PRESS RELEASE Embargoed for 12 Noon IST, Wednesday, February 2, 2000
February 2, 2000
More Wetlands to be Designated as Ramsar Sites
New Delhi -- The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, has identified 10 new wetlands and started the process of designation as Ramsar Sites in consultation with the World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF-India). The decision comes in the wake of the announcement by the Government at the Conference of the Parties to the Ramsar Convention (COP7) held at San Jose (Costa Rica) in May 1999.
The 10 wetland sites represent different aquatic habitats and cover a total area of nearly 11 lakh (1.1 million) hectares.
The identified sites are: Tso Morari (Jammu & Kashmir), Lali Sanctuary (Arunachal Pradesh), Dipor Beel (Assam), Pong Dam (Himachal Pradesh), Kabar Tal (Bihar), East Calcutta Wetlands (West Bengal), Bhitarkanika Sanctuary (Orissa), Point Calimere Sanctuary (Tamil Nadu), Pulicat Lake (Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh), and Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
To facilitate the process of designation of these sites, WWF-India is providing technical support to the Ministry, including information gathering and documentation of the selected sites aimed at preparing scientific monographs on each one of them.
The Government announcement coincided with the World Wetlands Day (February 2), which commemorates the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, also known as the Ramsar Convention, which came into being in 1971.
On the occasion, Mrs Malati Sinha, Additional Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, released an information brochure on wetlands, jointly produced by WWF-India and the National Institute of Ecology, Delhi. The brochure aims to generate public awareness about the importance of wetlands and their conservation.
Welcoming the decision, Mr. Samar Singh, Secretary General, World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF-India), said the announcement could not have come at a better time. Wetlands everywhere have come under severe threat as a result of ongoing drainage, land reclamation, pollution and over-exploitation of their resources. The decision to designate more wetlands as Ramsar Sites is a happy augury for wetlands conservation in the country and for the biodiversity wealth they nurture.
Since India became a contracting party to the Ramsar Convention in 1981, only six wetlands in the country have been designated as Ramsar Sites. This is in spite of the richness of aquatic ecosystem types in the country. The six Ramsar Sites in India do not represent even a fraction of the diversity of wetland habitats existing in the country. The government decision, therefore, assumes added significance, according to Mr Samar Singh, as also because there has always been a felt need for identifying additional wetlands for designation under the Ramsar Convention.
The Ramsar Convention came into force in 1975. There are 118 Contracting Parties (as of January 2000). In all, 1014 wetland sites have been designated as Ramsar Sites, with a total area of 72.7 million hectares. India became a Contracting Party to the Convention in October 1981, and designated Chilika Lake (Orissa) and Keoladeo National Park (Rajasthan) as its first two Ramsar Sites. Four additional sites were designated in 1990: Sambhar Lake (Rajasthan), Loktak Lake (Manipur), Harike Lake (Punjab) and Wular Lake (Jammu & Kashmir).
The Ministry of Environment & Forests is the nodal agency for implementing the conservation programme on wetlands, mangroves and coral reefs. Started in the 1980s, the programme is guided by a National Committee on Wetlands, Mangroves and Coral Reefs, constituted to advise the government on appropriate policies and programmes for the conservation of these ecosystems, to suggest specific sites for conservation action, and to identify research and training priorities. Several wetland sites in the country have been selected on a priority basis for conservation and management action, financial support for which is being extended by the Ministry.
WWF-India has been working on wetlands conservation for several years and has been involved with activities such as waterfowl counts, education and public awareness work, and lobbying with the government, both Union and State. A full-fledged, sustained conservation programme focusing on wetlands has evolved from these initial activities. WWF-India undertakes initiatives, both independently and in collaboration with partner organisations, as also helps strengthen the Government of India’s national programme. WWF-India's achievements have been significant, and it is now positioned to contribute to wetlands conservation in a substantive way.
Wetlands are basically wet lands where the soil is saturated with water for at least sometime during the year. Wetlands occupy the transitional zone between permanently wet and generally dry environments, which include a variety of habitats ranging from peat bogs to mangrove forests, ponds and marshes to floodplains and riparian swamps, shallow lakes and margins of large reservoirs to salt lakes, and brackish lagoons, estuaries and coastal salt marshes. The oases in deserts, extensive beds of marine algae and coral reefs are also wetlands.
The economic benefits of wetlands are evident in such values as water supply, through the maintenance of its quantity and quality; fisheries; agriculture, through the maintenance of water tables; grazing; timber production; energy resources, such as peat and plant matter; transport; and recreation and tourism opportunities.
Wetlands also nurture and provide sustenance to biological diversity, as is evident from the concentrations of birds (especially waterfowl), mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrate species, as well as countless plant species that they support. Another is their association with open landscapes, wildlife, local traditions, etc.
C. Shekhar Nambiar