Wetlands of Odisha

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Well, hello everyone! Happy new year. Oh! wait that was last month, this time it’s Happy Wetland Day. Yes, every February 2nd is World Wetland Day. Established to raise awareness about the value of wetlands for humanity and the planet, WWD(World Wetland Day) was celebrated for the first time in 1997 and has grown remarkably since then. So what are wetlands? Do we even need them? What happens if we destroy them? Well let’s begin then. After decades of studies by various groups and governments across the world we finally came to a conclusion that yes we need wetlands. They are there in our landscape because there is a specific reason. So what are they? Well Wetlands are areas of land where water covers the soil – all year or just at certain times of the year. They include: swamps, marshes, billabongs (no that’s not a clothing brand), lakes, lagoons, saltmarshes, mudflats (those sand deposits where you and your girlfriend always want to go but never did), mangroves, coral reefs, bogs, fens, and peatlands (and you thought only dinosaurs liked peat).

Do we even need them? Well let us just put the facts down for you to decide shall we. Wetlands are a critical part of our ecosystem. They protect our shores from wave action (in goes the tide out goes the tide), reduce the impact of floods (sounds familiar doesn’t it), absorb pollutants and improve water quality. They provide habitat for animals and plants and many contain a wide diversity of life, supporting plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the entire world. Wetlands provide an important range of environmental, social and economic services. Many wetlands are areas of great natural beauty and many are important to the indigenous people for some are also worshipped as living gods and goddesses. Maintaining good water quality in river, recharging groundwater tables, storing carbon, helping to stabilise climatic conditions, controlling pests and pestilence and acting as important sites for biodiversity. Many coastal and inland wetlands are popular for tourism and recreational activities such as swimming, boating, fishing, camping and birdwatching.

Wetlands also provide important benefits for industry. For example, they form nurseries for fish from other freshwater and marine life and are critical to commercial and recreational fishing industries. Mother Nature has it all and all we have to do is listen to it. Wetlands are the vital link between land and water. And most importantly they protect our great superb surf friendly Odisha coastline from cyclones. Close your eyes and imagine the Super Cyclone of 1999 if you weren’t born back then I suggest you run a Google image search. Research has shown the effect could have been lesser had we not turned a majority of our mangrove forests in the districts of Kendrapara, Jagatsinghpur, Bhadrak into tracts for aquaculture and farming. All those people died just because we were busy accommodating people on land meant for nature.

In 1971 it was a great year for environmentalists, finally the world got its head together and signed the Ramsar Convention, at the Caspian Sea city of Ramsar in Iran (they are big fans of conservation these days). In India it came into force in 1982 when the government woke up to the impending threat to our mangroves and wetlands. Odisha has some of the most pristine and bio-diverse mangroves in the entire freaking planet. As per the Ramsar website out of the 28 recognised sites in India 6 are in the East with two major wetlands being in Odisha. The Bhittarkanika and Chilika lake wetlands but apart from them Odisha has many other sites too. In fact we have around four more sites which are demarcated as wetlands as per the website of the Centre for Coastal Zone Management and Coastal Shelter Belt. With over 10,000 hectares of forest land falling under these wetlands and if we add up Bhittarkanika and Chilika that adds another 124,000 hectares of wetland. Whoa! that’s a lot of area isn’t it. Well as someone once said statistics is a whole bunch of lies and the images in the article show how small an area it covers. Wetlands can also occur inland. For example the Kuanria dam and few other sites in the interiors of the state have also been indentified as wetlands. As per a report in a leading English daily the state judiciary recently asked the local collectors of Khurda, Ganjam, Puri and Kendrapara districts about the present condition and conservation efforts done by them. They submitted affidavits in the court in connection with protection of the two wetlands, Chilika and Bhitarkanika, in the state.

Wetlands of Odisha contain many rare flora and fauna. For conservation and management of identified wetlands including Ramsar sites in the country, the Centrally Sponsored Scheme of National Wetlands Conservation Programme (NWCP) was implemented till the year 2012-13 for which we need to thank not god but public outcry over the state of our wetlands. To have better synergy and to avoid overlap, the NWCP has been merged in February, 2013 with another scheme called National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP) into a new integrated scheme of ‘National Plan for Conservation of Aquatic Eco-systems’ (NPCA) for holistic conservation of lakes and wetlands.

“Under NWCP, Odisha covers not Bhitarkanika & Chilika but also major other major wetlands like Kuanria wetland, Kanjia wetland, Daha wetland & Ansupa.” Says Wildlife Conservationist Rudra Mahapatra. So on that note we bring forth to you some interesting information and trivia about Odisha’s unique wetland eco-system. Some of which are well known while others are now being discovered, documented and curated.

Chilika: Chilika Lagoon is situated on the east-coast of India. It is the largest brackish Water Lagoon with estuarine character that sprawls along the east coast. It is the largest wintering ground for migratory waterfowl found anywhere on the Indian sub-continent, guess you knew that. It is one of the hotspot of biodiversity in the country, and some rare, vulnerable and endangered species listed in the IUCN Red List of threatened Animals inhabit in the lagoon. The total number of fish species are reported to be 225. Along with a variety of phytoplankton, algae and aquatic plants, the Lake region also supports over 350 species of non-aquatic plants. By a recent phytodiversiy survey by CDA(Chilika Development Authority) 710 number of plants identified from Chilika (within the waterbody, including the Islands and shoreline plants). A survey of the fauna of Chilika carried out by the Zoological Survey of India recorded a whooping 800 species in and around the lagoon.

Kuanria wetland: Kuanria Dam is located on the outskirts of Daspalla in Nayagarh District of Odisha. It is built across the Kuanria River, which is a tributary of the Mahanadi River. The basic motive of constructing this dam was to help in the irrigation of the farmlands of this backward region. Kanjia wetland: Kanjia lake popularly known as Nandankanan lake near Bhubaneswar spreads over an area of 105 ha. The water spread area of main lake is 75 ha, where as about 30 ha is now separated by a road, which gets connected during monsoon. It is an important wetland lying to the south of Mahanadi delta head, within the boundary of Nandankanan Zoological Park. The zoological park remains in the south side of the lake where as the Botanical garden is situated in the north side of the lake. At the same time, it has got immense socioeconomic value as the fishermen from the local village derive their livelihood. It is a home for many migratory birds of our State. More than 37 species of birds have been recorded. Besides, 20 species of reptiles, 10 species of amphibians, 46 species of fishes and 3 species of prawns have been recorded so far. The floral composition of the lake ecosystem is consisting of 10 species of sub-merged macrophytes, 14 species of floating macrophytes and 24 species of emergent macrophytes.

Ansupa lake: Ansupa Lake is one of the largest fresh water lake of Odisha situated in Banki, Cuttack. It was created by Mahanadi and got a shape like the hoof of a horse. It is the largest natural freshwater lake in Odisha. It spreads over a vast area of 141 hectare, and surrounded by Saranda Hills in its length. It is about 65 km away from Bhubaneswar and 70 km away from Cuttack. It is surrounded by Saranda hills on the western side and Bishnupur hills on its northern side, both being a part of the Eastern Ghats. The lake is of national importance due to its unique bio diverse flora and fauna. It is home to 9 species of submerged, 12 and 26 species of floating and emergent aquatic plants. It is also home to 33 species of fish, 3 species of prawns, 10 species of reptiles and 50 species of migrant and resident birds. It is linked directly with the Mahanadi by a channel (Kabula Nalla), which acts as both an inlet and outlet, through which flood water enters the lake and excess water goes out after the flood.

With such a unique, rare and absolutely mind boggling array of species of plants, fish, birds, reptiles, aquatic animals and plankton thriving in our wetlands we should get a little serious about their conservation and plan our picnics accordingly. We here at Coffee Bytes ask you to consider this picnic season a little carefully. Please don’t litter, please don’t stir up these places with bhojis and feasting. Care a little about mother nature and the abundance of life around you. Cause they were here first and not the zarda, gutkha, polythene packs or disposable plates. And if you still don’t get it then probably a devastating cyclone can answer on behalf of mother nature and give a good left jab to those living on the coastline of Odisha.

By Aditya Nag | Inputs by Rudra Mahapatra

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