Ramsar revolution

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In August two thousand and twenty two, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC) added ten wetlands to the List of Wetlands of International Importance (also called Ramsar Sites) within the framework of the Ramsar Convention. The number of Ramsar Sites in India is now an incredible sixty four, equal to that of China and the highest in Asia. With additional sites under consideration, the network is likely to increase to seventy five sites in the seventy fifth year of our Independence. India ratified the Ramsar Convention in nineteen eighty two. Keoladeo National Park (in Rajasthan) and Chilika (in Odisha) were the first two sites to be placed on the Ramsar List by the Government of India. Till nineteen ninety  only four more sites were added to the list, and another nineteen  over the following two decades. Since two thousand twelve Ramsar Site designation has received a significant policy push from the MoEFCC, and 38 wetlands have been added to the list since. The network of Indian Ramsar Sites currently covers 1.25 million ha, which is approximately eight  per cent of the known wetland extent of the country. The Ramsar sites in India are highly diverse. The sites range from Himalayan high-altitude wetlands (Tso-Moriri, Tso kar complex and Chandertal), to lakes and marshes (Wular, Hokera, Renuka, Keoladeo, Kabartal, Nawabganj, Loktak, Deepor, Rudrasagar, Sandi, Saman, Keshopur-Miani, Sultanpur, Nalsarovar, Sasthamkotta, Pala, NandurMadhmeswar, Kanwartal and Pallikarnai), river stretches (Upper Ganga River stretch, Beas Conservation Reserve, Kanjili and Satkosia), crater lake (Lonar), salinas (Sambhar), mangrove swamps (Sunderbans, Bhitarkanika, Pichavaram and Point Calimere) and lagoons, estuaries, and near-shore marine areas (Chilika, Ashtamudi, Vembanad-Kol and the Gulf of Mannar). Water storage areas (Pong, Harike, Bhoj, Surinsar-Mansar, Bhindawas, Sur Sarovar, Asan, Wadhvana, Thol, Ranganthittu, Udhayamarthandapuram, Vedanthangal, Nanda, Sirpur and Vellode) and assemblages of sewage-fed fish farms (East Kolkata Wetlands) have also been included in the list by the Government of India. While the smallest Ramsar Site is just 19.75 ha in area (Vembannur), the largest, the Sunderbans, spans 0.42 million ha. Ramsar Sites are one of the three pillars of the Ramsar Convention (the other two being working towards the wise use of wetlands and cooperating internationally on transboundary wetlands, shared wetlands and shared species). Ramsar Sites form ‘an international network of wetlands which are important for conserving global biological diversity and sustaining human life through the maintenance of their ecosystem components, processes and services. The international significance of these sites is indicated by their fulfilling at least one of the nine criteria set by the Convention. The contribution that Ramsar sites make to biological diversity can hardly be overemphasized. A recent compilation of faunal diversity of forty two Indian Ramsar Sites by the Zoological Survey of India enlists six thousand and two hundred species. For several of the faunal groups, these wetlands represent a significant share of the known diversity (for example, over one-third of recorded mammalian species, one-fifth of reptiles, and about two-thirds of known bird species). Chilika is known to support a population of over one  per cent of the known biogeographical population of over forty water bird species. The lagoon also maintains a healthy population and, is one of the only two lagoons in the world inhabited by the Irrawaddy Dolphin. KeibulLamjao, a floating national park south of Loktak, is the only known natural habitat of globally endangered swamp deer. The globally vulnerable Black-necked crane breeds in the region around Tso-Moriri. The Sunderbans are famed as the world’s largest single chunk of contiguous mangroves and an abode of the globally endangered Bengal Tiger. Spectacular flocks of flamingos can be seen at Sambhar and Point Calimere, whereas hordes of Bar-Headed Goose regularly visit Pong. The diversity of waterbirds visiting Keoladeo and Harike during migration often crosses over hundred species. The rich fisheries and tourism in Chilika form the livelihoods of 0.2 million fishers. Designating wetlands to the Ramsar Site network affirms a national government’s commitment to wise use. While the Ramsar site designation is a much-celebrated event, what happens after the designation holds the key to whether the very purpose of the designation is fulfilled. Delivery of Ramsar commitments is predicated on designing and implementing effective management actions that can secure the global values of the sites. Since 1986, the MoEFCC has been implementing a national scheme (presently known as the National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Ecosystems) to assist state governments in preparing and implementing integrated management plans for Ramsar sites and other priority wetlands. Ramsar sites need to be accorded a special status in the national wetlands program so as to ensure that their management meets international standards, financing is embedded within the state budgets as well leveraged by building convergence with ongoing conservation and development sector programs, and systematic monitoring enables capturing status and trends in ecological conditions. In November this year. This does not augur well for wetlands as these vital parts of landscapes are left at the margins of policy making and programming. Ramsar sights are required for protecting biodiversity and for that their maintenance has become of paramount importance.