The Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award winners for 2002

01/07/2002

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The Chilika Development Authority (India)

The Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award and Evian Special Prize - 2002

The Chilika Development Authority (CDA) receives the Ramsar Award for its impressive work and outstanding achievements in restoring the Chilika Lake Ramsar Site. This restoration has been carried out based on the principles of wise use and integrated management, and with a major emphasis on the participation of the local population and their shared decision-making, as well as capacity building. Chilika Lake is a striking example of how restoration of the ecological characteristics of a site can result not only in increased biodiversity (plant and animal species, notably birds), but also in a spectacular increase in fish catches (including the reappearance of some economic species) and other socio-economic benefits to the local population.

Chilika Lake (Orissa, India), the largest lagoon on the east coast of India, was added to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance in 1981. It is a 116,500 hectare brackish lagoon separated from the Bay of Bengal by a long sandy ridge. Because of serious degradation brought about mainly by siltation and choking of the seawater inlet channel, resulting inter alia in the proliferation of invasive freshwater species, the decrease in fish productivity, and an overall loss of biodiversity, Chilika Lake was added to the List of Ramsar sites in danger (the Montreux Record) in 1993. In addition to its importance for waterbirds (over one million migratory birds winter there) and biodiversity in general, significant numbers of people are dependent upon the lake's resources.

Created in 1992 to address these problems, the Chilika Development Authority has implemented a bold programme of action to restore the ecosystem and to improve the socio-economic conditions of the communities living around the lagoon and on its islands. One of the major interventions was the desiltation of the channel connecting the lagoon to the sea and opening of a new mouth to restore the natural flows of water and salinity levels. This resulted notably, in only a couple of years, in a substantial increase in the lagoon's fish yield and a reduction of freshwater weeds. Other measures include catchment management in a participatory manner; protection of bird habitat and of bird species; economic incentives to the local population to stop poaching of birds; measures to improve the socio-economic conditions, such as training programmes to develop eco-tourism, provision of solar streetlight systems to island villages, development of a ferry service for isolated villages, construction of landing facilities for fisherfolk, as well as education and environmental awareness activities.

The above-mentioned activities were carried out based on the scientific studies and recommendations of the premier institutes of the country, with the involvement of the local population and the support of Wetlands International and local NGOs, as well as grass-root and community-based organisations, under the guidance of the CDA Chief Executive Officer, Ajit Pattnaik, a native of the region who devoted himself wholeheartedly to the task. The restoration of Chilika lagoon derives its uniqueness from the strong participation by local communities, linkage with various national and international institutions, and intensive monitoring and assessment systems. In 2001, a Ramsar Advisory Mission was carried out at the Chilika Lake Ramsar site, which concluded with the recommendation that the site should be removed from the Montreux Record, provided that the management measures are continued and monitored. The case of Chilika Lake is a perfect example of how the listing of a site on the Montreux Record can be used to promote measures to correct change in ecological character of a site, and also to improve the socio-economic conditions of the population living in and around the site.

The Ramsar Award is being given to the Chilika Development Authority in recognition of the exemplary restoration work carried out with the active involvement of all stakeholders.

From left: Chaman Trisal, Wetlands International, South Asia Programme; Najam Khurshid, Ramsar Bureau; A. J. Pattnaik, Chilika Development Authority; Max Finlayson, Ramsar expert consultant; Sidharth Kaul, Ministry of Environment and Forests, on the occasion of the Ramsar Advisory Mission to Chilika Lake, 2001.

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