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Wetland Conservation
By Rochelle Lobo

Wetlands, such as swamps, marshes and mudflats have commonly been regarded as non-productive and visually unpleasant or eerie. But, in reality, these wetlands are of high ecological value due to the vast variety of flora and fauna it boasts. The water found in wetlands can be brackish, saltwater or freshwater depending on its proximity to the waterbody. The high adaptability of the ecosystem here is quite remarkable as well, especially that of the aquatic plants which adapt to the hydric soil and the flux in water levels. The fauna here is mainly birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects and other invertebrates. Mammals and monotremes, such as the beaver and platypus respectively, are unique species of such wetlands. A few fish species such as shellfish and some other tropical fish species can be found here too. Wetlands are either created naturally or develop over time at manmade water harvesting wells/trenches; manmade wetland constructions are slowly rising, but in comparison, they do not provide a sustainable habitat.

Conservation of mangrove wetlands has been in the spotlight for many decades and many efforts are undertaken, worldwide, for their preservation. But wetlands like marshes and mudflats are often exploited for development purposes. Swamps are often seen strewn with garbage either dumped due to action of waves/winds or due to direct dumping by humans. World governments and many citizens often overlook the vast array of eco-services these wetlands provide; a few of their services are mentioned below:

  • Wetlands are rich biodiversity hotspots, providing ideal conditions for its unique flora and fauna.
  • It provides a variety of eco products such as fuelwood, animal fodder, traditional medicines, etc.
  • It provides shoreline stability and storm protection resulting in flood control.
  • It is ideal for groundwater replenishment and water purification.
  • They are known to be carbon sinks and help mitigate climate change.
Source: Emerton 1999

India has about approx. 58 million hectares of wetland area (as per Directory of Asian Wetlands,IUCN,1989) and it is one of the 169 signatories to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. There are 2,241 Ramsar sites across the world, including 26 spread across India from Wular Lake in Jammu and Kashmir to Ashtamudi Wetland in Kerala, and from Deepor Beel in Assam to Nal Sarovar in Gujarat. Ancient untouched Johads (Manmade to prevent erosion on sloping structures by accumulating stormwater runoff), in India, have turned into wetlands.

With ever growing construction activities, natural wetlands are rampantly encroached upon and converted into wastelands. Recently, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC), drafted the  Draft Wetland Rules 2016 which is a diluted draft based on the earlier Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2010 which was never implemented. The new draft rules have been watered down to such a level that it is open to interpretation and violation. Surprisingly, the Indian wetlands have still not been completely demarcated; also the Central Water Authority has been disbanded and so the extent of jurisdiction for deciding the fate of wetlands remains unclear in the hands of the State Wetland Authorities.

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