India, with 75, has the largest network of Ramsar Wetlands in Asia

India, with 75, has the largest network of Ramsar Wetlands in Asia

In the 75th year of Independence, the number of Ramsar sites in India stands at 75, covering an area of 13,26,678 ha, thanks to the recent addition of 11 more wetlands to the list. Among the eleven new sites, four are in Tamil Nadu (Chitrangudi Bird Sanctuary, 260.47 ha; SuchindramTheroor Wetland Complex, 94.23 ha; Vaduvur Bird Sanctuary, 112.64 ha; Kanjirankulam Bird Sanctuary, 96.89 ha), three in Odisha (Tampara Lake, 300 ha; Hirakud Reservoir, 65400 ha; Ansupa Lake, 231 ha), two in Jammu & Kashmir (Hygam Wetland Conservation Reserve, 801.82 ha; Shallbugh Wetland Conservation Reserve, 1675 ha), and one each in Madhya Pradesh (Yashwant Sagar, 822.90 ha), and Maharashtra (Thane Creek, 6521.08 ha). 

Prior to this, India had added ten more sites in the same month (August 2022), six of which are in Tamil Nadu (Koonthankulam Bird Sanctuary; Gulf of Mannar Marine Biosphere Reserve; Vembannur Wetland Complex; Vellode Bird Sanctuary; Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary; Udhayamarthandapuram Bird Sanctuary), and one each in Goa (Nanda Lake), Karnataka (Ranganathituu Bird Sanctuary), Odisha (Satkosia Gorge), and Madhya Pradesh (Sirpur Wetland).

India has 19 types of wetlands, including mangroves, ponds, marshes, and high-altitude lakes. Tamil Nadu now has the maximum number of Ramsar sites (14), followed by Uttar Pradesh(10). There were 26 Ramsar sites in India as of 2012, however, this number has skyrocketed in the past decade, with the country designating 49 wetlands as Ramsar sites. In the year 2022 itself, a total of 28 sites have been declared Ramsar sites.

The ‘Convention on Wetlands,’ often known as the Ramsar Convention, designates the Ramsar sites. The Ramsar Convention, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national and international cooperation for the conservation and prudent use of wetlands and their resources. 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 tides does not exceed six meters.”Wetlands are regions of land that experience seasonal or permanent flooding or saturation with water. Marshes, ponds, lakes, fens, rivers, floodplains, and swamps are inland wetlands, while saltwater marshes, estuaries, mangroves, lagoons, and even coral reefs are examples of coastal wetlands. Human-made wetlands include salt pans, rice paddies, and fish ponds.

Wetlands are areas of critical ecological significance because they support biodiversity, aid inflood control, and provide clean water, food, fiber, and raw materials. The benefits provided by the wetlands are called their ‘ecosystem services.’These unique natural resources are under threat from developmental activities and population pressure.

India ratified the Ramsar Convention on the 1st of February, 1982. The Convention has 172 Contracting Parties withover 2466 wetland habitats spread across approximately255,897,679 ha. It designates the suitable wetlands as ‘Wetlands of International Importance’ and ensures international cooperation between the members on transboundary wetlands, shared wetland systems, and shared species. The Convention also ensures wise usage of wetlands and their resources in terms of conservation of wetlands and sustainable use of wetlands, and all the services they provide, for the benefit of people and nature.

Any wetland can be designated as a Ramsar site if it meets one of the nine criteria defined by the Ramsar Convention:

  • Is a rare natural or near-natural wetland within an appropriate biogeographic region,
  • Supports vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered or threatened ecological communities,
  • Supports populations of plant and/or animal species important for maintaining the biological diversity of a particular biogeographic region,
  • Supports plant and/or animal species at a critical stage in their life cycles or provides refuge during adverse conditions,
  • Regularly supports 20,000 or more water birds,
  • Regularly supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies of water bird,
  • Supports a significant proportion of indigenous fish subspecies, species or families, life-history stages, species interactions and/or populations that are representative of wetland benefits and/or values,
  • Is an essential source of food for fishes, spawning ground, nursery and/or migration path on which fish stocks, either within the wetland or elsewhere, depend,
  • Regularly supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies of wetland-dependent non-avian animal species.

Designating a wetland as a Ramsar site helps increase its publicity and prestige, increasing its conservation and adequate use. It also provides access to expert advice on national and site-related problems of wetland conservation and management and encourages international cooperation on wetland issues, and brings the possibility of support for wetland projects, either through the Convention’s small grants assistance programmes or through the Convention’s contacts with multilateral and bilateral external support agencies.

Sirat Sandil