If you’ve watched this video then you’ll probably know that wetlands are extremely important in order to maintain the ecological bio-diversity of our planet. But clearly they’re in trouble.
Let’s do a quick round of FAQs to explain the situation.
1. What classifies as a “wetland”?
Break up the word. Wetlands are neither all water, nor are they all land. They’re in between (like edges of rivers, lakes, marshy areas, swamps, etc.). They’re classified based on a number of criteria, and based on the checks they get on this list, they’re given the necessary attention.
Here’s what a report on the Ramsar Convention website claims:
Criteria #1: It should be a rare or unique example of a wetland
For a wetland to be classified as one, it should support and refuge threatened ecological communities, plants and animal species during critical times of their lives.
Criteria #2: It should support water birds
A wetland should regularly support a minimum of 20,000 water birds! That’s why you’ll always see so many bird watchers by a lake or pond.
Criteria #3: It should support fish
The area should support a chunk of the fish species and sub-species native to that area, and be a source of food for them.
Criteria #4: It should be a source of water, life and culture
To be categorised as such, wetlands also need to support human life in terms of food and water, increasing the possibilities for recreation, eco-tourism and educational opportunities.
2. Why exactly are wetlands under threat?
Because of rapid urbanisation
Since people are clueless about the benefits of wetlands, they continue to destroy them for urbanization. Thanks to this, a region of Bengaluru lost 66 wetlands between 1973 and 2007!
In Jammu and Kashmir, the Wular Lake and Mirgund wetlands have been reduced to 1/3 their original size because of the dams built in the area and willow trees that were planted by government authorities. The East Kolkata Wetlands, the Mumbai MMRDA Wetlands, Chilika, Loktak, Kashmir Wetlands, are all examples of wetlands that have been affected by the pollution caused by urbanisation.
Because they are connected to other water bodies
There’s a danger to wetlands that are connected to water bodies like the rivers (and then by default, dams). Wetlands like the Ramsar Wetland, Renuka Wetland, Keoladheo Ghana Sanctuary, Upper Ganga Ramsar Site, Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary, Loktak Lake, Chilika Lake, Vembnad Kole, to name a few, were all affected by the change in water flow and groundwater levels when dams popped up close by. In spite of many legal complaints, the Government hasn’t done much to address these connections.
Because no new wetlands have been notified for the past 5 years
Despite programmes like the National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Eco-systems (NPCA), no new wetlands have been identified under the Wetland Rules 2010. This is because while the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MOEF) approved the creation of the NPCA, by integrating the National Wetlands Conservation Programme (NWCP) and the National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP), it hasn’t overlooked the execution of this new plan, leaving India’s wetlands without a competent government body or organization to protect them.
3. What happens if we don’t find our Jake Sully?
There are hundreds of fantastic organisations doing great work to protect these ecosystems. But just in case they don’t manage to get the job done, here’s what we’re in for:
Water and waste will remain toxic
Did you know that marshes naturally detoxify waste by removing it’s nitrate and phosphorus content? The East Kolkata Wetlands are a great example of this natural sewage treatment system in action. Unfortunately, because these wetlands are polluted to a choking point and very little is being done to stop or limit this pollution, the water remains untreated.
Floods will become inevitable
Wetlands control floods by absorbing floodwater, trapping its speed and acting as a natural barrier. But without them, we’re doomed. Case in point, the Kashmir floods of 2014.
Climate will continue to change for the worse
Mangroves and floodplains are important for our ecosystem to work like clockwork. Wetlands absorb carbon from the atmosphere, acting as a “Carbon Sink”. Numerically, mangroves are able to seize approximately 1.5 tonnes of carbon a year!
The Bhitarkanika Mangrove ecosystem in Orissa (2nd largest mangrove forest in the country) was the reason why villages avoided damage during the 1999 cyclone. But with deforestation reducing the areas mangrove forests, climate change is a real threat now.
A world without wetlands is like a bathroom without a drain. Very soon it will get gross, and impossible to use. So we need to be talking about wetlands a lot more that we do.