India's latest additions to the Ramsar List

India designates six new Ramsar sites at the 9th Conference of Contracting Parties

The Ramsar Convention Secretariat congratulates the Government of India for designating six new sites during Ramsar COP9 in Uganda, effective from 8 November 2005. The addition of these sites to the Ramsar List brings the total area of Wetlands of International Importance in India to 677,131 hectares in 25 Ramsar Sites.

Under the National Wetland Conservation Programme, 68 sites have been identified for conservation in the country, 41 being recently added to the conservation List including 35 mangroves, 4 coral areas and 10 urban lakes. Identification of these wetlands sites is based on Ramsar criteria which include aspects of waterfowl population, dominance of various plant/animal species, biodiversity values, cultural aspects, religious and sacred sanctities, socio-economic aspects, sustainable fisheries, traditional knowledge and other such issues. Furthermore, in the proposed National Wetland Strategy, a great deal of emphasis has been given to the significance of wetlands for water supply, coastal protection, food security and livelihood improvements of the wetland people.

The newly designated sites have very special features in terms of their ecological character, uniqueness, and rich aquatic communities. These are the wetland complexes with freshwater lakes, springs, inland karstique formations in high altitude at two locations of Himachal Pradesh and two in Jammu-Kashmir, a river stretch of the great Ganges, and a sedimentation reservoir in low-lying Tripura. Some of these wetlands also have had high religious and socio-cultural values for thousands of years. Surinsar-Mansar- a composite lake, Renuka wetland, and the Ganges are at the very heart of Hindu sacred values, connected to the epic of Mahabharatta. Therefore, perception of the local communities towards the wise use of these wetlands is likely to be enhanced by the confluence of cultural, religious, ecological and socio-economic importance for sustenance of livelihoods and ecosystems.

We thank the Ministry of Environment and Forests, the local government authorities, and WWF-India for their support in preparing the relevant information and their combined efforts in designating these six sites.

The short descriptions of these sites and their special features are provided below.

-- Shahzia Khan, Ramsar

Chandertal Wetland. 08/11/05; Himachal Pradesh, 49 ha; 32°29'N 077°36'E. A high altitude lake on the upper Chandra valley flowing to the Chandra river of the Western Himalayas (4,337m asl.) near the Kunzam pass joining the Himalayan and Pir Panchal ranges. It supports CITES and IUCN Redlisted Snow Leopard and is a refuge for many species like Snow Cock, Chukor, Black Ring Stilt, Kestrel, Golden Eagle, Chough, Red Fox, Himalayan Ibex, and Blue Sheep. These species, over the years, have developed special physiological features as adaption strategies to cold arid climate, intense radiation, and oxygen deficiency. Some 65% of the larger catchment is degraded forest due to overgrazing by the nomadic herdsmen, while 35% are covered by grasslands. Other threatening factors to this fragile and sparse vegetation are summer trekking, littering waste, and lack of sanitation facilities. Since declaring the site a nationally important wetland in 1994, the authorities have been providing funds for ecotourism facilities. Spiti Forest Department is the custodian and State Council of Science, Technology and Environment is coordinating conservation management. Ramsar site no. 1569.

Hokera Wetland. 08/11/05; Jammu & Kashmir; 1,375 ha; 34°05'N 074°42'E. Located at the northwest Himalayan biogeopgraphic province of Kashmir, back of the snow-draped Pir Panchal (1,584m asl.), Hokera wetland is only 10 km from scenic paradise of Srinagar. A natural perennial wetland contiguous to the Jhelum basin, it is the only site with remaining reedbeds of Kashmir and pathway of 68 waterfowl species like Large Egret, Great Crested Grebe, Little Cormorant, Common Shelduck, Tufted Duck and endangered White-eyed Pochard, coming from Siberia, China, Central Asia, and Northern Europe. It is an important source of food, spawning ground and nursery for fishes, besides offering feeding and breeding ground to a variety of water birds. Typical marshy vegetation complexes inhabit like Typha, Phragmites, Eleocharis, Trapa, and Nymphoides species ranging from shallow water to open water aquatic flora. Sustainable exploitation of fish, fodder and fuel is significant, despite water withdrawals since 1999. Potential threats include recent housing facilities, littered garbage, and demand for increasing tourist facilities. Ramsar site no. 1570.

Renuka Wetland.08/11/05; Himachal Pradesh; 20 ha; 31°37'N 077°27'E. Wildlife Sanctuary, Reserve Forest. A natural wetland with freshwater springs and inland subterranean karst formations, fed by a small stream flowing from the lower Himalayan out to the Giri river. The lake is home to at least 443 species of fauna and 19 species of ichthyofauna representative of lacustrine ecosystems like Puntius, Labeo, Rasbora, Channa. Prominent vegetation ranges from dry deciduous like Shorea Robusta, Terminalia tomentosa, Dalbergia sissoo to hydrophytes. There are 103 species of birds of which 66 are residents, e.g. Crimson-breasted barbet, Mayna, Bulbul, Pheasants, Egrets, Herons, Mallards and Lapwing. Among ungulates Sambhar, Barking deer and Ghorals are also abundant in the area. The lake has high religious significance and is named after the mother of Hindu sage Parshuram, and is thus visited by thousands of pilgrims and tourists. Conservation measures so far include community awareness, and prevention of silt influx from eroded slopes and 50 ha. of massive plantation in the catchment. The site is managed by the Shimla Forest Department, Himachal Pradesh. Ramsar site no. 1571.

Rudrasagar Lake. 08/11/05; Tripura; 240 ha; 23°29'N 090°01'E. A lowland sedimentation reservoir in the northeast hills, fed by three perennial streams discharging to the River Gomti. The lake is abundant in commercially important freshwater fishes like Botia spp, Notopterus Chitala, Mystus spp., Ompok pabda, Labeo bata, and freshwater scampi, with annual production of 26 metric-tons, and an ideal habitat for IUCN Redlisted Three-striped Roof Turtle Kachuga dhongka. Owing to high rainfall (2500mm) and downstream topography, the wetland is regularly flooded with 4-5 times annual peak, assisting in groundwater recharge. Aquatic weeds are composed of rare marginal-floating-emergent-submerged weeds. Lands are owned by the state with perennial water areas leased out to the subsistent fishermens' cooperative, and surrounding seasonal waterbodies are cultivated for paddy. Main threats are increasing silt loads due to deforestation, expansion of agricultural land and intensive farming, and land conversion for population pressure. Vijaya Dashami, one of the most important Hindu festivals with various sports events, attracts at least 50,000 tourists and devotees every year. A management plan is underway by the MoEF-India. Ramsar site no. 1572.

Surinsar-Mansar Lakes.08/11/05; Jammu & Kashmir; 350 ha; 32°45'N 075°12'E. Wildlife Sanctuary, Hindu sacred site. Freshwater composite lake in semi-arid Panjab Plains, adjoining the Jhelum Basin with catchment of sandy conglomeratic soil, boulders and pebbles. Surinsar is rain-fed without permanent discharge, and Mansar is primarily fed by surface run-off and partially by mineralised water through paddy fields, with inflow increasing in rainy season. The lake supports CITES and IUCN Redlisted Lissemys punctata, Aspideretes gangeticus, and Mansariella lacustris. This composite lake is high in micro nutrients for which it is an attractive habitat, breeding and nursery ground for migratory waterfowls like Fulica atra, Gallinula chloropus, Podiceps nigricollis, Aythya fuligula, and various Anas species. The site is socially and culturally very important with many temples around owing to its mythical origin from the Mahabharata period. Although the lakes support variety of fishes, fishing is discouraged for religious values. The main threats are increasing visitors, agricultural runoff, bathing and cremation rituals. Conservation is focused on awareness-raising. Ramsar site no.1573.

Upper Ganga River (Brijghat to Narora Stretch).08/11/05; Uttar Pradesh; 26,590 ha; 28°33'N 078°12'E. A shallow river stretch of the great Ganges with intermittent small stretches of deep-water pools and reservoirs upstream from barrages. The river provides habitat for IUCN Red listed Ganges River Dolphin, Gharial, Crocodile, 6 species of turtles, otters, 82 species of fish and more than hundred species of birds. Major plant species, some of which have high medicinal values, include Dalbergia sissoo, Saraca indica, Eucalyptus globulus, Ficus bengalensis, Dendrocalamus strictus, Tectona grandis, Azadirachta indica and aquatic Eichhorina. This river stretch has high Hindu religious importance for thousands of pilgrims and is used for cremation and holy baths for spiritual purification. Major threats are sewage discharge, agricultural runoff, and intensive fishing. Conservation activities carried out are plantation to prevent bank erosion, training on organic farming, and lobbying to ban commercial fishing. Ramsar site no. 1574.

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