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Mains Test Series

Vegetation and Natural Environment

Q. Discuss the Importance of wetlands in terrestrial and coastal ecology. (150 words)

Introduction:

The Wetlands are defined as areas of marsh, peat land or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with static or flowing water, fresh, brackish or salt, including marine areas not deeper than 6 meters at low tide, according to the Ramsar Convention on wetlands.

India has nearly 4.9 % of its land as a wetland.

Importance of Wetland, in general:

  1. Carbon sequestration: The algal growth in the Wetlands acts as a carbon sink.  
  2. Bio-remedification: Wetlands act as natural waste-water filters. For example, East Kolkata wetlands treat the sewerage of the city naturally.
  3. Critical for food web: The combination of shallow water levels of nutrients is ideal for phytoplankton, which sustain species of fish, amphibians, shellfish and insects.
  4. Habitat Enhancement: act as habitat for Threatened and endangered species.
  5. Resource-rich: Wetlands are a vital source of food, raw materials and genetic resources for medicines. Artificial reservoirs such as Gobind Sagar wetland primarily is constructed to produce hydropower.
  6. Host Migratory Birds: They are vital to many migratory bird species; for example, Punjab’s Harike Wetland hosts over 90 different species of Migratory birds, including spoonbills, painted storks, bar-headed geese, etc., each year. Central Asian Flyway (CAF), one of the nine major migratory routes, passes from India’s Chilika and Loktak lakes.

Importance of wetlands in the terrestrial ecosystem:

  1. Increase water table: Wetlands serve as reservoirs for the watershed, releasing retained water into the surface and groundwater. Urban wetlands are essential for preserving public water supplies and preventing drought.
  2. Natural source for drinking water: Wetlands act as natural purifiers, filtering sediment and absorbing many pollutants in surface waters, enhancing the quality of groundwater supplies.
  3. Highly Productive: Nearly two-thirds of its fish harvest and 40% of the world’s species live and breed in wetlands.
  4. Cultural Importance: Important for people’s cultural and spiritual well-being. For example, Pushkar Mela is held annually on the bank of Sambhar Lake.
  5. Agriculture: For example, Phumdis, a floating mass of matted vegetation in the Loktak lake, is an important source of agriculture in Manipur.
  6. Prevent Erosion control: The wetlands prevent excessive erosion and sedimentation by binding the soil on streambank and riparian wetlands.
  7. Flood Abatement: Wetlands along rivers and other water bodies absorb energy and store water during storms, reducing downstream flood damage and lessening the risk of flash floods.

Importance of wetlands in Coastal ecosystem:

  1. Economic Importance: They play an essential role in transport & tourism.
  2. Protect coastal landscape from the ocean: Wetlands reduce flooding, coastal erosion, and property damage during significant storms. For instance, Mangroves forest in Bhitarkanika National Park withstood the high-velocity winds of Cyclone Amphan.
  3. Act as a natural sponge: Wetlands act as natural sponges that trap and gradually release surface water, rain, groundwater and flood waters.
  4. Biological Productivity: Salt marshes store more energy per acre in the form of carbon than any agricultural crop except cultivated sugar cane.
  5. Ecotones: Coastal wetlands act as a transition from aquatic to terrestrial ecosystems. This zone shows higher Population density than its surroundings.
  6. Fertile breeding grounds: For example, Gahirmatha Beach in Odisha experiences the Olive Ridley mass nesting events each year, protecting the ‘vulnerable’ species.

Way forward:

  1. Ensuring community participation through Amrit Dharohar schemes, which provide conservation of Ramsar sites.
  2. Effective implementation of the MISHTI scheme, part of a more significant green push focusing on the environment and climate change, aims to promote the development of 540 sq. km of mangroves across 11 states and 2 Union territories.
  3. National Wetland Conservation Programme: The programme was launched in 1986 and has identified some 115 wetlands for urgent protection and conservation.
  4. For better management and regulation of wetlands: Wetlands (conservation and management) rule, 2017.
  5. Making implementation of rules easier: The Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2018 balances conservation efforts with economic development, making its implementation easier.

Conclusion: Wetlands are called “the kidney of our watershed” and act as the cradle of biological diversity that provides the water and productivity upon which several species of plants and animals depend for survival. For this, mainstreaming wetlands ecosystem services into our developmental policies, including climate change mitigation, is the pressing need of the hour.

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