February 2 is World Wetlands Day. Wetlands today are a threatened ecosystem due to a variety of reasons but chiefly because of the increasing populations encroaching on them.

So what’s all this fuss about wetlands you think. Vaguely you might remember that wetlands is a kind of habitat, full of water, some birds flying over it, some wading looking for fish, part of it full of reeds. Beautiful you think, perfect spot for a picnic. Yes you are partially right. But there is much much more to it.

According to the Ramsar Convention “Wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, 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 tide does not exceed six meters."

February 2 is World Wetlands Day. It marks the date of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands on February 2, 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar.

Each year, government agencies, non-governmental organisations, and groups of citizens undertake actions to raise public awareness on wetlands.

Wetlands are important for the existence of nature and mankind. Migratory birds, fish, amphibians, insects, plants and trees survive on this ecosystem.

There are different kinds of wetlands

Marshes/swamps: areas where water is more or less permanently at the surface and/or causing saturation of the soil (e.g. papyrus swamp, fen, peatlands)

Shallow lakes: areas of permanent or semi-permanent water with little flow (e.g. ponds, salt lakes, volcanic crater lakes).

Coasts: areas between land and open sea that are not influenced by rivers (e.g. shorelines, beaches, mangroves and coral reefs)

Estuaries: where rivers meet the sea and water changes from fresh to salt as it meets the sea (e.g. deltas, tidal mudflats and salt marches)

Floodplains: areas next to the permanent course of a river that extends to the edge of the valley (e.g. ox-bow lakes and river-islands)

In every country and climatic zone, from the Polar Regions to the tropics, wetlands are fundamental for human survival. They are dependent on each other. Wetlands provide food and water, control floods, stabilise shorelines, mitigate climate change and are home to a wide range of biodiversity.

Despite this, wetlands are threatened ecosystems as the rising populations encroach into the wetlands.

But hope is not lost. Conventions and groups around the world are aware of the crisis that they face and are battling to save this precious ecosystem.

Threatened wetlands:

Of the 27 million hectares of peat swamp forest originally found in Indonesia and Malaysia, 13 million hectares (48%) have already been intensively logged and drained for a variety of land uses. Its destruction is causing the release of an 2000 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year - equivalent to 8% of all global fossil fuel emissions.

Tanoé Swamps Forest in Côte d'Ivoire (Ivory Coast) is one of the last remaining old growth forests in the country and the last refuge for three highly endangered primates -- the Miss Waldron's Red Colobus, the Geoffroy's colobus and the Diana roloway -- as well as home to many endangered plant species. If the forest is destroyed, the three primate species as well as many plant species will almost certainly become globally extinct. Large amounts of carbon dioxide will be released from the carbon-rich swamp forests.

The Ruoergai marshes on the Eastern edge of the Tibetan plateau are one of the world’s largest high altitude peatlands. This regulates the flow of the Yellow River, the Yangtze and the Lancang River and therefore in the livelihoods of millions downstream. The peatlands are becoming heavily degraded due to overgrazing, drainage and mining of peat for fuel. Water levels are decreasing leading to ecosystem degradation, peat loss and desertification. As a consequence the capacity of the area to store excess rainwater is diminishing.

Vembanad Kol is in the backwaters of Kerala is a brackish water system. The wetland system is within a large urban and industrial area in Kerala. It is a tourist attraction.

River Jhelum is the life line of Kashmir. The entire basin is dotted with wetlands ranging from glaciated lakes within the hills to floodplain lakes and marshes within the valley. Among these, Dal Lake has received a lot of attention and is the main tourist attraction of the valley.

Wular Lake lake is part of the Jehlum Basin. Once the largest lake in Asia it has been grossly ignored despite its rich biodiversity and significant role in hydrography of Kashmir. The Wular Lake with its associated wetlands supports rich biodiversity and provides important habitats for migratory waterbirds within Central Asian Flyway.

The lake has a storage capacity of 170 million cubic metres of water, which is fed by glaciers that are receding at a pace that is amongst the fastest in the world. The lake is the largest fisheries resource in Kashmir Valley supporting livelihoods of large human population living along its fringes.

Loktak Lake, the largest wetland of north-eastern region of India, was traditionally used for agriculture and fisheries and the locals managed its rich biodiversity including highly endangered ungulate species, locally called Sangai. But “development” without comprehension has led to the degradation of the ecosystem. Deforestation and increasing demands of fodder, fuel and other forest products contributed to enhanced siltation and reduction of its water holding capacity. Construction of hydraulic structures for irrigation and hydropower generation further compounded the problems of lake siltation, nutrient enrichment and reduced migration of fish species.

Development has altered hydrological regimes and reduced biodiversity in Chilika Lake. Less water is now flowing into the lagoon, which causes saltwater to intrude and the lagoon mouth to choke. Fish migration has fallen drastically and people who depend on fishing have to migrate to other areas.

The problems seems to be enormous but remember that is always something that you can support, sign up for, give your signature to, or just do.

Join the battle

First step: Be aware

Go with parents/school bodies to a wetland near your area

Take notes on what you see

Form a club in school

Check out: Wetlands International South Asia, A 25, Second Floor,

Defence Colony, New Delhi - 110024

INDIA

Tel: +91 11 24338906, 32927908

Fax: +91 11 24338906

E-mail: wi.southasia@wi-sa.org

http://www.wetlands.org