What are wetlands?

"Areas of marsh, fen, peat land 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 6 meters," is how the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands defines wetlands.

The Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, of the Indian government's definition omits river channels, paddy fields, and other regions where commercial activity occurs.

Importance of Wetlands: "Kidneys of the Earth" is often used to describe wetlands. Wetlands provide numerous essential resources and ecosystem services, including food, water, fibre, groundwater recharge, water purification, flood mitigation, erosion control, and climate regulation. 

Major wetland types are:

  1. Marine - Coastal wetlands include coral reefs, rocky shorelines, and lagoons.
  2. Estuarine-Deltas, tidal marshes, and mangrove swamps are some examples. 
  3. Lacustrine-Wetlands near lakes  
  4. Riverine-Wetlands along rivers and streams  
  5. Palustrine-Marshy in nature, including bogs, marshes, and swamps.
  6. Man-made wetlands- examples include sewage farms, canals, saltpans, reservoirs, gravel pits, fish and shrimp ponds, and irrigated agricultural land.

What is the Ramsar Convention?

The year 1971 saw the creation of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance. It is named after the Iranian city of Ramsar.

It is an intergovernmental agreement that establishes the foundation for domestic and global action to support the preservation and responsible use of wetlands and their resources.

Wetlands designated as the convention's rigorous guidelines protect Ramsar areas.

According to the Convention, signatory nations may designate certain wetlands as "Ramsar sites" if they satisfy one or more of nine requirements (such as if it regularly supports 20,000 or more waterbirds).

What is the Montreux Accord?

The Montreux Record is a list of wetlands on the List of Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance where changes in ecological character have happened, are happening, or are probably going to happen due to progress in technology, pollution, or other human involvement.

  • It is a voluntary approach to draw attention to particular wetlands with global significance that are currently struggling. The Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance continues to include it.
  • The two Indian sites now classified under it are Loktak Lake in Manipur and Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan.
  • Due to the issue of siltation, Chilika Lake was also included in the Montreux Record in 1993; however, as the Indian government began to address the issue, Chilika Lake was eventually taken off the list.

India and the Ramsar Convention: The Ramsar Convention was ratified by India on February 1st, 1982. According to the Ramsar Convention, Chilika Lake in Odisha and Keoladeo National Park in Rajasthan were named the country's first two wetlands of international significance. The largest Ramsar Site in India is Sundarbans.

Ramsar Sites in India?

In its 75th year of independence, India added 11 more wetlands to the list of Ramsar sites, bringing the total to 75, now spanning an area of 13,26,677 ha. There are four new sites in Tamil Nadu, three in Odisha, two in Jammu & Kashmir, and one in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra among the eleven new locations. The designation of these areas would aid in the management, conservation, and efficient use of wetlands.

The state with the most Ramsar sites is Tamil Nadu, with 14 sites, followed by Uttar Pradesh, with ten sites.

Significance of a Ramsar Site designation

  • The Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules 2017 allow states to designate essential wetlands. State forest agencies may also identify important wetlands under the Central Asian Flyway Action Plan concurrently. Together, these can give these locations legal protection from a bird's point of view.
  • The Ramsar Secretariat's designation of a wetland as a wetland of global importance may not result in any additional financing from the international organization, but it is comparable to an accreditation.
  • After receiving a Ramsar tag, authorities must reinforce the local protection system, and defences against wetlands encroachment and other threats are also put in place.
  • A wetland receiving Ramsar site designation also increases its visibility to the general public.

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