|Photo: Nivendran ; Wetlands – Crucial Ecosystem of Earth|
Wetlands are one of the most crucial ecosystems. They directly and indirectly support thousands of life forms which are either within it or are dependent on it. There is no ‘elixir’ precious than water and wetlands are nature’s way of preserving it. Wetlands are generally defined as land areas that are flooded with water either seasonally or permanently. They include lakes and rivers, swamps and marshes, oases, estuaries, deltas, mangroves, coral reefs, salt pans and human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies and reservoirs.
Considering the important role that the wetland plays in the sustaining life on earth and the need to protect it, a Convention on Wetlands was held at Ramsar, Iran in 1971. The signatories committed to work towards the wise use of all their wetlands and designate suitable wetlands for the list of ‘Wetlands of International Importance’. These wetlands are known as Ramsar sites. India has about 26 Ramsar sites as of 2016.
February 2nd is observed as World Wetlands day from 1997 to commemorate the date when the treaty was adopted. This day is used as a platform to create awareness about the value of wetlands for humanity and the planet. This year, the theme of The World Wetlands Day is ‘Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction’.
Wetlands provide a wide range of ecosystem services. When it rains, water flows into rivers or gets collected in lakes and ponds. Thus wetlands become a source of water for drinking, irrigation and other domestic and commercial purposes. Apart from recharging ground water resources, they host diverse flora and fauna. For example, wetlands such as Sambhar lake in Rajasthan and Nalsarovar lake in Gujarat host many migratory birds during winters. Similarly wetlands along eastern coast, such as Chilika lake host the endangered Olive Ridley Turtles.
Wetlands act as natural buffer against disasters. At the coastline, wetlands such as mangroves and corals act as a natural protective barrier which minimises the effects of storm, cyclone or tsunami. They also store CO2 thus helping fight climate change. Inland, they act as natural sponge, absorbing and storing excess rain water and reducing flooding. During the dry season, they release water thus delaying the onset of droughts and reducing water shortages.
In Coimbatore, eight major lakes and a river Noyyal together act as a integrated water resource. Whenever it rains, water flows into the lakes. It becomes a source for irrigation and ground water recharge. When lakes are on the verge of overflowing, the water gets channelled out through the Noyyal river, thus preventing flooding.
The infamous Chennai floods of 2015 can be attributed to the rapid urbanisation and the resulting destruction of wetlands and its catchments in the city. If we had maintained the wetlands such as Pallikaranai marshland, Adyar river and various other lakes properly, we could have prevented flooding and the resultant loss to property.
Thus it is our duty to preserve our wetlands at local level by community participation. Policy framework at national level is required and awareness must be created among all the stakeholders. This will result in sustainable development.
(B Ashwin Kumar is an M.Tech Infrastructure Engineering Design student. Completed B.Tech Energy and Environmental engineering. His Area of interests are Renewable energy, Smart Cities, Sustainability. tweet @ASHWINANNANAGAR )