As per Environment ministry statistics, India has added five more Ramsar sites, or wetlands that are of international importance, bringing the number of such sites to 54 from 49.
The newly added sites are
- Karikili Bird Sanctuary,
- Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve Forest
- Pichavaram Mangrove in Tamil Nadu,
- The Sakhya Sagar in Madhya Pradesh and
- Pala Wetland in Mizoram.
The National Wetland Inventory and Assessment compiled by the Indian Space Research Organization estimates India’s wetlands to span around 1,52,600 square kilometres which is 4.63% of the total geographical area of the country.
No other South Asian country has as many sites.Until 1981, India had 41 Ramsar sites though the last decade has seen the sharpest rise of 13 in designating new sites.
A little over two-fifths are inland natural wetlands and about a quarter are coastal wetlands.
India has 19 types of wetlands whereas Gujarat has the maximum area followed by Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal.
The United Kingdom (175) and Mexico (142), smaller countries than India have the maximum Ramsar sites whereas Bolivia spans the largest area with 148,000 sq km under the Convention protection.
Wetlands in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat serve as important spaces for migratory birds.
Wetlands are also known to have among the highest soil-carbon densitiesand therefore play a major role in buffering carbon dioxide emissions.
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance signed in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.
It is the only global treaty to focus on a single ecosystem (wetlands).
At present, 172 nations are signatories (including India) to the Ramsar Convention. A contracting party agrees to nominate at least one wetland in its territory to the List of Wetlands of International Importance based on enumerated criteria.
In addition, contracting parties agree to manage all their wetlands based on the concept of “wise use.” Wise use means the maintenance of the ecological character of the wetland and allowance of sustainable use for the benefit of people and the environment.
The Montreux Record is a register of wetland sites on the List of Ramsar wetlands of international importance where changes in ecological character have occurred, are occurring, or are likely to occur as a result of technological developments, pollution or other human interference.
It is maintained as part of the Ramsar List.
Currently, Keoladeo National Park (Rajasthan) and Loktak Lake (Manipur) are being kept under the record for taking appropriate steps for ecological restoration. Chilika lake (Odisha) was placed in the record but was later removed from it.
Acquiring this label also helps with a locale’s tourism potential and its international visibility.
A wetland is a land area that is saturated with water, either permanently or seasonally, and it takes on the characteristics of a distinct ecosystem
The Ramsar Convention defines wetlands as “areas of marsh, fen, peatlands or water,whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water, the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres“.
Five major wetland types are generally recognized:
- marine (coastal wetlands including coastal lagoons, rocky shores, and coral reefs);
- estuarine (including deltas, tidal marshes, and mangrove swamps);
- lacustrine (wetlands associated with lakes);
- riverine (wetlands along rivers and streams); and
- palustrine (meaning “marshy” – marshes, swamps and bogs).
The definition of wetlands is very broad and includes ponds, water storage areas, low-tide coastal zones and all human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs and salt pans.