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Ramsar tag to help wetland conservation in State

The Ramsar declaration helps authorities keep land mafia away from the wetlands, and also implement rules and regulations to improve overall biodiversity of Tamil Nadu

Ramsar tag to help wetland conservation in State
Pallikaranai marshland in Chennai is home to more than 190 species of birds and more than dozen fish species

CHENNAI: In a major boost to the conservation of depleting marshlands and water bodies in the State, the Union government has accorded Ramsar site status for 3 water bodies in Tamil Nadu.

Pallikaranai marshland in Chennai, Karikili in Chengalpet and Pitchavaram in Cuddalore districts have been declared Ramsar sites. Suffice to say ecologists and bird watchers in the State are upbeat over the declaration.

“This is a landmark achievement towards conservation. The move would help forest department to check encroachments and regulate urbanisation near these wetlands,” Supriya Sahu, secretary, State Environment and Forest Dept. “Our Chief minister’s support and direction helped the State to achieve this international recognition. All credit goes to the teamwork of stakeholders in the field of conservation ranging from foresters, bird watchers and policymakers. The department was working towards this feat for several months and a lot of documentation and approval work has gone into getting it.”

The Ramsar site declaration will help State stakeholders and policymakers to work towards better conservation, particularly in the field of flood alleviation, the secretary noted.

The sprawling Pallikaranai marshland (PML) in Chennai is home to more than 190 species of birds and more than dozen fish species. PML serves as a natural flood alleviation zone for Chennai and now with the Ramsar site declaration, the forest department will have more teeth to implement the forest and wildlife protection act, said KVRK Thirunaranan, founder, The Nature Trust.

“Without notifying the wetlands and Ramsar sites, the rules and regulations to protect them could not be implemented. Now with the notification of the Ramsar site to the wetlands, this will be a great boon to protect Chennai’s bird life,” he added.

The marshland, which was once more than 1,400 acres, is reduced to 700 acres. Restoration works were gained a decade back by the department. “Both successive governments and the High Court had shown interest in protecting PML. So, this declaration is great news for bird watchers,” averred Thirunaranan, who has done a 10-year Pallikaranai bird migration document for the TN forest department.

Pointing out the significance of protecting wetlands in the State, conservation scientist A Kumaraguru said, “There are over 80 crucial wetlands in the State that require immediate protection and conservation strategies. Ramsar declaration for Karikili is great news, as it’d help the adjacent historical Vedanthangal bird sanctuary that’s facing acute biotic pressure.”

The State is committed to the forest department policy of attaining 33% forest cover, but it’s rare for such massive policy decisions to be implemented to protect the wetlands.

“Protection of wetlands and more such Ramsar sites is the need of the hour. This will improve the overall biodiversity of TN and help authorities to retrieve and reclaim the lands often taken away by the land mafia,” said Kumaraguru. “For instance, take Pichavaram mangrove. Aside from being the most crucial ecological hotspot for wildlife photographers and ornithologists, this mangrove plays a major role in arresting sea water incursion and serves as natural barrier during Tsunami.”

According to official sources, the State had also envisaged an ongoing project to develop the marshland at a cost of around Rs 280 crore. Real estate and polluting industries will now have to adhere to the Ramsar site rules. The centre will also have an additional role in monitoring these wetlands declared as Ramsar sites.

What is Ramsar?

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. It’s also known as the Convention on Wetlands. It’s named after the city of Ramsar in Iran, where the convention was signed in 1971. Aim of the convention was to conserve wetlands and promote sustainable use of their natural resources. Ramsar identifies wetlands of international importance, especially those that are habitats for birds.

HC’s notification to State, Centre

The Madras High Court bench handling forest-related cases had always expressed its views to protect the wetlands and had passed directions to the State and centre to file the status quo on the pending proposal of new Ramsar sites. Recently, the first bench of Chief Justice Munishwar Nath Bhandari and Justice D Bharatha Chakravarthy passed the direction on a suo-motu PIL initiated by the HC as per the directions of the Supreme Court to protect the wetlands across the country. On recording the submissions, the judges observed that they want to know why only Point Calimere has been notified till now. The bench directed the State and the centre to file reports seeking the notification of other Ramsar sites.

Karikili Bird Sanctuary, a 61-hectare protected area

Located in Chengalpet district, Karikili Bird Sanctuary is a breeding ground for cormorants, egrets, grey heron, open-billed stork, darter, spoonbill, white lnis, night herons, grebes and grey pelican. Many migratory birds like garganey teals, shovellers, pintails, stilts, sandpipers, painted stork, and the pelican also visit the sanctuary in winter. A variety of resident birds like coots, moorhen and terns can also be seen.

Point Calimere Wildlife Sanctuary

The only site in Tamil Nadu to be declared as a Ramsar Site in August 2002. It also includes the adjacent Muthupet Lagoon, Panchandikulam wetland, unsurveyed salt swamp, and Thalainayar Reserve Forest covering a total of 38,500 hectares. The current notification of 3 sites will not be sprawling like the Point Calimere but declaration of Pallikaranai as Ramsar site is crucial for the flood prone Chennai and Chengalpet districts. Pallikaranai is natural buffer for the 2 districts often mauled by floods. Point Calimere is a home to large migratory birds, jackal, otter, dolphin, mud skipper and hundreds of varieties of fish.

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CS Kotteswaran
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