The land of Water
One of the most biologically diverse ecosystems across the world, wetlands are home to an astonishing range of plant and animal life. We focus on the remarkable characteristics of our wetlands and their ecological importance, with particular reference to Bharatpur.
Wetlands are unique ecosystems that are either permanently or seasonally saturated with water. They have been known to play a number of beneficial roles in the environment, ranging from water purification and groundwater replenishment to flood control and acting as carbon sinks. They occur naturally on every continent, except Antarctica. India is home to some amazing wetlands, which include Kaziranga, Lake Chilika, Bharatpur (Keoladeo National Park) and many more. Of these, probably the most well-known is Bharatpur. This artificial wetland was created over 250 years ago by Maharaja Suraj Mal, the erstwhile ruler of the princely state of Bharatpur, to attract migrating waterfowl to facilitate the hunting of the Maharaja. It was declared as a bird sanctuary in 1976 and them as a Ramsar Site in 1981, followed by its declaration as a national park in 1982. In 1985, Bharatpur, along with the wetland, was declared as a World Heritage Site. The park is home to an amazing diversity of birds and is one of the most important wintering grounds. Wintering birds find a plentiful supply of food in the form of worms, insects and molluscs present in the water bodies. Besides them, many resident water birds, like the Painted Storks, Indian Cormorants, many varieties of herons and egrets nest here in huge numbers. Besides the avian fauna, mammals like the Sambar, Nilgai, Jungle Cat, Golden Jackal, etc. are also present in good numbers.
Although animals are present even in the grassland and woodland habitats, Keoladeo’s astounding diversity is chiefly due to the presence of the wetlands. Wetlands have historically been the victims of large-scale drainage efforts for real estate developments in India. Although their importance has been stressed upon internationally since the 1970s, their future in India even today is bleak. The cost of replacing the ecosystem services provided by wetlands, like filtering and cleaning water pollution and flood control, with artificial systems of water purification and construction of remediation measures for controlling floods, is enormous. In a country with the sizeable population and low environmental awareness, the conservation of wetlands and thus the conservation of valuable public funds cannot be stressed enough!
What is the Ramsar Convention?
The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, popularly known as the Ramsar Convention, is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilisation of wetlands. The convention aims at recognising and establishing the ecological functions of wetlands. It came to be known as the Ramsar Convention after the city in Iran where it was signed in 1971.
India signed this treaty in 1982 and since then added 26 sites to the list of Ramsar sites. Most famous amongst these are the Chilika Lake of Orissa, Keoladeo National Park and Sambar Lake of Rajasthan, Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary of Gujarat and Tsomoriri and Wular Lake of Jammu & Kashmir. Despite the fact that India is a signatory to the Ramsar Convention, most wetlands here are under significant threat due to increasing population and unscientific management.
Author speak – It had been my dream to see Bharatpur, ever since I started nature photography. When I visited in January, the cold, early morning mist invited me into the landscape. The first sight of the land was so refreshing, vastly different from the other wetland ecosystems that I’m so used to in Kerala. What attracted me was not the abundance of avian fauna alone but the landscape itself. Each area of the park offered different visual treats, the water, reeds, trees, land, algae and climbers all coming together wonderfully. I concentrated more on capturing the texture and colour of Bharatpur. Even though I have returned to the park for three consecutive years since then, I can only imagine that capturing the whole beauty of Bharatpur’s natural landscape will take several more trips.
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