations from 2014 to 2015. The Office of the Conservator of Forests manages the Site in conjunction with local forest and wildlife officers.

NAWABGANJ BIRD SANCTUARY: A shallow marshland 45 kilometres from Lucknow in Uttar Pradesh. Monsoon rains feed this diverse wetland while the Sarda Canal supplies additional water. The Sanctuary supports recreation and tourism activities as well as local biodiversity. It is a haven for birds, with 25,000 waterbirds regularly recorded and 220 resident and migratory species documented. Among these are globally threatened species including the endangered Egyptian vulture (Neophron percnopterus) and Pallas’s fish eagle (Haliaeetus leucoryphus) as well as the vulnerable lesser adjutant (Leptoptilos javanicus) and woolly-necked stork (Ciconia episcopus). Protection and afforestation measures have helped increase the overall diversity of wildlife, with golden jackal (Canis aureus) and jungle cat (Felis chaus) now present. The highly invasive common water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) poses a threat, as does the removal of timber from the forests. State forest officers along with the Office of the Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) jointly manage the Sanctuary.

SAMAN BIRD SANCTUARY: The Saman Bird Sanctuary in the Mainpuri district of Uttar Pradesh is a seasonal oxbow lake on the Ganges floodplain. It is heavily reliant on the arrival of the south-westerly monsoon in July and August, which provides the vast majority of annual rainfall. The Sanctuary regularly provides refuge to over 50,000 waterbirds (187 bird species have been recorded) and is particularly important as a wintering site for many migrants including the greylag goose (Anser anser), with over 1% of the South Asian population present during winter. Vulnerable species including sarus crane (Grus antigone) and greater spotted eagle (Aquila clanga) are also found. Ecosystem services provided include supply of fresh water for agriculture, as well as recreation and nature-based tourism based around the huge diversity of birds. Settlement encroachment and salinization present threats. The Office of the Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) oversees the Site’s management.

NANDUR MADHAMESHWAR: The Site is a mosaic of lakes, marshes and riparian forest on the Deccan Plateau. Construction of the Nandur Madhameshwar Weir at the confluence of the Godavari and Kadwa Rivers helped create a thriving wetland: originally designed to overcome water shortages in the surrounding area, the Site now also serves as a buffer against floodwaters and as a biodiversity hotspot. With 536 species recorded, its diverse habitats contrast with the surrounding semi-arid conditions caused by the rain shadow of the Western Ghats mountain range. The Site hosts some of India’s most iconic species, such as the leopard and Indian sandalwood (Santalum album). It also provides sanctuary to critically endangered species including Deolali minnow (Parapsilorhynchus prateri), Indian vulture (Gyps indicus) and white-rumped vulture (Gyps bengalensis). Invasive species including common water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) threaten the Site, along with the effects of urban development and water abstraction. The Office of the Conservator of Forest (Wildlife) manages the Site.

2 thoughts on “India Ramsar Wetlands in Crisis in 2020

  1. Unless those who are supposed to manage these areas manage them well the tags such as Ramasagar tags will not have any impact. However, it is one important factor that can be effectively used to attract international pressure to manage these sites on international standards. But this require lots of efforts .Sharing.

    #SukhodayaGlobalNetWork for #integratedsustainabledevelopment.

    Like

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