ROHINI RAMAKRISHNAN

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.

February 2 is World Wetlands Day. What’s the brouhaha about wetlands? Why have a special day for it? Well, the fact of the matter is that wetlands are important for the existence of nature and people. Migratory birds, fish, amphibians, insects, plants and trees survive on this ecosystem. Wetlands provide food and water, control floods, stabilize shorelines, mitigate climate change and are home to a wide range of biodiversity. Plant life includes mangroves, water lilies, cattails, sedges, tamarack, black spruce, cypress and more. Animal life includes many different amphibians, reptiles, birds and furbearers.

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So what's all this fuss about wetlands? 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 partly right. But there is 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.”

For existence

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 do their bit 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. In every country and climatic zone, from the Polar Regions to the tropics, wetlands are fundamental for human survival. They are interdependent. 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 upon the wetlands.

But all 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.

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Different types of wetlands

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

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

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

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

Threatened wetlands

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.

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.

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

The 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 This is part of the Jhelum Basin. Once the largest lake in Asia it has been greatly ignored despite its rich biodiversity and significant role in hydrography of Kashmir.

Loktak Lake, the largest wetland of north-eastern region of India, was traditionally used for agriculture and fishing and the locals managed its rich biodiversity including highly endangered ungulate species, locally called Sangai. But “development” has led to the degradation of the ecosystem.

Chilika Lake Less water is now flowing into the lagoon, causing saltwater to intrude and the lagoon mouth to choke.

Find out more about wetlands under threat. The problems seem to be enormous but remember that there is always something that you can support, sign up for, give your signature to, or just do.

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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