1. What are Wetlands
1.1 Concepts :
According to Ramsar Handbook, 2016 Wetlands are among the world’s most productive environments. They are wellsprings of biological diversity, providing the water and primary productivity upon which countless species of plants and animals depend for survival. The Ramsar handbook also states that they support high concentrations of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrate species and are storehouse of plant genetic material. There are various definitions of wetlands .
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Some of the definitions are as follows:
Scott, 1989 defined wetlands as “areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres”.
Wetland includes lands transitional between terrestrial and aquatic systems where the water table is at or near the surface, or the land is covered by shallow water(Cowardin et al 1979).
According to U.S. Environmental protection agency ” wetlands are those areas that are inundated or saturated by surface and ground water at a frequency and duration sufficient to support, and that under normal circumstances do support, a prevalence of vegetation typically adapted for life in saturated soil conditions. Wetlands generally include swamps, marshes, bogs, and similar areas.”
The Queensland Wetland Strategy(1999) defines wetland as ” areas of permanent or periodic/intermittent inundation, whether natural or artificial, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed 6 metres.”
1.2 The Ramsar convention
The Ramsar convention (Iran, 1971) is an inter-governmental treaty whose mission is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local, regional and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”. As of January 2016, 169 nations have joined the Convention as Contracting Parties. This convention covers more than 2220 wetlands. The total area covered under this convention is over 214 million hectares.
1.2.1 Ramsar wetland type classification
According to Ramsar convention wetlands are classified in different categories. Broadly there are three categories namely marine/coastal wetlands, inland wetlands and human-made wetlands. Further, they are classified into sub categories. This classification aims to identify main wetland habitats represented at each site.
A — Permanent shallow marine waters in most cases less than six metres deep at low tide; includes sea bays and straits.
B — Marine subtidal aquatic beds; includes kelp beds, sea-grass beds, tropical marine meadows.
C — Coral reefs.
D — Rocky marine shores; includes rocky offshore islands, sea cliffs.
E — Sand, shingle or pebble shores; includes sand bars, spits and sandy islets; includes dune systems and humid dune slacks.
F — Estuarine waters; permanent water of estuaries and estuarine systems of deltas.
G — Intertidal mud, sand or salt flats.
H — Intertidal marshes; includes salt marshes, salt meadows, saltings, raised salt marshes; includes tidal brackish and freshwater marshes.
I — Intertidal forested wetlands; includes mangrove swamps, nipah swamps and tidal freshwater swamp forests.
J — Coastal brackish/saline lagoons; brackish to saline lagoons with at least one relatively narrow connection to the sea.
K — Coastal freshwater lagoons; includes freshwater delta lagoons.
Zk(a) – Karst and other subterranean hydrological systems, marine/coastal
L — Permanent inland deltas.
M — Permanent rivers/streams/creeks; includes waterfalls.
N — Seasonal/intermittent/irregular rivers/streams/creeks.
O — Permanent freshwater lakes (over 8 ha); includes large oxbow lakes.
P — Seasonal/intermittent freshwater lakes (over 8 ha); includes floodplain lakes.
Q — Permanent saline/brackish/alkaline lakes.
R — Seasonal/intermittent saline/brackish/alkaline lakes and flats.
Sp –Permanent saline/brackish/alkaline marshes/pools.
Ss–Seasonal/intermittent saline/brackish/alkaline marshes/pools.
Tp –Permanent freshwater marshes/pools; ponds (below 8ha), marshes and swamps on inorganic soils; with emergent vegetation water-logged for at least most of the growing season.
Ts –Seasonal/intermittent freshwater marshes/pools on inorganic soils; includes sloughs, potholes, seasonally flooded meadows, sedge marshes.
U — Non-forested peatlands; includes shrub or open bogs, swamps, fens.
Va –Alpine wetlands; includes alpine meadows, temporary waters from snowmelt.
Vt –Tundra wetlands; includes tundra pools, temporary waters from snowmelt.
W –Shrub-dominated wetlands; shrub swamps, shrub-dominated freshwater marshes, shrub carr, alder thicket on inorganic soils.
Xf — Freshwater, tree-dominated wetlands; includes freshwater swamp forests, seasonally flooded forests, wooded swamps on inorganic soils.
Xp –Forested peatlands; peatswamp forests.
Y — Freshwater springs; oases.
Zg –Geothermal wetlands
Zk(b) – Karst and other subterranean hydrological systems, inland
1 — Aquaculture (e.g., fish/shrimp) ponds
2 — Ponds; includes farm ponds, stock ponds, small tanks; (generally below 8 ha).
3 — Irrigated land; includes irrigation channels and rice fields.
4 — Seasonally flooded agricultural land (including intensively managed or grazed wet meadow or pasture).
5 — Salt exploitation sites; salt pans, salines, etc.
6 — Water storage areas; reservoirs/barrages/dams/impoundments (generally over 8 ha).
7 — Excavations; gravel/brick/clay pits; borrow pits, mining pools.
8 — Wastewater treatment areas; sewage farms, settling ponds, oxidation basins, etc.
9 — Canals and drainage channels, ditches.
Zk(c) – Karst and other subterranean hydrological systems, human-made
Climatic zones of earth
There are 4 major climate zones:
It lies between 0°–23.5° (between the tropics). In the regions between the equator and the tropics (equatorial region), the solar radiation reaches the ground nearly vertically at noontime during almost the entire year. Thereby, it is very warm in these regions. Through high temperatures, more water evaporates and the air is often moist. The resulting frequent and dense cloud cover reduces the effect of solar radiation on ground temperature.
It lies between 23.5°–40°. The subtropics receive the highest radiation in summer, since the Sun’s angle at noon is almost vertical to the Earth, whilst the cloud cover is relatively thin. These regions receive less moisture (see trade winds), what increases the effect of radiation. Therefore, most of the deserts in the world are situated in this zone. In winter, the radiation in these regions decreases significantly, and it can temporarily be very cool and moist.
It lies between 40°–60°. In the temperate zone, the solar radiation arrives with a smaller angle, and the average temperatures here are much cooler than in the subtropics. The seasons and daylength differ significantly in the course of a year. The climate is characterised by less frequent extremes, a more regular distribution of the precipitation over the year and a longer vegetation period – therefore the name “temperate”.
It lies between 60°–90°.The polar areas between 60° latitude and the poles receive less heat through solar radiation, since the Sun has a very flat angle toward the ground. Because of the changes of the Earth axis angle to the Sun, the daylength varies most in this zone. In the summer, polar days occur. Vegetation is only possible during a few months per year and even then is often sparse. The conditions for life in these regions are very hard.
The characteristics of the climate zones change with great altitude differences within a small area, like in mountain areas, since temperatures decrease rapidly with altitude, changing the climate compared to valleys.
Keoladeo National Park
Keoladeo National Park is a shallow wetland having an area 2,873ha. It lies in a natural depression and it is 172-175m above sea level lying along the Indogangetic plains. It is situated 2km southeast of Bharatpur City and 180km south of Delhi. The area was developed by the Maharajah of Bharatpur in the 1850s and it was declared a Bird Sanctuary in 1956.
Keoladeo is flooded during the southwest monsoon (end of June-September).
It receives an average 660mm rainfall.it was declared a protected forest in 1967 and later a Ramsar site in 1981. It serves as a staging ground for migratory waterfowl and forms an important wintering ground for the threatened Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus (IUCN Red List, 1994). It was included in the list of National Parks in 1982 and declared a World Heritage site in 1985. The park is surrounded by nine villages with a total population of around 15,000 people who originally depended on the park for fuel, fodder, timber, etc. They ceased to have any rights after the declaration of the National Park.
The aquatic vegetation is rich in Keoladeo National Park. There are 96 species of submerged and emergent plants as well as a diversity of scrub forests including woodlands, scrub woodlands, woodland savannahs, shrub savannahs, and grass savannahs. It consists various floristic combinations of the trees and grasses like Mitragyna parvifolia, Syzygium cumini, Ziziphus mauritiana, Prosopis cineraria, Acacia leucophloea, Acacia nilotica, Capparis sepiaria, Vetiveria zizanioides, Desmostachya bipinnata and Cynodon dactylon. There are 350 species of plants found in this small area. This diversity of plant life supports a high vertebrate diversity including fish (50 species), amphibians (5 species), reptiles (28 species), birds (369 species), and mammals (29 species). Of the bird species present a significant number are considered globally threatened (IUCN Red List, 1994) including Dalmation Pelican Pelecanus crispus, Grey PelicanPelicanus philippenses, Adjutant Stork Leptoptilos dubius, Lesser Adjutant Stork Leptoptilos javanicus , Baikal Teal Anas formosa, Baer’s Pochard Aythya baeri, Marbled TealMarmaronetta angustirostris, Cinereous Vulture Aegypius monachus, Imperial EagleAquila heliaca, Pallas’s Fishing Eagle Haliaeetus leucoryphus, Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus, and Sociable Lapwing Vanellus gregarius. Threatened mammals recorded within the park include Bengal Fox Vulpes bengalensis, Fishing Cat Prionailurusviverrinus, and Smooth Indian Otter Lutra perspicillata (IUCN Red List, 1994).
Threats and Conservation Efforts
Water is of critical importance for the health of this wetland. Although once a flood prone area, water became scarce after the construction of the Panchna dam in the catchment area and Keoladeo now faces drought, barring years of exceptionally good rainfall. The Rajasthan Government has taken a decision to give the park priority over the irrigation needs of the farmers. Of the two sources of water available to the park, the Yamuna River is not desirable because of the high level of pollutants, and drawing water from the Chambal River involves considerable expenditure since the river is at a lower level than the park and water has to be pumped. Overall, a permanent solution to the water supply problem at Keoladeo is yet to be found.
As the park has become a popular tourist spot, it attracts more than 100,000 visitors annually. This has encouraged hotel construction around the park which threatens to surround the park from all sides and increase pollution. This can be controlled by enforcing the Environmental Protection Act of 1986 in this area.
The park was originally a major wintering ground of the Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranusbut their numbers have dwindled over the years. Efforts to conserve the declining population were made
jointly by the Governments of India and the Russian Federation, the International Crane Foundation and the Wildbird Society of Japan. Siberian Crane chicks from two sources, parent reared and costume reared (the latter involved humans disguised as cranes who mimicked the postures used by adult cranes towards their chicks) were flown to India and released in the wild to allow them to integrate with the wild population. Although the non-arrival of wild birds caused an initial setback, the young birds were kept in the park during the summer and the final outcome was encouraging as the birds survived and became free ranging, flying within a radius of 20-30km. Last winter (1995/1996) these birds flew off from the park. There are plans to release more birds and monitor their movements using radiotelemetry.
Paspalum distichum, an amphibious grass which formed a mat in the water areas after grazing was terminated, has been effectively checked by controlling water levels and allowing the villagers to collect grass from the park. However, a study may also be undertaken to investigate the effects of grazing by water buffaloes as a further means of control. Prosopis juliflora, an exotic tree species which grows in the park, is controlled by girdling the trees at collar level, extracting the poles manually, and flooding the sapling area with water to check their growth. The Water Hyacinth Eichhornia crassipes is extracted manually, and cut-back operations are undertaken to check the sedge Cyperus alopecuroides. Khus grass Vetiveria zizanioides, which invades water areas during drought periods, is expanding in some areas and various management techniques are used to control this species.
Since the park is surrounded by human populations who once depended on the park, it was felt that their involvement in conservation efforts was important. A detailed Participatory Rural Appraisal was conducted by the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) with the cooperation of the Forest Department, Rajasthan. The problems were discussed in villages where at least 50% of the villagers’ participation was ensured and solutions were sought from them. A report submitted by WWF is currently being considered by the department. The Park authorities have also employed the local villagers as guides and rickshaw pullers for visitors and as labourers for the management activities within the park.
It is recognized that the education of the villagers with respect to conservation issues and the role of the park is important and a Conservation Education Project is being undertaken around the park by the Bombay Natural History Society, Bombay.
Kushiro Marsh (Japan)
Kushiro Marsh is located in eastern Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan’s four main islands, and separated from the Pacific Ocean by Kushiro city.
In eastern Hokkaido, especially the Kushiro region, fog often covers the area in summer with the number of foggy days amounting to more than 110 days per year. This area has the smallest number of daylight hours per year in Japan. Climatically, eastern Hokkaido is in the cool temperate zone with an average annual temperature of less than 15.50C (600F). The marsh is of a typical boreal nature in the lowland region of the east coast of Hokkaido.
Covering an area of 18,290ha, the marsh accounts for approximately 60% of the total area of peatlands in Japan. The peat is currently 3-6m in thickness. The marsh is 2-10m above sea level, surrounded by hills which are about 100m above the sea level to the west, north and east. More than 10 tributaries of the Kushiro River meander through the marsh.
The Flora and Fauna of Kushiro Marsh
The marsh is composed of three types of vegetation: peat bog located in the central area; fen, reed and sedge marsh which surrounds the peat bog; and alder swamp forest, distributed on the marsh margins near hills, and the levee areas of rivers and floodplains within the marsh. Fen, reed and sedge marsh forms approximately 70% of the marsh area, where it is a very important habitat of the threatened Red-crested Crane Grus japonensis (IUCN Red List, 1994).
The peat bog area, which covers less than 2% of the marsh, is surrounded by several natural river levees so rivers do not overflow into the peat bog and the vegetation is typically boreal. Composed of sterile soil, the peat bog is dominated by Sphagnum moss which forms mounds 30-40cm high within which Hair Moss Polytrichum sp. and Reindeer MossCladonia sp. are found. Small shrubs are found within the Sphagnum bog such as Ledum palustre var. nipponicum, Chamaedaphne calyculata, Empetrum nigrum var. japonicum,Andromeda polifolia, Vaccinium oxycoccus,Myrica gale var. tomentosa along with a range of herbs such as Cottongrass Carex middendorffii, Scirpus hudsoniagus, Schenchzeria palustris, Eleochis japonica, Pogonia japonica, and insectivorous plants including Sundew Grass Utricularia intermedia and U. uliginaso.
Reeds andCalamagrotis langdorffii are distributed in the natural levees of rivers, riverflooded plains and the marsh areas close to hills. Sedges are distributed in the remains of old rivers, ponds and peripheral areas of lakes with a high level of groundwater. The sedges Carex lyngbyei and C. rhynchophysa dominate the marshes near the location where reeds grow in groups, while C. lasiocarpa var. occultans, C. speudoeuraica plus C. limosa are dominant in the centre of the marsh. In the marsh area which curves into the hills, sedges consisting of C. caespitosaand C. thunbergii form a tussock grass, growing to a height of 40-50cm and providing a good wintering habitat for insects and amphibians in the marsh.
Alder swamp forest has developed in the basins of the rivers. The swamp forest is supplied with more fertile soil, much nitrogen and phosphorus by water overflowing from the rivers. It consists of only one species, Japanese Alder Alnus japonica, which grows in two forms, a tree type measuring 10-11m in height and a shrub type with a height of 2-3m. Both growth forms are regenerated through germination. The distribution and growth of alder is seriously influenced by the conditions within the marsh and this species has proved to be a useful indicator plant for monitoring ecological change.
Kushiro Marsh is one of the most important habitats for boreal wildlife in Japan. Blakiston’s Fishowl Ketupa blakistoni and the Red-crested Crane (Japanese populations less than 100 individuals and approximately 600 individuals respectively) both occur in Kushiro Marsh and are threatened species (IUCN Red List, 1994). Research projects on the habitat condition of these species have been carried out by the Environment Agency of Japan.
Kushiro Marsh is the only habitat in Japan of the Siberian Salamander Salamandrella keyserlingii. The distribution of this amphibian is restricted to Kushiro Marsh, Siberia, the Kamchatka Peninsula and Sakhalin.
Japanese Hutchen Hucho perryi is the largest Japanese freshwater fish and its present distribution is restricted to Hokkaido. Kushiro Marsh is the main habitat for this species which prefers to live in large meandering rivers and lakes where it may grow to more than 2m in length.
A distinguishing characteristic of the marsh is the exceptional abundance of boreal dragonflies. The marsh is one of the very few remaining habitats in Japan where such ancient species of dragonflies, often dating back to the Glacier Age, have been found.
Utilization of Kushiro Marsh
The marsh is of hydrological value in that it controls the water level of the lower course of the Kushiro River and purifies the water which flows through the marsh. It has social and cultural values also in supplying water for domestic and industrial use and providing a breeding habitat for salmon which is one of the most important natural resources in the country.
Located near urban areas, many residents use the marsh for various activities such as research and study, and recreation. Local residents and visitors enjoy various activities such as treks on horseback on the hills facing the marsh, canoeing tours in the rivers of the marsh, cross-country skiing through the marsh in winter, bird-watching and study tours examining the prehistory of the marsh area.
Conservation of Kushiro Marsh
The conservation of Kushiro Marsh is a most important theme because it is the best remaining example of a boreal marsh in Japan. It is also highly regarded because of its vast size, its diversity of flora and fauna including highly specialized, threatened and locally occurring species, and because this fragile ecosystem has remained intact and in a natural state for centuries. Finally, because of its diversity of birdlife it is of international ornithological importance.
In 1987, Kushiro Marsh was designated a National Park to ensure the protection and safety of habitats and the marsh ecosystem. The marsh is also a designated Ramsar site and a National Wildlife Protection Area. In 1995, the citizens of Kushiro city and local people of neighbouring municipalities established the Kushiro International Wetland Centre for several purposes: in order to study wise use management projects being carried out in the marsh; to carry out research into the marsh ecosystem and monitor ecological change in the marsh; and to promote public awareness of marsh conservation and examine the possibility of developing a programme of eco-tours to the marsh. The Centre also contributes to international programmes which promote the conservation and wise use of the marsh. It encourages international collaboration and exchange programmes utilizing the abundant nature and well-equipped facilities available in the Kushiro region.