Weekend wandering in Wetlands

Hotfooting five wetland sites in India before they disappear

Tourism

February 22, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

wandering in Wetlands

Wetlands are disappearing three times faster than the forests due to human activities and global heating, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). With their disappearance, not only will the ecological aspects be lost but the immeasurable amount of scenic beauty would also spot a dark end.

Wetlands, a habitat where water is pivotal to the environment and its wildlife such as swamps, marshes, billabongs, lakes, salt marshes, mudflats, mangroves, coral reefs, fens, peat bogs can all be categorized as wetlands. Apart from providing a habitat to rare flora and fauna, wetlands also help in curbing multiple ecological problems. As a crucial link between land and water, wetlands protect the shores from wave action, reduce the impact of floods, absorb some pollutants and also improve the water quality.

These wetlands add weight to both, ecological diversity and conservation at the same time, making it imperative to preserve these sites. One of the oldest inter-governmental accords for preserving the ecological character of wetlands called the Ramsar Convention, signed in 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar, aims to develop a global network of wetlands for the conservation of biological diversity and for sustaining human life.  The Ramsar Convention designates sites containing representative, rare or unique wetlands, or wetlands that are important for conserving biological diversity. Once designated, these sites are known as Ramsar sites and are protected under strict laws.

In India where wetlands account for 4.7 pc of the total geographical area of the country, 37 sites have been designated as Ramsar sites. However some of these sites are constantly under tremendous stress due to rapid urbanisation, industrialisation and agricultural intensification, manifested by the shrinkage in their areal extent, and decline in the hydrological, economic and ecological functions they perform.

Here we mention five Ramsar sites in India that are under serious threat of being lost at the blink of an eye and should find their space on the itineraries of enthusiastic travellers.

Panorama of Himalayan lake Tso Moriri Tsomoriri Wetland Conservation Reserve, Ladakh, India

Tso Moriri Lake, Ladakh

At an altitude of 4522 metres, the Tso Moriri Lake in Ladakh is the largest high-altitude lake in India and is fed by springs and snow-melt from the adjacent mountains. Since the lake is oligotrophic in nature, (an abundance of dissolved oxygen making the water alkaline) the deeper parts have no vegetation, while the shallow areas exhibit some vegetation.

Encircled by high mountains, full of exotic migratory birds and the silence of the valley make the lake a focal point for tourists in the cold desert of Ladakh. While the lake remains frozen between the months of November to April, the summer months bring out the beauty of the pristine water and are packed with tourists from India and abroad.

Since 2017, the Indian government has made it mandatory for visitors to procure Inner Line Permit for Leh-Ladakh to visit the protected areas. The permit can be obtained online for a measly fee of about USD 6 (INR 427).

Migratory birds at Ropar Wetland

Ropar Wetland

Also called as the Ropar Lake, it is a man-made freshwater riverine wetland that covers about 14 square kilometres. Surrounded by the Shivalik Hills in the north-west and the plains in the south, eight hundred acres of the wetland are submerged under the Sutlej River.

This biologically diverse wet accommodates multiple species of birds, animals and aquatic life including one of the largest turtle species, the narrow-headed soft-shelled turtle which remains buried under sand in the river’s bed for most of its life.

As a popular destination for boating and bird-watching, it also has a tourism complex run by the Punjab government.

Bhitarkanika lakeside

Bhitarkanika Mangroves

In the Brahmani and Baitarani river deltas in Odisha lies the mangrove wetland of Bhitarkanika, one of the finest remaining patches of mangrove forests along the Indian coast. Of India’s 58 recorded species of mangroves, 55 species are found in Bhitarkanika, making it a wider mangrove diversity than the Sundarbans.

One of the largest known Olive Ridley sea turtle nesting beaches, the Gahirmatha beach provides a nesting ground for half a million turtles annually. The wetland is also widely known for having the highest density of saltwater crocodiles in the country. The 2019 Annual reptile census showed the presence of more than 1700 estuarine crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus) in the region.

 

Vembanad Lake

Vembanad Lake, Kerala

The longest lake in India and the largest in Kerala, Vembanad Lake spans across various districts in Kerala, with many little rivers and canals emptying into its vast contours. The Vembanad wetland system covers an area of over 2030 square kilometres, making it an ideal region for the famous Nehru Trophy Boat Race.

A prominent backwater destination, Vembanad Lake is usually piled with numerous kettuvallams (houseboats) that take the tourists to various intricate networks of alluring estuaries, blue-green lagoons and canals. Apart from boating, fishing and sightseeing, tourists can also visit the Kumarakom Bird Sanctuary, located on the east coast of the lake making it a favourite niche for migratory birds in Kerala.

Kolleru Lake

Kolleru Lake

The largest shallow freshwater lake in Asia and one of the largest freshwater lakes in India, Kolleru Lake is located15 kilometres away from the city of Eluru in Andhra Pradesh.

Situated between the deltas of Rivers Krishna and Godavari, Kolleru is connected to the Krishna and Godavari irrigation systems by over 67 major and minor irrigation canals and is fed directly by water from the seasonal Budameru and Tammileru streams. Siberian crane, ibis, and painted storks are amongst some of the species of birds that migrate to the region in winters making it one of the prime bird-watching destinations in the state. Boating in the lake remains a favourite amusement of the tourists visiting the lake.

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