Ramsar Sites | 27 Jul 2022

For Prelims: Climate Change, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Wetlands and Ramsar Sites in India, Sustainable Development, World Wetlands Day 2022, Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017

For Mains: Wetlands - Significance, Threats, Impact of Degradation, Measures that can be taken to protect Wetlands

Why in News?

India has added five more Ramsar sites, or wetlands of international importance, bringing the number of such sites to 54.

What are these New Ramsar Sites?

  • Karikili Bird Sanctuary (Tamil Nadu):
    • The sanctuary is spread over a five-kilometre-wide belt and is home to cormorants, egrets, grey heron, open-billed stork, darter, spoonbill, white lbis, night herons, grebes, grey pelican among others.
  • Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve Forest (Tamil Nadu):
    • One of the last remaining natural wetlands, the marsh drains in an area of 250 square kilometres encompassing 65 wetlands.
    • The Pallikaranai Marsh is one of the few natural coastal aquatic habitats that qualify as a wetland in India.
  • Pichavaram Mangrove (Tamil Nadu):
    • One of the last mangrove forests in the country.
    • It has an island of a vast expanse of water covered with mangrove forests.
  • Sakhya Sagar (Madhya Pradesh):
  • Pala Wetland in Mizoram (Mizoram):
    • It is home to a wide range of animals, birds, and reptiles.
    • Its geographical location falls under the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot and is therefore rich in animal and plant species.
    • The lake is a major component of the Palak Wildlife Sanctuary and it supports the major biodiversity of the sanctuary.

What is Ramsar Recognition?

  • About:
    • A Ramsar site is a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention, which is also known as the ‘Convention on Wetlands’ — an intergovernmental environmental treaty established by UNESCO in 1971, and named after the city of Ramsar in Iran, where the convention was signed that year.
    • Ramsar recognition is the identification of wetlands around the world, which are of international importance, especially if they provide habitat to waterfowl (about 180 species of birds).
    • There is international interest and cooperation in the conservation of such wetlands and a judicious use of their resources.
      • Sundarbans in West Bengal is the largest Ramsar site in India.
    • India’s Ramsar wetlands are spread over 11,000 sq km — around 10% of the total wetland area in the country — across 18 States.
      • No other South Asian country has as many sites though this has much to do with India’s geographical breadth and tropical diversity.
    • There are nine
  • 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.
  • Significance:
    • Ramsar Tag helps develop and maintain an international network of wetlands which are important for the conservation of global biological diversity and for sustaining human life through the maintenance of their ecosystem components, processes and benefits.
    • Sites are protected under strict guidelines of the convention.

What are the Wetlands?

  • About:
    • Wetlands are ecosystems saturated with water, either seasonally or permanently.
    • They include mangroves, marshes, rivers, lakes, deltas, floodplains and flooded forests, rice-fields, coral reefs, marine areas no deeper than 6 metres at low tide, as well as human-made wetlands such as waste-water treatment ponds and reservoirs.
    • Though they cover only around 6% of the Earth’s land surface, 40% of all plant and animal species live or breed in wetlands.
  • Significance:
    • Assist in Fighting Against Climate Change:
      • Wetlands assist in stabilising CO2 (Carbon dioxide), CH4 (Methane), N2O (Nitrous oxide) and Greenhouse Gas (GHG) concentrations by minimising climate and land-use-mediated GHG releases and by boosting the potential to actively collect CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester carbon.
      • Wetlands also help reduce the risk of disasters such as floods, by protecting coastlines.
    • Sequester Carbon:
      • Wetlands' microbes, plants and wildlife are part of global cycles for water, nitrogen and sulphur.
      • Wetlands store carbon within their plant communities and soil instead of releasing it to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
    • Significance of Peatlands:
      • The term ‘peatland’ refers to the peat soil and the wetland habitats growing on the surface.
      • They account for just 3% of the world’s land surface but store twice as much carbon as forests, thus playing a crucial role in delivering global commitments on the climate crisis, sustainable development, and biodiversity.
      • Peatlands - one of the world’s largest carbon reserves, are sparse in India and require immediate attention.
    • Paradise for Migratory Birds:
      • Millions of migratory birds flock to India, and wetlands are critical to this annual phenomenon.
      • Ecologically dependent on wetlands, migratory waterbirds connect continents, hemispheres, cultures, and societies through their seasonal movements.
      • A diversity of wetland communities offers essential stopovers for birds.
    • Cultural and Tourism Importance:
      • Wetlands also have a deep connection with Indian culture and traditions.
      • Loktak Lake in Manipur is revered as “Ima” (Mother) by locals, whereas Sikkim’s Khecheopalri Lake is popular as the “wish fulfilling lake”.
      • The north Indian festival of Chhath is one of the most unique expressions of the association of people, culture, water and wetlands.
      • The Dal Lake in Kashmir, Khajjiar Lake in Himachal Pradesh, Nainital Lake in Uttarakhand and Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu are popular tourism destinations.
  • Threat:
    • Human Activities:
    • Urbanisation:
      • Wetlands near urban centres are under increasing developmental pressure for residential, industrial and commercial facilities.
      • Areas surrounded by urbanised wetlands are expected to lead to a coastal squeeze in the face of sea-level rise ultimately leading to wetland loss.
    • Climate Changes:
      • Climate change and linked drivers and pressures are highly likely to increase vulnerability of wetlands.
      • Increased air temperature, shifts in precipitation, increased frequency of storms, droughts, and floods, increased atmospheric CO2 concentration, and sea level rise could also affect wetlands.
    • Maladaptation:
      • Wetlands are also exposed to the risk of maladaptation — the likelihood of adverse impacts on these ecosystems in response to adaptation actions in other sectors.
      • For example, the construction of hydraulic structures to increase freshwater storage in upstream stretches, may further accentuate the risks of salinisation in downstream coastal wetlands.

Way Forward

  • The ecosystem services of wetlands need to be highlighted in development policies, urban planning and climate change mitigation.

Source: TH