India's eleven new Ramsar sites
The Bureau is very pleased to announce the designation by the Government of India of 11 new Wetlands of International Importance, bringing the Party's total to 19 Ramsar sites covering 648,507 hectares - these new sites were, in fact, added to the Ramsar List in early November 2001, but because of Ramsar COP8 it has taken us this long to prepare the brief site descriptions. These extremely interesting new sites range geographically all over the country, from three sites in Kerala in the southwest and another in Tamil Nadu in the southeast to another at 4,595m (15,075 feet) altitude in the Himalaya. They include coastal estuaries, dammed reservoirs, and lots of mangroves, and they include the famous East Calcutta wetlands, the traditionally developed natural urban waste water treatment system that is also enormously productive in fish and other commodities - and Bhoj wetlands at Bhopal in Madhya Pradesh, about which we featured a photo essay by Dr Madhu Verma about a year ago. Many of the sites qualify on hydrological grounds, many for their birds and some for their sea turtles, others for their support for fisheries, and a few are considered to be sacred in one way or another. It's well worth mentioning that WWF-India has been instrumental in the preparation of the site data for all of these new designations and is engaged in projects at many of them; indeed, many of the government's 'Ramsar Information Sheets', the site datasheets, contain valuable detailed recommendations for government and community actions for future management of the sites.
Ashtamudi Wetland. 19/08/02. Kerala. 61,400 ha. 08°57'N 076°35'E. An extensive estuarine system, the second largest in Kerala State, which is of extraordinary importance for its hydrological functions, its biodiversity, and its support for fish. The site supports a number of mangrove species as well as over 40 associated plant species, and 57 species of birds have been observed, including six that are migratory. Nearly 100 species of fish sustain a lively fishing industry, with thousands of fishermen depending directly upon the estuary for their livelihood. Population density and urban pressures pose threats to the site, including pollution from oil spills from thousands of fishing boats and from industries in the surrounding area and conversion of natural habitat for development purposes. Ramsar site no. 1204.
Bhitarkanika Mangroves. 19/08/02. Orissa. 65,000 ha. 20°39'N 086°54'E. Wildlife Sanctuary. One of the finest remaining patches of mangrove forests along the Indian coast - 25 years of continued conservation measures have made the site one of the best known wildlife sanctuaries. The site's Gahirmatha beach is said to host the largest known Olive Ridley sea turtle nesting beach in the world, with half a million nesting annually, and the site has the highest density of saltwater crocodile in the country, with nearly 700 Crocodylus porosus. It is a major breeding and wintering place for many resident and migratory waterbirds and is the east coast's major nursery for brackish water and estuarine fish fauna. Like many mangrove areas, the dense coastal forests provide vital protection for millions of people from devastating cyclones and tidal surges - of India's 58 recorded species of mangroves, 55 species are found in Bhitarkanika, a wider mangrove diversity than in the Sundarbans! Traditionally, sustainable harvesting of food, medicines, tannins, fuel wood, and construction materials, and particularly honey and fish, has been the rule, but population pressures and encroachment may threaten that equilibrium. Ramsar site no. 1205.
Bhoj Wetland. 19/08/02. Madhya Pradesh. 3,201 ha. 23°14'N 077°20'E. Two contiguous human-made reservoirs - the "Upper Lake" was created in the 11th century by construction of an earthen dam across the Kolans River, and the lower was constructed nearly 200 years ago, largely from leakage from the Upper, and is surrounded by the city of Bhopal. The lakes are very rich in biodiversity, particularly for macrophytes, phytoplankton, zooplankton, both natural and cultured fish species, both resident and migratory birds, insects, and reptiles and amphibians. Since implementation of a management action plan was begun in 1995 with financial support from the government of Japan, a number of bird species have been sighted which had rarely or never before been seen in the region. WWF-India has been of great assistance in preparing the site's designation. A photo essay is available at http://ramsar.org/photo_essay_india_bhoj.htm. Ramsar site no. 1206.
Deepor Beel. 19/08/02. Assam. 4,000 ha. 26°08'N 091°39'E. Sanctuary. A permanent freshwater lake in a former channel of the Brahmaputra river, of great biological importance and also essential as the only major storm water storage basin for the city of Guwahati. The beel is a staging site on migratory flyways and some of the largest concentrations of aquatic birds in Assam can be seen, especially in winter. Some globally threatened birds are supported, including Spotbilled Pelican (Pelicanus philippensis), Lesser and Greater Adjutant Stork (Leptoptilos javanicus and dubius), and Baer's Pochard (Aythya baeri). The 50 fish species present provide livelihoods for a number of surrounding villages, and nymphaea nuts and flowers, as well as ornamental fish, medicinal plants, and seeds of the Giant water lily Euryale ferox provide major revenue sources in local markets; orchids of commercial value are found in the neighboring forest. Potential threats include over-fishing and hunting pressure upon waterbirds, pollution from pesticides and fertilizers, and infestation by water hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes. A proposal to create a sewage canal from the city directly to the beel is considered to be disastrous in its potential effects. Ramsar site no. 1207.
East Calcutta Wetlands. 19/08/02. West Bengal. 12,500 ha. 22°27'N 088°27'E. World-renowned as a model of a multiple use wetland, the site's resource recovery systems, developed by local people through the ages, have saved the city of Calcutta from the costs of constructing and maintaining waste water treatment plants. The wetland forms an urban facility for treating the city's waste water and utilizing the treated water for pisciculture and agriculture, through the recovery of nutrients in an efficient manner - the water flows through fish ponds covering about 4,000 ha, and the ponds act as solar reactors and complete most of their bio-chemical reactions with the help of solar energy. Thus the system is described as "one of the rare examples of environmental protection and development management where a complex ecological process has been adopted by the local farmers for mastering the resource recovery activities" (RIS). The wetland provides about 150 tons of fresh vegetables daily, as well as some 10,500 tons of table fish per year, the latter providing livelihoods for about 50,000 people directly and as many again indirectly. The fish ponds are mostly operated by worker cooperatives, in some cases in legal associations and in others in cooperative groups whose tenurial rights are under legal challenge. A potential threat is seen in recent unauthorized use of the waste water outfall channels by industries which add metals to the canal sludge and threaten the edible quality of the fish and vegetables. Ramsar site no. 1208.
Kolleru Lake. 19/08/02. Andhra Pradesh. 90,100 ha. 16°37'N 081°12'E. Wildlife Sanctuary. A natural eutrophic lake, situated between the two major river basins of the Godavari and the Krishna, fed by two seasonal rivers and a number of drains and channels, which functions as a natural flood balancing reservoir between the deltas of the two rivers. It provides habitat for a number of resident and migratory birds, including declining numbers of the vulnerable Grey Pelican (Pelecanus philippensis), and sustains both culture and capture fisheries, agriculture and related occupations of the people in the area. Damage and losses due to flooding in monsoon seasons and partial drying out during summers, the results of inadequate management planning and action, are seen as areas for improvement. WWF-India has been of great assistance in preparing the site's designation. Ramsar site no. 1209.
Point Calimere Wildlife and Bird Sanctuary. 19/08/02. Tamil Nadu. 38,500 ha. 10°19'N 079°38'E. Wildlife Sanctuary. A coastal area consisting of shallow waters, shores, and long sand bars, intertidal flats and intertidal forests, chiefly mangrove, and seasonal, often-saline lagoons, as well as human-made salt exploitation sites. Some 257 species of birds have been recorded, 119 of them waterbirds, including the vulnerable species Spoonbill Sandpiper (Euryhorhynchus pygmaeus) and Grey Pelican (Pelecanus philippensis) and some 30,000 Greater and Lesser Flamingos. The site serves as the breeding ground or nursery for many commercially important species of fish, as well as for prawns and crabs. Some 35,000 fishermen and agriculturalists support their families around the borders of the sanctuary. Illegal collection of firewood and forest produce such as fruits (gathered by lopping off tree branches), the spread of Prosopis chilensis (Chilean mesquite), increasingly brackish groundwater caused by expansion of the historical salt works, and decreasing inflow of freshwater are all seen as potential causes for concern. Visitors come to the site both for recreation and for pilgrimage, as it is associated with Lord Rama. Ramsar site no. 1210.
Pong Dam Lake. 19/08/02. Himachal Pradesh. 15,662 ha. 32°01'N 076°05'E. Wildlife Sanctuary. A water storage reservoir created in 1975 on the Beas River in the low foothills of the Himalaya on the northern edge of the Indo-Gangetic plain. The RIS notes that "at a time when wetlands in northern India are getting reduced due to extensive drainage and reclamation, the avian habitats formed by the creation of the Pong Dam assume a great significance" - given the site's location on the trans-Himalayan flyway, more than 220 bird species have been identified, with 54 species of waterfowl. Hydrological values include monsoon-season flood prevention, both in the surroundings and downstream due to water regulation, groundwater recharge, silt trapping and prevention of soil erosion; electricity is generated for this and neighboring states, and irrigation water is being channeled to fertile areas of the Punjab and Rajasthan deserts. Low-yield subsistence fishing existed prior to impoundment, but since, a lucrative fishery has grown up, with 27 fish species and a yield increasing markedly each year - some 1800 fishermen now have direct employment and 1000 families benefit indirectly. A nature conservation education centre is found on the island of Ransar or Ramsar (sic). Recent management strategies have shifted away from law enforcement and use restrictions towards more participatory approaches and community awareness, and the site is well suited to "community-based ecotourism". Ramsar site no. 1211.
Sasthamkotta Lake. 19/08/02. Kerala. 373 ha. 09°02'N 076°37'E. The largest freshwater lake in Kerala state in the southwest of the country, spring-fed and the source of drinking water for half a million people in the Kollam district. Some 27 freshwater fish species are present. The water contains no common salts or other minerals and supports no water plants; a larva called "cavaborus" abounds and eliminates bacteria in the water, thus contributing to its exceptional purity. The ancient Sastha temple is an important pilgrimage centre. WWF-India has been of great assistance in preparing the site's designation. Ramsar site no. 1212.
Tsomoriri. 19/08/02. Jammu & Kashmir. 12,000 ha. 32°54'N 078°18'E. Wetland Reserve. A freshwater to brackish lake lying at 4,595m above sea level, with wet meadows and borax-laden wetlands along the shores. The site is said to represent the only breeding ground outside of China for one of the most endangered cranes, the Black-necked crane (Grus nigricollis), and the only breeding ground for Bar-headed geese in India. The Great Tibetan Sheep or Argali (Ovis ammon hodgsoni) and Tibetan Wild Ass (Equus kiang) are endemic to the Tibetan plateau, of which the Changthang is the westernmost part. The barley fields at Korzok have been described as the highest cultivated land in the world. With no outflow, evaporation in the arid steppe conditions causes varying levels of salinity. Ancient trade routes and now major trekking routes pass the site. The 400-year-old Korzok monastery attracts many tourists, and the wetland is considered sacred by local Buddhist communities and the water is not used by them. The local community dedicated Tsomoriri as a WWF Sacred Gift for the Living Planet in recognition of WWF-India's project work there. The rapidly growing attraction of the recently opened area to western tourists (currently 2500 per summer) as an "unspoilt destination" with pristine high desert landscapes and lively cultural traditions brings great promise but also potential threats to the ecosystem. Ramsar site no. 1213.
Vembanad-Kol Wetland. 19/08/02. Kerala. 151,250 ha. 09°50'N 076°45'E. The largest brackish, humid tropical wetland ecosystem on the southwest coast of India, fed by 10 rivers and typical of large estuarine systems on the western coast, renowned for its clams and supporting the third largest waterfowl population in India during the winter months. Over 90 species of resident birds and 50 species of migratory birds are found in the Kol area. Flood protection for thickly-populated coastal areas of three districts of Kerala is considered a major benefit, groundwater recharge helps to supply well water for the region, and the value of the system for the local transport of people and trade is considerable. Ramsar site no. 1214.