Wetlands and biodiversity: Promote actions to reverse its loss

Rahul Ashem
Small wetlands found in Manipur are on the verge of extinction. People often view the wetland as wasteland and they are filled and converted for other purposes
Historically, the legendary love story of Khamba-Thoibi is narrated with the Loktak Lake, the only freshwater lake in the whole North eastern states. The lake is included in the International importance of wetland by the Ramsar convention. There are other numbers of lakes that are biologically and economically important but have no legal status in Manipur. Lakes like Kharungpat, Khoidumpat, Pumlenpat, Loukoipat, Sanapat, Yaralpat and Poiroupat are in extremely bad shape at present. In other cases, some lakes areas like Hicham Yacham Pat, Keishampat, Porompat, Takyelpat and Sangaipat have even vanished. The need for wetlands conservation was given serious consideration at the global level in the 1960s. Wetlands occur in all climates, from valley to hill districts in the state. At present, wetlands cover only a fraction of their original range. Most of the wetland dependent species are in long term decline and threatened with extinction. Basically, pat means lakes in local dialect. Thousands of lives depend on lakes.
It plays an important role in portable drinking water, recharging ground-water, flood control, carbon sequestration, supporting vegetative and biological diversity structure. Apart from the ecosystem services, lakes support diverse floral and faunal diversity, local and other migratory birds coming from colder parts of the world. More importantly, animals are attracted to wetlands because they provide food, water, cover, and nesting sites. In short, wetlands provide much faunal diversity with homes. Many species live their entire lives in wetlands and are completely dependent on them for survival. Other species are dependent on wetlands only during a portion of their life cycle.
For these species wetlands serve either as a summer home, a winter home, or an occasional feeding or resting spot. In addition, a wide variety of reptiles, tortoises, and freshwater local fish depend on wetlands for survival. The lake, Zeilad located in hill district of Tamenglong is one of the unique lakes and considered as second largest fresh water after Loktak Lake. The Lake is associated with a number of fishes, pythons and other migratory birds. Large number of tortoises, ducks, cranes and teals are also seen during the arrival of winter months. The lake has a picturesque location atop a hill and has been declared as one of the Wildlife Sanctuaries in Manipur.
In addition, the lake is proposed to be included as one of the Ramsar sites in the state by Bombay Natural History Society.
As per the study, the valley district, Thoubal has at present different kinds of lakes including riparian types of lakes, which in some cases gives spiritual benefits also. Ithai Lake is a kind of riparian type which performs a variety of functions that are of value to society, especially the protection and enhancement of water resources, and provision of habitat for plant and animal species. Ikop Lake is another notable achievement in the cultural, tradition and livelihood of the Thoubal people.
Aongbikhong Lake is one of the beautiful lakes located on the western side of Waithou hills. Besides, varieties of Snails, Oysters, Fishes and others edible insects like Naoshek, Tharaikokpi and Harou, are observed during the monsoon season. The local bird, Urengkonthou (Moorhen) demonstrates the importance of habitat heterogeneity in lakes richness and abundance.
On the other hand, some wetlands are experiencing immense pressure from human activities such as drainage for agriculture and settlement, excessive exploitation by local communities and improperly planned development activities. The landscape of Zaimeng Lake found in Kangpokpi District is facing various conservation pressures including interference from outside the Lake and human activities on the fringes.
The presence of Himalayan newts, a primitive amphibian in the lake is an issue of concern. The species is listed under the endangered category of the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972. Therefore, it is important for stakeholders along with the local community and the corporate sector to come together for an effective management plan. Moreover, the Khayang- Kachopung in Ukhrul district is under threat due to the traditional practices of slash and burn cultivation and large scale conversion of forests land to other land uses.. Besides, Loktak is one such example of appearance migratory birds in the state. The area has been declared as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and Endemic Bird Area. Above all, fishing cat is a focal and charismatic species to conserve the importance of wetlands vis-a-vis ecological communities. In spite of the importance of wetlands to local communities, the human pressure on wetlands is expected to increase as populations grow, unless strategic actions are put in place for the conservation of wetlands. Wetland and biodiversity is the theme for world wetlands day, 2020. The theme is an opportunity to highlight wetland biodiversity, its status, why it matters and to promote actions to reverse its loss. Some vertebrates and invertebrates depend on wetlands for their entire life cycle while others only associate with these areas during particular stages of their lives. Wetlands provide an environment where photosynthesis can occur and where the recycling of nutrients can take place, they play an important role in supporting species diversity. It also provides a significant role in the support of food chains. The Lake, Loktak is famous for its floating mass of vegetation locally known as phumdi for being the only refuge of the endangered Sangai deer. The lakes served as a lifeline for thousands of villagers through fishing and collecting the edible and medicinal plants from these lakes. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands was developed to call international attention to the rate at which wetland habitats were disappearing, due to lack of understanding of their important functions, values, goods and services. Joining the Ramsar Convention is only being a part of the international community to express solidarity with its objectives. Designation of a few wetlands under the Ramsar Convention and enlisting a few other large ones as important wetlands does not ensure the conservation of all wetlands.
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