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Ponds and prosperity

Restoration ecology should be an integral part of field work in environmental education, and summer camps for students could be designed for pond restoration, says Prof. P.J. Sanjeeva Raj, consultant ecologist.

Pond is central to the life and prosperity of the whole village ecosystem in rural India. In fact, villages originate around ponds, as around oases. Rain water gets harvested naturally by the pond, the lowest point in the village terrain, gets stored up, recharging the ground water and serving as an indicator of the water table in the village.

Village ponds are so degraded that their restoration is but a major chapter in the futuristic discipline of restoration ecology.

Ecosystem and biodiversity

Ponds have evolved their own unique composition of biodiversity wherein each species discharges its specific ecosystem functions. The classical lotus and water lilies blooming, clumps of the submerged ‘keystone' weed Hydrilla harbouring myriads of microbes and attracting varieties of shrimps, water bugs and snails, marginal reeds ( Typha) with colourful but vanishing dragon flies, and the duck weeds ( Spirodela and Lemna) helping to heal the waters by phytoremediation, extracting the excessive nutrients and pollutants from the pond, and also serving as food for fishes, tadpoles, ducks and cattle, are the wide variety of greenery (producers), in and around the pond. Frogs, tilapia fish, tortoises, flocks of egrets, pond herons, grebes, solitary grey herons, flocks of village ducks, and wallowing buffaloes are the other panoramic sights on a village pond.

Degradation of the village ponds may be chiefly due to failure of the monsoon rains or due to anthropogenic misuse or even abuse of the ponds.

Eco-restoration of the village ponds is a scientific eco-technology in wetland conservation. It should begin with de-silting the pond by deepening and widening it annually, leaving sloping margins all around.

An open and shallow well dug at the lowest point in the pond helps in the year-round conservation of water and its biodiversity. Also, flat mounds (islets) with vegetation and rocks, in the midst of water will enhance the habitat diversity to attract birds and other biodiversity. Channelising the free flow of rain water (but not sewage) from the village catchments is essential. Stocking the various niches of the pond with native vegetation and animals (but not with exotic forms), is the next step.

Management of the pond lies in not dumping any non-biodegradable wastes, particularly plastics into the pond and in not washing linen and vessels inside the pond. Colleges and schools could use the large force of NSS volunteers in restoring village ponds. Summer camps for students could be designed for pond restoration. After restoration, the ponds should be managed by women self-help groups (SHGs). The Punjab government is said to have sanctioned for the year 2011 alone Rs. 33.66 crore for renovating 512 village ponds in 20 districts.

Restoration of the village pond as a Common Property Resource (CPR) enhances the prosperity and the harmonious community life of the village.

Aquaculture of major carps (Catla, Rohu and Mrigal) and the prawn (Scampy) combined with the culture of the cleansing duck weeds, along with the protein and vitamin-rich freshwater Spirulina ( Arthrospira fusiformis) and polyculturing village ducks in the same pond are unexplored sources of rich supplementary income for village women. Greens and vegetables also can be grown around the pond. Village ponds relieve the pressure on the use of the scanty well water.

Village ponds could be field study centres in environmental education for the village school children, and also in pond ecology for college students. NGOs have a great opportunity for collaborating and getting involved in this novel restoration ecology in rural India.

The author is former HoD, Department of Zoology, Madras Christian College, Chennai


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Printable version | Jun 11, 2021 7:25:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/education/Ponds-and-prosperity/article14671608.ece

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