Conservationists call for Indian wetland protection

Conservationists are urging the Indian government to seek international protection for the country's wetlands at a summit in Korea later this year.

As part of their campaign, the Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) presented Indian vice president Mohammad Hamid Ansari with a book called Potential and Existing Ramsar sites in India at a special ceremony in New Delhi last Friday.

It describes 160 coastal and freshwater sites of which only 25 have been classified as wetlands of international importance under the international Ramsar Treaty.

BNHS director Dr Asad Rahmani, who co-authored the 560-page book with fellow society member Zafar ul Islam, said: “Wetlands play a major role in the ecological security of our country.

“With the looming threat of climate change and food scarcity, we must protect our existing wetlands and revive degraded ones so they can play their ecological role.”

Campaigners believe the unclassified wetlands are in dire need of protection from threats, including pollution and development.

The areas range from the Deepor Beel bird sanctuary in Assam to the Tisgul Tso marshes of Lakakh in the Himalayas and Suchindram and Theroor wetlands at the southernmost tip of India.

The BNHS and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) is urging the Indian government to give many more wetlands refuge status at the next Ramsar Convention in South Korea in October.

In the book the authors describe the wetlands as “liquid treasures” and say the 25 existing Ramsar sites are just a fraction of the country’s existing wetland habitats.

They argue wetlands are important both to sustain agriculture and for biodiversity conservation, as some of the most endangered species survive in them.

Speaking at the ceremony, Mr Ansari appeared to back support their views. He described the existing number of Ramsar sites as not doing “justice to the existing biodiversity in the country”.

He praised the author’s efforts to identify potential sites, saying: “Let us hope that their immense contribution would assist the Ministry of Environment in its efforts and eventually lead to some of these sites being recognised as wetlands of international importance.”

Ian Barber, an RSPB Asia specialist, said: “The book is a major step forward in detailing India’s environmental riches.

“India is one of the world’s top ten countries for diversity of wildlife and we hope the Indian government will do all it can to recognise this and protect the ecological wealth few other nations have.”

David Gibbs

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