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Conservationists concerned over Assam’s shrinking Ramsar site

A villager collects seeds from Giant Water Lilies commonly known as Makhana (Euryale ferox) in the Deepor Beel Bird Sanctuary in Guwahati.   | Photo Credit: Ritu Raj Konwar

Assam’s only Ramsar site has shrunk by at least 35% since 1991, raising an alarm among conservationists on World Wetlands Day on Sunday.

The day marks the date of adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on February 2, 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the Caspian Sea shore. A Ramsar site is a wetland designated to be of international importance under this convention.

Deepor Beel, a freshwater lake on the south-western edge of Guwahati, was designated a Ramsar site in 2002 for sustaining a range of aquatic life forms besides sustaining 219 species of birds. The beel officially has an area of 4,014 hectares or 15.5 square miles.

The area of the beel was about 6,000 hectares in the late 1980s, hydrological experts said.

“Satellite imagery makes it apparent that Deepor Beel is shrinking fast and since 1991, at least 35% of its water coverage area has declined. This is primarily because the wetland is losing connectivity with small rivers like Kalmoni, Khonajan and Basistha that used to flow via the Mora Bharalu channel,” Bibhav Talukdar of green group Aaranyak told The Hindu.

Expansion of the city, encroachment upon the natural channels through Guwahati and from the hills around and a municipal waste dump at Boragaon almost on the edge of the wetland are factors, he added.

“The government is apparently not worried about the health of this wetland that also sustains a major population of wild elephants from the adjoining Rani Reserve Forest. If it had, the municipal waste dump would have been removed following an order of the National Green Tribunal (NGT),” environment activist Rohit Choudhury said.

Mr Choudhury had petitioned the NGT in 2014 for removal of the garbage dump, seepage from which has contaminated part of the wetland. The NGT had a year ago ordered the local administration to remove the garbage dump by December 31, 2019.

Officials of the Guwahati Municipal Corporation and the local development authority said four alternative sites had been identified. But the garbage dump could not be shifted because of opposition from the local people there.

Deepor Beel is not the only wetland that is fragmented and losing its aquatic wealth, green groups said. One of them is Sohola Beel, which continues to be the largest wetland in Kaziranga National Park despite area shrinkage due to siltation.

Assam has 3,513 wetlands and a majority of them have water with low turbidity, officials said.

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Printable version | May 19, 2021 7:10:41 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/conservationists-concerned-over-assams-shrinking-ramsar-site/article30724405.ece

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