A wetland is a specific ecosystem that experiences seasonal or permanent flooding by water.
They are among the ecosystems with the greatest biological diversity since they are home to a variety and wide range of plants and animals.
On February 1, 1982, India ratified the “Convention on Wetlands,” commonly known as the “Ramsar Convention.”
Since then, it has selected 75 Ramsar sites totaling 13,26,677 hectares for inclusion on the List of Wetlands of International Importance. That makes India the top spot holder in South Asia and the third spot holder overall in Asia in terms of recognized sites.
Also read: Peatlands
Definition of Wetland
A wetland is described as “areas of marsh, peatland, or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish, or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tides does not exceed six meters.” under the Ramsar Convention.
Types of Wetland
There are several different types of wetlands in India. This great diversity has been made possible by the wide variety of precipitation patterns, physiography, geomorphology, and climate.
Marine and coastal: open coasts, coral reefs, estuaries, tidal flats, mangroves, and coastal lagoons.
Inland: permanent and seasonal rivers, inland deltas and floodplains, permanent and seasonal lakes and ponds, marshes, freshwater swamps, and peatlands
Human-made: reservoirs, barrages and dams, aquaculture ponds, wastewater treatment ponds, irrigation canals, irrigation ponds, and rice fields.
Also read: Natural Vegetation in India
Major types of wetlands are-
These wetlands were created with specific goals in mind, such as the storage of water for irrigation and drinking, fish production, or recreation. Some examples of man-made wetlands include dams, aquaculture ponds, and reservoirs.
A wide group of inland freshwater habitats, lakes, and ponds—also referred to as lentic systems, exist all over the world and offer vital resources and habitats for both terrestrial and aquatic species.
These are areas of land near rivers or streams that occasionally become submerged when water levels rise above the channel. The Yamuna floodplains are Delhi’s main water source.
Oxbows are formed when a river’s meander is blocked off by silt deposition or a river changes course, isolating a crescent-shaped body of water. There are many oxbows in the Ganga and Brahmaputra River basins. Ansupa is an oxbow in the Mahanadi Delta.
In these, herbaceous plants predominate, and water from sources other than direct rainfall, such as surface runoff, groundwater, or tidal flow, sustains them. In Bihar’s Burhi Gandak floodplains, there is a marsh called Kanwar Jheel (also known as Kabar Tal).
A coastal body of brackish water that is partially enclosed has one or more rivers or streams flowing into it, and has a free connection to the open sea is called an estuary. Estuaries serve as transitional areas between the habitats of rivers and the sea. A long sand berm divides the Chilika lagoon in Odisha from the Bay of Bengal.
Wetlands dominated by trees are called swamps. These have inadequate drainage, and an abundance of water to keep the ground soggy. Mangroves are coastal swamps that make the country’s largest deltas. The largest single continuous mangrove swamp in the world is called Sunderbans, and it extends over Bangladesh and India.
Benefits of Wetland
- Act as a Source of Water: They serve as our primary source of freshwater.
- Over 95% of the available freshwater is found in aquifers, making them the most important source of drinking water and irrigation.
- Numerous wetlands aid in soaking up rainwater and recharging groundwater.
- Serves as Flood and Storm Buffers: They reduce droughts and serve as flood buffers.
- It operates as sponges in the upper parts of a basin, absorbing precipitation and snowmelt and allowing water to gently percolate into the soil.
- By serving as natural barriers, coastal wetlands including mangroves, coral reefs, mudflats, and estuaries can reduce the destructive effects of storm surges and tidal waves.
- Act as a Source of Diverse Products: Wetlands that are sustainably managed can provide a variety of plants, animals, and mineral goods.
- Coastal wetlands are the source of about two-thirds of all fish.
- Asia produces more than three-fourths of its rice in wetlands.
- A significant part of the population, particularly those who live along their shorelines, depend on wetlands as a source of income.
- Acts as a Water Purifier: They have the ability to significantly lower the high levels of nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen, which are frequently connected with agricultural runoff.
- Numerous wetland plants have the ability to filter out hazardous compounds from pesticides, industrial waste, and mining.
- Continuous trash discharge, however, might result in environmental catastrophes if it exceeds the wetlands’ carrying capacity.
- For Recreation and Tourism: Wetlands are excellent locations for recreation and tourism due to their natural beauty and diversity of plant and animal life.
- However, careless tourism can put a strain on wetlands.
- Vulnerable to Climate Change: They are vulnerable to climate change, just as many other ecosystems.
- However, these ecosystems can lessen the effects of and adapt to a changing climate.
- Some wetlands, including mangroves and salt marshes, operate as carbon sinks, limiting the number of harmful greenhouse gases that are released into the atmosphere.
- Serves as a Habitat for Migratory Birds: Thousand bird species traverse thousands of miles between breeding and non-breeding places on a seasonal basis.
- Wetlands are used by migratory birds as rest stops, feeding grounds, and nesting grounds.
- The East Australasian and Central Asian Flyways are connected by Indian wetlands.
- Act as Home to Indigenous Species: Several wetlands serve as the home to many indigenous species that are either threatened or highly threatened.
- The only known natural home of the critically endangered brow-antlered deer is Keibul Lamjao, a floating national park south of Loktak (Rucervus eldii).
- The grasslands and marshes of Assam’s Kaziranga National Park are home to the majority of the world’s vulnerable Great Indian Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) population, which makes up more than 70% of the population.
Wetlands (Conservation and Management Rules), 2017
Under the provisions of the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, the Ministry of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change (MoEF&CC) has notified the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017 as the regulatory framework for the conservation and management of wetlands in India.
This is an important step toward preserving, managing, and maintaining the wetlands’ ecological identity without limiting their sensible use.
The 2017 Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules have improved the management of wetlands by shifting the responsibility from a central authority to state entities.
The regulations outline the National Wetland Committee’s advisory duty, which includes reviewing the progress of integrated management of Ramsar Convention areas and advising state agencies on wetlands’ integrated management, based on the principle of sensible use.
In order to assist State Governments and Union Territory (UT) Administrations in implementing the Rules, the Guidelines for the Rules have been developed.
They offer guidance on a number of different topics, including identifying wetlands for notification under the Rules, delineating wetlands, wetland complexes, and zones of influence, preparing a Brief Document, creating a list of activities to be regulated and permitted, and addressing the structure and operational issues of the Wetlands Authorities
National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems (NPCA)
The National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems (NPCA), which is being implemented by the Wetlands Division of the MoEFCC, is a centrally sponsored program for the conservation and management of wetlands in the nation on a cost-sharing basis between the Central Government and respective State/UT Governments.
The program aims to conserve and restore wetlands’ entirety in order to increase both biodiversity and ecosystems as well as water quality.
By supporting the creation and execution of integrated management plans, capacity building, and research, it seeks to encourage the mainstreaming of wetlands in developmental programming with States.
The approach of the program-
- Developing baseline information – Wetland Brief Document
- Rapid assessment of the condition of the wetlands – Wetland Health Card
- Stakeholder platforms to enable collaborative and participatory management – Wetlands Mitras
- Management planning addressing wetlands’ biodiversity and ecosystem services, values, and threats – Wetland Integrated Management Plan.
Article Written By: Priti Raj