Ladakh’s Tso Kar Wetland Complex now a Wetland of International Importance
India has added Tso Kar Wetland Complex in Ladakh as its 42nd Ramsar site, which is a second one in the Union Territory (UT) of Ladakh.
The Tso Kar Basin is a high-altitude wetland complex, consisting of two principal waterbodies, Startsapuk Tso, a freshwater lake of about 438 hectares to the south, and Tso Kar itself, a hypersaline lake of 1800 hectares to the north, situated in the Changthang region of Ladakh, India. It is called Tso Kar, meaning white lake, because of the white salt efflorescence found on the margins due to the evaporation of highly saline water.
The Tso Kar Basin is an A1 Category Important Bird Area (IBA) as per Bird Life International and a key staging site in the Central Asian Flyway. The site is also one of the most important breeding areas of the Black-necked Crane (Grus nigricollis) in India. This IBA is also the major breeding area for Great Crested Grebe (Podicepscristatus), Bar-headed Geese (Anserindicus), Ruddy Shelduck (Tadornaferruginea), Brown-headed Gull (Larusbrunnicephalus), Lesser Sand-Plover (Charadriusmongolus) and many other species.
The aim of the Ramsar list is “to develop and maintain an international network of wetlands which are important for the conservation of global biological diversity and for sustaining human life through the maintenance of their ecosystem components, processes and benefits”.
Wetlands provide a wide range of important resources and ecosystem services such as food, water, fibre, groundwater recharge, water purification, flood moderation, erosion control and climate regulation. They are, in fact a major source of water and our main supply of freshwater comes from an array of wetlands which help soak rainfall and recharge groundwater. Wetlands hold lot of carbon and those can get released into the atmosphere when they are filled up with mud and debris and reclaimed for human habitations.
The Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change has said that it would be working closely with the UT Wetland Authority to ensure wise use of the Tso Kar wetland complex. We hope MoEF&CC stays true to its words as most of our Ramsar sites are facing lot of neglect and anthropogenic challenges. Recently Sambhar Lake in Rajasthan was in news due to thousands of birds dying. Central Govt. had planned to allow seaplane landing and takeoff in Chilika lake in Odisha which would have threatened the ecological fragility of the lake. Fortunately Odisha Government due to public pressure raised its voice against the disastrous project and the seaplane project was withdrawn. Keoladeo Ghana in Rajasthan often faces challenge as the canals supplying water are blocked by the locals and hence birds don't get the fish to survive. In many years the bird nesting is affected due to paucity of water. Sundarbans wetlands is facing huge anthropogenic challenges. People are reclaiming the land and concretising due to population growth. There is also poaching of prey species like wild pigs and deers. Salinity is also increasing. So simply naming a wetland as Ramsar site doesn't automatically protect and resolve the ecological challenges faced by the place. Government has to show the resolve to walk the talk.