Historically the wetlands in India (around the world) have been in tremendous pressure. Due to their apparent lack of potential financial benefits, wetlands have historically been drained and transformed by human activities like unplanned urban and agricultural development, industrial sites, road construction, impoundment, resource extraction, and dredge disposal causing substantial long-term economic and ecological loss.

Of the total aerial extent of 58.2 million ha of wetland in India, nearly 40.9 million ha is under paddy cultivation. About 3.6 million ha is suitable for fish culture, while approximately 2.9 million ha is under capture fisheries (brackish and freshwater). The Wildlife Institute of India conducted a survey on these aspects and revealed that 70 – 80 percent of individual fresh water marshes and lakes in the Gangetic flood plains have been lost in the last five decades. At present, only 50 percent of India’s wetlands remain. They are being lost at a rate of 2 to 3% every year.

An example of this wetland cannibalization is that of the Telineelapuram swamps – as documented by Sabyasachi.

The cumulative impacts of these activities threaten & strain biodiversity like never before.

Importance of wetlands:
Wetlands are essential ecological features in any landscape. They are primary habitat for hundreds of species of waterfowl as well as many other birds, fish, mammals and insects. It is estimated that about 20% of the known species of life rely directly or indirectly on wetlands for their survival, as they are their primary and important seasonal habitats.

Wetlands naturally filter and recharge the water that later comes out of our faucets downstream. They act like giant sponges, slowing the flow of surface water and reducing the impact of flooding. Periodically inundated wetlands are very effective in storing rainwater and have innate capacity to recharge the ground waters. Ground water recharge occurs through mineral soils found primarily around the edges of wetlands.

The loss or degradation of wetlands can lead to serious consequences, including increased flooding; species decline, deformity, or extinction; and decline in water quality. These losses, as well as degradation, have resulted in greatly diminishing the wetland resources across all India of which the loss of marsh avifauna diversity is conspicuous.

Wetlands in India;
India has totally 67,429 wetlands. Out of these, 2,175 are natural and 65,254, man made. Wetlands in India (excluding rivers), account for 18.4% of the country’s geographic area, of which 70% is under paddy cultivation.

Wetlands & Wildlife:
Wetlands are the most complex and the easiest ecosystem.

One of the best known wetland (swamps) in India is the man (or rather Maharaja) made swamp of Bharathpur Bird Sanctuary. Today it’s a heaven for many migratory and endemic birds. The Sunderbans (mangrove wetlands), Chilika, Mangalajodi have provided unique ecosystem for supporting avifauna and aquatic fauna.

In recent years, environmentalists and scientists around the world have to come to realize the centrality of the wetlands. The RAMSAR convention specifically talks about it. But we still see so much of untold degradation of the wetland.

How can that be reversed? How can we protect our wetlands?