Explanation: what are Ramsar sites and why is this listing important?
On the eve of World Wetlands Day, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands has designated the Khijadia Bird Sanctuary near Jamnagar in Gujarat and the Bakhira Wildlife Sanctuary in Uttar Pradesh as wetlands of international importance. The Ramsar Convention, which came into being in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources.
With the addition of these two wetlands, the number of Ramsar sites in India has risen to 49, the highest of any country in South Asia.
What are the different definitions of wetlands?
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands defines wetlands as “areas of marsh, marsh, bog or water, whether natural or man-made, permanent or temporary, with static or flowing water, fresh, brackish or salt water, including areas of sea water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has adopted the definition given by Cowardin and others who have defined wetlands as follows: “are lands of transition between terrestrial and aquatic systems where the water table is generally at the surface or near the surface or the land is covered with shallow water For the purposes of this classification, wetlands must have one or more of the following three attributes: (1) at least periodically, the land primarily supports hydrophytes; 2) the substrate is predominantly undrained hydric soil; and (3) the substrate is not soil and is saturated with water or covered with shallow water at some time during the growing season each year.
However, the Indian government’s definition of wetlands excludes river channels, rice paddies and other areas where commercial activities take place. The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2017 notified by the Union Department of Environment, Forestry and Climate Change define wetlands as “an area of marshland, marshland, bog or ‘water ; whether natural or man-made, permanent or temporary, with static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt water, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres, but does not include river canals, rice fields, artificial water bodies/reservoirs specially constructed for the purpose of drinking water and structures specially constructed for the purposes of aquaculture, salt production, recreation and irrigation.
Wetlands in India
Globally, wetlands cover 6.4% of the world’s geographic area. In India, according to the National Wetland Inventory and Assessment compiled by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), wetlands cover 1,52,600 square kilometers (km²), or 4.63% of the total geographic area of the country. Of the 1,52,600 km2, natural inland wetlands represent 43.4% and natural coastal wetlands 24.3%. Rivers/streams occupy 52,600 km2, reservoirs/dams 24,800 km2, intertidal mudflats 24,100 km2, reservoirs/ponds 13,100 km2 and lakes/ponds 7,300 km2. India has 19 types of wetlands. In the distribution of wetlands by state, Gujarat leads with 34,700 km2 (17.56% of the total geographical area of the state), or 22.7% of the country’s total wetlands thanks to a long littoral. It is followed by Andhra Pradesh (14,500 km²), Uttar Pradesh (12,400 km²) and West Bengal (11,100 km²).
Ramsar Sites in India
India’s tally of 49 designated wetlands spread over 10,936 km2 across 18 states and two union territories is the largest network of Ramsar sites in South Asia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted after the latest inclusions. Of the 49 sites, 10 are in UP, 6 in Punjab, 4 each in Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir, 3 each in Himachal Pradesh and Kerala, 2 each in Haryana, Maharashtra, Odisha , West Bengal, Rajasthan and one each in Andhra Pradesh. , Assam, Bihar, Ladakh, Manipur, Tamil Nadu, Tripura, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh.
The countries with the most Ramsar sites are the United Kingdom (175) and Mexico (142), according to the Ramsar List. Bolivia has the largest area with 148,000 km2 under the protection of the Convention. Canada, Chad, Congo and the Russian Federation have also each designated more than 100,000 km2.
The Importance of India in the Central Asian Flyway (CAF)
Dozens of bird species from Central Asia and Siberia migrate to warmer tropical regions, including India and equatorial regions, to escape the harsh winter in their breeding grounds. According to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), the CAF, which includes 30 countries, covers at least 279 populations of 182 species of migratory waterbirds, including 29 globally threatened and near-threatened species. , which reproduce, migrate and overwinter. within the region. Wetlands in India serve as feeding and resting places for these migratory birds during winter.
Newsletter | Click to get the best explainers of the day delivered to your inbox
Significance of Ramsar listing
Senior Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) and Wildlife Warden of Gujarat Shyamal Tikadar says the Ramsar Secretariat designating a wetland as a Wetland of Global Importance may not result in additional funding from the body global. “But from a management perspective, it’s like an accreditation. It’s like an ISO certification. They can also remove you from the list if you consistently fail to meet their standards. Alright, it’s a feather in the hat, but it comes at a cost and that cost can only be paid if there is brand value. Uday Vora, a retired IFS officer who is co-secretary of the Bird Conservation Society of Gujarat, says the Ramsar tag even helps indirectly. “Not all Ramsar sites are notified protected areas under the Wildlife (Protection) Act 1972 and therefore systematic protection and conservation regimes may not be in place. But a Ramsar label forces the authority to strengthen the protection regime there and also creates defenses against encroachment and so on. on wetlands,” he says.
The importance of Gujarat
While species like the bar-headed goose fly over the Himalayas to enter India, not all water or shore birds are strong enough to fly at such high altitudes. A number of bird species therefore prefer to avoid the Himalayas and instead choose the route through Afghanistan and Pakistan to enter the Indian subcontinent via Gujarat and Rajasthan. Thus, Gujarat becomes the first landing point for many international migratory species of ducks, waders, plovers, terns, gulls, etc. and shorebirds as well as birds of prey.
The state has eight protected wetlands and Vora says that in addition to the four Ramsar-listed wetlands, there are at least 17 other wetlands in Gujarat that easily stand out. Experts say there are enough wetland resources in Gujarat to accommodate these winged visitors, including greylag geese, crab-eating plovers, pochards, black-necked grebes, common cranes, demoiselle cranes , etc should not be viewed solely as areas for birdwatchers, ecotourists and avitourists. In fact, wetlands are necessary to support the daily life of our human society,” says Ketan Tatu, Senior Scientist at Gujarat Ecological Education and Research (GEER) Foundation and a member of Gujarat State Wetland Authority.
AP Singh, Senior Additional Chief Conservator of Forests (Monitoring and Evaluation of Gujarat, says Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary and Thol Wildlife Sanctuary, both Ramsar sites, are examples of sustainable and wise use of forests wetlands as they provide livelihood for locals besides supporting about 100 species “According to available records from Nal Sarovar and Thol sanctuaries, about 60,000 tourists visit Nal Sarovar every year and the forest department earns revenue from “about Rs.30 lakh and about 50,000 visitors and Rs 50,000 from Thol. In Nal Sarovar, tourists visit the wetland by boats and about 300 boatmen earn about Rs. 80,000 each in a season,” says Singh.