Wetland Diaries for lesser-known beels
The Corbett Foundation, engaged in nature conservation since 1994 in different States of India, has initiated a project called Wetland Diaries.
Numaligarh: The Corbett Foundation, engaged in nature conservation since 1994 in different States of India, has initiated a project called Wetland Diaries. It has been conceived to bring various stakeholders of wetlands together and facilitate discussions about the wetlands. During the first phase of the project's first year, it aims to bring 100 lesser-known wetlands in Assam and Madhya Pradesh to the centre of the conservation talks. The wetlands to be approached first are outside the protected areas. Thus, they call for an assessment of their status regarding their multiple values and conservation challenges.
Wetlands are not limited to protected areas and are not universally identified by a standard definition. There are more than 50 definitions of wetland across the world. The Ramsar Convention (an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands) defines 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." This broad definition of wetlands brings together over 27,000 wetlands in India, and nearly 3500 of them are in Assam.
"Kaziranga National Park holds a network of more than 190 wetlands, the Sohola, Dunga, Potahi and Munabeel (wetland) being the most iconic of them supporting unique diversity of flora and fauna.
The wetlands of Kaziranga continue to support over 500 species of birds and 40 species of mammals. We could not think of a more appropriate location than the Sohola Beel to to start the project that would carry the message of wetland conservation far and wide," said Dr Naveen Pandey, Deputy Director and Veterinary Advisor to The Corbett Foundation (TCF).
Ramesh Gogoi, the Divisional Forest Officer of Eastern Assam Wildlife Division at Kaziranga National Park, graced the occasion along with seasoned naturalists, students from schools and colleges and residents of the fringe villages of the park. He spent over two hours with the students discussing how Kaziranga's wetlands supported life not only inside the park but well beyond the boundaries of the park through their role in water filtering, underground water recharging, feeding country ponds with fingerlings and fishes during annual flooding and attracting avian fauna and birders from different continents that supported eco-tourism.
"Wetlands are the lifeline of Kaziranga, and they deserve huge credit for population revival of one-horned rhinoceros," said Gogoi as the students glued to binoculars and spotting scope by the side of the wetland. Rhinos, elephants, eastern swamp deer, wild boars, wild buffalos, pelicans, darters, egrets and eagles decorated the Sohola Beel. Bidyut Bikash Borah, Range Officer of Eastern Range of Kaziranga National Park highlighted on ecological succession, submerged vegetation and wetland management.
India is yet to scientifically map its wetlands and make an immaculate inventory. The Wetland Diaries project of TCF will study the lesser-known wetlands outside protected areas, assess their spread, features like depth, water availability round the year, human use, vegetation around them, and generate information and data on the diversity of fishes, turtles and birds.
Further collaboration will be sought with competent agencies seeking help with satellite imagery history. "With students from colleges and schools around Kaziranga-Karbi Anglong landscape, there will be a planned spiralling of 'messengers of wetlands' who would generate interest and awareness in the masses for sustainable use of wetlands. The key would be to bring Sustainable Development Goals of UN General Assembly in the talks of common people," said Dr Pandey.
Wetland management suffers as seemingly overlapping authorities, and jurisdiction create confusion. Over a dozen acts and notifications – from colonial Indian Fisheries Act, 1857 to democratic Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017 – decorate our law books seemingly to protect wetlands in their entirety.
The last one in the series of rules and acts, the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017, is now followed by recent government guidelines to support State governments in implementing those rules. And wetlands fall under jurisdictions of various departments like irrigation, fisheries, water resources, tourism and revenue, to name a few.
Wetlands are crucial for the lives and livelihoods of millions of people across the globe. But, unfortunately, the wetlands across India do not get the same attention and protection as their cousins in Kaziranga. Sustainable use for community and conservation is the key message that the Wetland Dairies project aims to drive home.