Current Affairs - Conservation
World’s Large Lakes Are Drying Up
On 18th May 2023, a study was published that highlighted concerns about water availability for agriculture, hydropower, and human consumption.
Key findings of the study are:
- The Effects of Climate Change: The study revealed that more than half of the world's large lakes and reservoirs have experienced significant shrinkage since the early 1990s, primarily due to the effects of climate change.
- The important freshwater sources, including the Caspian Sea and Lake Titicaca, have collectively lost water at a rate of approximately 22 gigatonnes per year over the span of almost three decades.
- This amount is equivalent to about 17 times the volume of Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States.
- Larger Contributing Factors: The findings emphasized that 56% of the decline in natural lakes can be attributed to climate warming and human consumption, with climate warming being the larger contributing factor.
- Water Loss in Humid Areas: The study found that water loss occurred not only in arid regions but also in humid areas, highlighting the significance of this issue globally.
- Key Drivers: Unsustainable human use, changes in rainfall and run-off patterns, sedimentation, and rising temperatures were identified as key drivers of the declining lake levels.
- This has raised concerns regarding water availability for agriculture, hydropower, and human consumption.
- Drying Up of Lakes: Unsustainable human use has led to the drying up of lakes such as the Aral Sea and the Dead Sea, while rising temperatures have affected lakes in Afghanistan, Egypt, and Mongolia, resulting in increased water loss to the atmosphere.
- On the other hand, dam construction in remote areas, such as the Inner Tibetan Plateau, has caused water levels to rise in some lakes.
- Impact of Drying Lakes: The impact of drying lakes is substantial, directly affecting nearly 2 billion people living in these regions, with many areas already experiencing water shortages.
- Urgency of Limiting Global Warming: To mitigate the most catastrophic consequences of climate change, experts have stressed the urgency of limiting global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
- Currently, the world is warming at a rate of approximately 1.1 degrees Celsius.
50 Years of ‘Project Tiger’
India's 'Project Tiger' is set to complete 50 years on April 1, 2023, having successfully conserved and doubled India's wild tiger population in a span of about 12 years.
- With about 3,000 tigers, India currently harbors more than 70% of the global wild tiger population.
- 'Project Tiger' began with nine tiger reserves spread over 18,278 sq km in 1973, and today, there are 53 tiger reserves covering more than 75,000 sq km across India.
- India has the largest number of CAT-accredited tiger reserves in the world at 17.
- Compensation for voluntary village relocation has also been enhanced from Rs 10 lakh per family to Rs 15 lakh in order to aid tiger conservation.
- India is considering translocating some tigers to Cambodia as part of the commemoration of 'Project Tiger' completing 50 years on April 1, 2023.
- The translocation will assist in the reintroduction of the species in Cambodia, where tigers have become extinct due to excessive poaching and loss of habitat.
- While tigers have also gone locally extinct in Vietnam and Laos, those countries have shown no interest in similar translocations.
- The translocation of tigers to Cambodia will be based on International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) protocol.
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is a global organization that focuses on nature conservation, sustainable use of natural resources, and issues related to sustainable development. It provides information and advice to governments, businesses, and other stakeholders, and is best known for publishing the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Methane Emissions from Wetlands
A recently published study indicates that increasing temperature and precipitation are driving the increase in methane emissions from wetlands, which are responsible for a third of total methane emissions.
- The report highlighted that methane emissions from wetlands have risen by 5-6% since 2000-2006, with emissions in 2020 and 2021 increasing by 14-26 Tg per year and 13-23 Tg per year, respectively.
- Wetlands store over a third of the world's terrestrial carbon but can also act as a source, releasing 127-155 Tg (teragram) of carbon annually, mostly due to microbes inhabiting them. (Note: Teragram is a unit of mass equal to one trillion (10^12) grams or one million (10^6) metric tons.)
- Methane emissions reached record levels in 2020 and 2021.
- Wetlands from South America were the largest contributor to these emissions, followed by Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.
- Methane emissions cause a positive climate feedback that amplifies warming.
- Increased rain due to global warming creates more wetlands, which then increase methane emissions, leading to further global warming and rain in a feedback loop.
- Most climate models do not consider this process, instead focusing on the long-term increase in atmospheric methane concentrations due to human activities such as industry and agriculture.
- Researchers used data from ground-based meteorological stations and observations with past short-range weather forecasts rerun with modern weather forecasting models to simulate methane emissions.
- Global mean annual methane emissions in 2007-2021 due to climate change impacts on wetlands increased by 8-10 Tg per year compared to 2000-2006.
- Wetlands in the tropics contributed the most to the spike in methane emissions in 2020 and 2021, with tropical wetlands emerging as hotspots.
Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2022
The Rajya Sabha on December 08, 2022 passed the Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2022 which seeks to give effect to India's obligations under the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora ('CITES'), which requires countries to regulate trade of all listed specimens through permits.
- The Bill, which will amend the Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972 to increase the species protected under the law, was passed by the Lok Sabha on August 02, 2022.
Objectives of Bill
- Protection of Endangered Species: Bill seeks to enhance punishment for illegal Wildlife trade.
- Better Management of Protected Areas: It provides for certain permitted activities like grazing or movement of livestock and Bonafide use of drinking and household water by local communities.
- Protection of Forest Lands: It is so critical because it equally inculcates in itself the protection of rights of the people who have been residing there since ages.
Key Provisions of the Bill
- Implement the Provisions of the CITES: CITES is an international agreement between governments to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species.
- Provides much more power at the hands of the Central Government: The central government can designate a Management Authority, which grants export or import permits for the trade of specimens.
- Central Government can regulate or prohibit the import, trade, possession or proliferation of invasive alien species.
- The central government may also notify a conservation reserve.
- Currently, there are six schedules: protected plants (one), specially protected animals (four), and vermin species (one). The new bill removes the schedule for vermin species (Vermin refers to small animals that carry diseases and destroy food e.g. Monkeys, Nilgai)
- The Act entrusts the Chief Wildlife Warden to control, manage and maintain all sanctuaries in a state.
- The Chief Wildlife Warden is appointed by the states.
- People possessing live specimens of scheduled animals must obtain a registration certificate from the Management Authority.
- The bill provides for any person to voluntarily surrender any captive animals, without any compensation and consequent authority over the animal.
- The Bill allows for commercial trade in elephants.
- States can declare areas adjacent to National parks and Sanctuaries as Conservation Reserve, for protecting flora and fauna, and their habitat.
- Increases the Penalties: For General violation (increases to Rs 1,00,000 from Rs25,000) and for specially protected animals ( increases to 25,000 from Rs 10,000).
Issues with the proposed Bill
- Some important issues regarding Human-Wildlife conflict, Eco-sensitive zone rule, etc., has not been addressed.
- The bill severely curtailed the ability to graze across pastoral spaces in the conservation areas
- According to the report provided by the Parliamentary Standing Committee, species listed in all three schedules of the Bill are incomplete.
- Parliamentary Standing Committee objected to the blanket exemption, recommending to limit it only to temple elephants kept for religious purposes.
Related Constitutional Provisions
Changed Habit of laying Two Eggs observed in Great Indian Bustards
Scientists working ex situ breeding of Great Indian Bustard (GIB) - a Critically Endangered birds species has discovered new trend of laying two eggs in Desert National Park (DNP) of Jaisalmer district.
- The GIBs showed this habit after consuming extra protein rich diet during the monsoon season.
- This is important because all experts have been reporting a single set of eggs by the GIB over the course of more than a century of natural history.
- The scientists cite reason of abundant natural fodder for birds when there is excessive rainfall in the DNP. By mid-August, rainfall in Jaisalmer district exceeded 20 mm.
- Since the gib, which is the state bird of Rajasthan, primarily survives on reptiles, gerbils, grasshoppers, large insects and locusts, a rich amount of feed was produced this year, providing additional protein to endangered birds, who have doubled their clutch size.
- GIB is now found only in small numbers in western Rajasthan, while Gujarat claims that there are few females left in its Banni Grassland Reserve.
75 Ramsar Sites in 75th Year of Independence
India added 11 more wetlands to the list of Ramsar sites to make total 75 Ramsar sites in the country in the 75th year of Independence.
- The 11 new sites include: Four (4) sites in Tamil Nadu, Three (3) in Odisha, Two (2) in Jammu & Kashmir and One (1) each in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra.
- India is one of the Contracting Parties to Ramsar Convention, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971. India signed it on 1st Feb 1982. During 1982 to 2013, a total of 26 sites were added to the list of Ramsar sites, however, during 2014 to 2022, the country has added 49 new wetlands to the list of Ramsar sites.
- During this year itself (2022) a total of 28 sites have been declared as Ramsar sites.
- Based on the date of designation mentioned on Ramsar Certificate, the number is 19 for this year (2022) and 14 for previous year (2021).
- Tamil Nadu has maximum no. of Ramsar sites (14 nos), followed by UP which has 10 nos. of Ramsar sites.
Brief of 11 Wetlands designated most recently as Ramsar Sites
Name of wetland
Chitrangudi Bird Sanctuary
Suchindram Theroor Wetland Complex
Vaduvur Bird Sanctuary
Kanjirankulam Bird Sanctuary
Hygam Wetland Conservation Reserve
Jammu and Kashmir
Shallbugh Wetland Conservation Reserve
A Brief on the new Ramsar Sites
Tampara Lake (Odisha)
- Tampara Lake is among the most prominent freshwater lakes in the State of Odisha situated in Ganjam district.
- The depression on the ground gradually filled with rainwater from catchment flow and was called “Tamp” by the British and subsequently termed “Tampra” by the locals.
- The wetland is an important habitat for vulnerable species such as Cyprinus carpio, common pochard (Aythya ferina), and river tern (Sterna aurantia).
Hirakud Reservoir (Odisha)
- Hirakud Reservoir, the largest earthen dam in Odisha started operating in 1957.
- The reservoir to support a range of floral and faunal species, including several of high conservation significance. Out of the known 54 species of fish from the reservoir, one has been classed as being endangered, six near threatened and 21 fish species of economic importance.
- Over 130 bird species have been recorded at this site, out of which 20 species are of high conservation significance.
- The wetland also provides important hydrological services by moderating floods in the Mahanadi delta, the ecological and socio-economic hub of the east coast of India.
Ansupa Lake (Odisha)
- Ansupa Lake is the largest freshwater lake of Odisha situated in Banki sub-division of Cuttack district. The wetland is an oxbow lake formed by River Mahanadi.
- The wetland is home to at least 194 species of birds, 61 species of fishes and 26 species of mammals in addition to 244 species of macrophytes.
- The wetland provides a safe habitat to at least three threatened bird species- Rynchops albicollis (EN), Sterna acuticauda (EN) and Sterna aurantia (VU) and three threatened fish species- Clarias magur (Clariidae) (EN), Cyprinus carpio (Cyprinidae) (VU) and Wallago attu (VU).
Yashwant Sagar (Madhya Pradesh)
- Yashwant Sagar is one of the two Important Bird Areas (IBA) in the Indore region as well as one of the most important birding sites in Malwa region of Madhya Pradesh.
- Yashwant Sagar is considered to be a stronghold of the vulnerable Sarus Crane in central India.
Chitrangudi Bird Sanctuary (Tamil Nadu)
- Chitrangudi Bird Sanctuary, locally known as "Chitrangudi Kanmoli" is located in Ramanathapuram district in Tamil Nadu.
- The wetland is a protected area since 1989 and declared as Bird Sanctuary, coming under the jurisdiction of Tamil Nadu Forest Department, Ramanathapuram division.
- Chitrangudi Bird Sanctuary is an ideal habitat for winter migratory birds. Around 50 birds belonging to 30 families have been reported from the site.
Suchindram Theroor Wetland Complex (Tamil Nadu)
- Suchindrum Theroor Wetland complex is part of the Suchindrum-Theroor Manakudi Conservation Reserve.
- It is declared an Important Bird Area and lies at the southern tip of the Central Asian flyway of migratory birds.
- Theroor tank is a man-made, inland Tank and is perennial.
Vaduvur Bird Sanctuary (Tamil Nadu)
- Vaduvur bird sanctuary is a large human-made irrigation tank and shelter for migratory birds.
- Indian Pond Heron Ardeola grayii occurred in most of the surveyed tanks.
Kanjirankulam Bird Sanctuary (Tamil Nadu)
- Kanjirankulam Bird Sanctuary is a Protected Area near Mudukulathur Ramanathapuram District, Tamil Nadu.
- It is notable as a nesting site for several migratory heron species that roost in the prominent growth of babul trees there.
- The site qualifies as an IBA as the threatened Spot-billed Pelican Pelecanus philippensis breeds here.
- They act as breeding, nesting, roosting, foraging, and stopover sites for the birds.
- The wetland supports IUCN RedList vulnerable avian species like Sterna aurantia (River Tern).
Thane Creek (Maharashtra)
- There are several sources of fresh water to the creek, of which Ulhas River is the largest, followed by many drainage channels from various suburban areas of Mumbai, Navi Mumbai & Thane.
- It has been declared as Thane Creek Flamingo Sanctuary.
- Thane creek is fringed by mangroves on both banks & comprises around 20% of the total Indian mangrove species.
- The mangrove forest acts as a natural shelter belt & protects the land from cyclones, tidal surges, seawater seepage & intrusions.
- The mangrove serves as a nursery for several fishes & sustains the local fishery.
- The area is an important part of the wetland complex of the Central Asian Flyway of the birds and has been categorized as an Important Bird Area (IBA).
Hygam Wetland Conservation Reserve (Jammu and Kashmir)
- Hygam Wetland falls within the River Jhelum basin and plays a significant role as a flood absorption basin, biodiversity conservation site, eco-tourism site, and livelihood security for the local communities.
- The wetland is located in the Baramulla district.
- It serves as an abode to many residents and migratory bird species.
- It is also recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA).
Shallbugh Wetland Conservation Reserve (Jammu and Kashmir)
- Shallabug Wetland Conservation Reserve is located in the District Srinagar, UT of J&K.
- It serves as an abode to more than four lakh resident and migratory birds of at least 21 species. Shallabugh Wetland plays a major role in the natural control, amelioration or prevention of flooding.
- Shallabugh Wetland provides plethora of ecosystem services, these include fish and fiber, water supply, water purification, climate regulation, flood regulation, recreational opportunities.
- The wetland serves as an important breeding ground for many species of waterbirds.
10 New Wetlands of India get ‘Ramsar Sites’ Tag
On 3rd August 2022, the Union Environment Ministry announced the inclusion of 10 more wetlands, taking the total Ramsar sites to 64.
- The new sites include six wetlands from Tamil Nadu and one each from Goa, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha.
- In July 2022, India designated five new wetlands of international importance – the Karikili Bird Sanctuary, Pallikaranai Marsh Reserve Forest and Pichavaram Mangrove in Tamil Nadu; Pala wetland in Mizoram and Sakhya Sagar in Madhya Pradesh.
State-wise Distribution of the 10 new Sites
Koonthankulam Bird Sanctuary
- It is a man-made wetland in Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu.
- This is the largest reserve for breeding resident and migratory water birds in south India and an important bird and biodiversity area forming part of the central Asian flyway.
Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve
- The Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve (GoMBR) is located on the southeastern coastline.
- The reserve area is home to several globally important and highly threatened species such as the Dugong, whale shark, seahorses, balanoglossus, green sea turtle, hawksbill turtle, dolphins, sacred chanks, etc.
- This is the first Marine Biosphere Reserve in South and South-East Asia.
Vembannur Wetland Complex
- It is a human-made irrigation tank which forms the southernmost tip of peninsular India.
- This wetland forms part of the Important Bird and Biodiversity Area and hence part of the BirdLife International Data Zone.
- It provides suitable habitat to several species of waterbird in the breeding and non-breeding seasons.
Vellode Bird Sanctuary
- It is located in the Vadamugam Vellode village in Tamil Nadu’s Erode district and locally known as ‘Periyakulam Yeri’.
- This human-made tank is an ideal habitat for birds.
- It is an important staging and breeding ground for migratory birds on the Central Asian Flyway.
Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary
- It is one of the oldest bird-protected areas in Chengalpattu district of Tamil Nadu.
- This freshwater wetland is a people-protected waterbird area.
- This Site is an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) due to the presence of several species. Vedanthangal is well known for nature tourism.
- The Sanctuary also provides educational and research opportunities.
Udhayamarthandapuram Bird Sanctuary
- It is located in the Tiruthuraipoondi taluk of Tiruvarur district of Tamil Nadu.
- It is an important staging and breeding ground for several species of waterbirds.
Note: With the latest addition of six Ramsar Sites, now Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh are states with highest number of Ramsar Sites (10 each).
- It is the first Ramsar site of Goa.
- It is located in Curchorem (South Goa).
- The Nanda Lake in Goa has freshwater marshes that lie adjacent to one of the major rivulets of the Zuari River.
- This wetland supports a wide variety of migratory waterbirds and many other important plants and animals.
- The Satkosia gorge spreads along the Mahanadi river in Odisha.
- Established in 1976 as a wildlife sanctuary, Satkosia is the meeting point of two biogeographic regions of India – the Deccan Peninsula and the Eastern Ghats, contributing immense biodiversity.
- The Satkosia gorge wetland is a mosaic of marshes and evergreen forests. The forests of these catchments play a vital role in the prevention of the gorge siltation. They also help in maintaining a desirable depth of water crucial for the endangered gharial population.
- It is the 3rd Ramsar site of Odisha after Bhitarkanika Mangroves and Chilka Lake.
Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary
- It is the first and only Ramsar site of Karnataka.
- It is located in Mandya district of Karnataka.
- The wetland was earlier enlisted as one of the Important Bird Areas in Karnataka and India by the Bombay Natural History Society.
- Ranganathittu is an ecologically important riverine wetland, rich in biodiversity, with 188 species of plants, over 225 species of birds, 69 species of fishes, 13 species of frogs, and 30 species of butterflies.
- Sirpur Lake is located in Indore city.
- It has a wealth of plants and animals including threatened species.
- Sirpur Lake was created by the Holkars of Indore State in the early 20th century.
- The lake was recognized by BirdLife International as one of the Important Bird Areas (IBAs) of Madhya Pradesh in 2015.
- Now, Madhya Pradesh has three Ramsar Sites (Bhoj Wetlands, Sakhya Sagar Lake, Sirpur Lake).