The wealth of flora and fauna the Pallikaranai marsh offers is unbelievable. But, sadly, all may be lost… if we do not step in to save it.

All of us are familiar with the term opposites, aren't we? Light as opposed to dark, good vs. bad, beautiful vs. ugly, right?

Walk down the Perungudi road from the Kamakshi Hospital junction, Velachery, and reality hits you… hard. On one side is the sprawling, stinking rubbish dump and on the other side a vast, serene lake teeming with a variety of birds.

And this, bang in the middle of this precious eco system, called the wetlands. A recent walk by birders, who go on early morning walks to spot and record the different birds that enjoy the pleasanter side of the road, made shocking discoveries. There was garbage and muck on the road which forced the walkers to tread rather cautiously.

Graceful, white egrets perched atop the garbage dump along with scavenger birds like the crow and vulture. An unhealthy development in avian life, indeed and a cause for worry.

In the cool hours of morning, many birds were spotted.

Gleeful cries went out as birds were spotted. “Now I know that this is a bee eater,” said one, while another cross checked her bird guide to see whether it was a white ibis that she had seen. The Coots, Purple Moorhens, Little Grebes and Black tailed Godwits had a “field” day.

Birds that were reported as not seen else where have been spotted at the Pallikaranai Marsh, and this is one reason for it to be preserved.

The preservation and restoration of these vital habitats has become a primary goal of environmentalists around the world.

The garbage dump here handles a load of 80 - 100 tonnes a day. The pollution and the burning of garbage has harmed drinking water supplies and the flora and the fauna. Residents complain of respiratory problems.

What is an ecosystem?

An ecosystem is a complex set of relationships among living resources, habitats and residents in an area. It includes plants, trees, animals, fish, birds, microorganisms, water, soil and people. Everything that lives on an ecosystem is dependent on the other in the ecological community. If one part is damaged or disappears, it has a deep impact on everything else.

What is a wetland?

A wetland is a low-lying area that is saturated with moisture, and is often regarded as the natural habitat of wildlife. Marshes, swamps, and bogs are examples of wetlands.

Wetlands play a key role in the ecosystem. They act as filters, removing pollutants, including metals, from waters. They serve as reservoirs, and they aid flood and erosion control by absorbing excess water. Wetlands are home to a great variety of plant and animal species, some endangered, that have evolved to live in the wetland's unique conditions.

What can you do?

Awareness of what's happening is essential.

Read the newspaper, watch the news channels – both Indian and international, to ‘be in the know'.

Make field trips with parents and teachers.

Segregate waste at home – keep two bins for bio degradable and non bio gradable waste.

Form a club in your school/community, identify a particular problem and see what you can do about it.

The mission before you may seem impossible, but don't let it get you down, for there is hope.