×
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Safe havens for winged beauties

While it is a matter of pride that the state has added three more Ramsar sites, experts also warn that there are challenges in ensuring the long-term conservation of these sites.
Last Updated 21 February 2024, 21:52 IST

Next winter, when the mid-sized black-tailed godwit returns from Iceland or other parts of Europe to its winter home at the Ankasamudra Bird Conservation Reserve (ABCR) in Vijayanagara district, it will find its roosting and breeding place much safer. The human-made 250-acre water body at Ankasamudra village has been selected as a Ramsar site, a tag used to denote wetlands deemed as internationally significant.

Before the turn of 2024, Karnataka had only one Ramsar site: the Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary on the banks of River Cauvery in Mandya district. However, today the state boasts three more. Ankasamudra lake, Magadi lake in Gadag district and Aghanashini estuary in Uttara Kannada were added to the list of Ramsar wetlands in Karnataka recently.

Experts say the addition will throw an “international spotlight” on these wetlands and help in the better conservation of the water bodies and their surrounding areas. 

Wetlands International, a global not-for-profit organisation, defines wetlands as places “where water meets land. These habitats include mangroves, peatlands and marshes, rivers and lakes, deltas, floodplains and flooded forests, rice fields, and even coral reefs. Healthy wetlands are central to solving the interconnected climate, biodiversity, and water crises,” according to its website. The organisation selects sites with international importance under "the Convention on Wetlands", an international environmental treaty signed in 1975 at Ramsar, Iran. There are over 2,500 Ramsar sites across 172 countries of the world, and India has around 80 such sites.

While it is a matter of pride that the state has added three more Ramsar sites, experts also warn that there are challenges in ensuring the long-term conservation of these sites. 

Prof S Subramanya, entomologist and a retired professor who is credited with the rigorous documentation of avian species at several wetlands of Karnataka, says getting the Ramsar site tag is just half the work done in conserving ecologically important places.

“The process of getting the Ramsar sites tag is very rigorous. Once recognised, it will get better protection based on the management plan prepared by Wetlands International with the help of the Forest Department and Union government,” he explains. Wetlands International monitors the sites and evaluates them once every five years. 

Each of the three wetlands selected in Karnataka has a unique habitat that makes it an internationally important site.

Magadi lake in Shirahatti taluk is a tank primarily constructed for agricultural purposes. However, excess salinity has rendered it non-usable for cultivation. The 50-ha waterbody has now emerged as one of the largest congregations of the bar-headed goose, a migratory bird that flies across the Himalayas, to southern India. The lake is home to more than 166 species of birds, including 35 residential species. During the data collection years (2016-2022), the forest department reported an assembly of more than 8,000 bar-headed geese during winters.

“Magadi lake is a classic example of how humans and birds can co-exist harmoniously. Villagers use the lake for washing clothes and cleaning their cattle, while the birds roost in close proximity to humans without any fear,” says Gurunath Desai, secretary of the North Karnataka Birders Network. He says the forest department has created awareness and made elaborate efforts to ensure that the migratory birds are not hunted for meat or as trophies.

While locals have been protecting the water bodies for their winged guests, there is a fear among them that the lake could go out of their hands if the Ramsar site tag is attached.

Subramanya says there is no need for the locals to fear as the recognition allows the locals for “wise use of the water body”.

Contrary to the fear of locals at Magadi, the residents of Aghanashini village in Kumta are rejoicing about the Ramsar site tag to the estuaries, as it gives them a greater sense of security that no major development work will be allowed henceforth.

“The estuaries of Aghanashini were threatened with a mega thermal power project, port and other development works. However, now with this tag, the governments will find it further difficult to set up any harmful projects that would threaten the river or its banks,” says Maruthi Gowda, a bivalve collector.

Aghanashini is the only big river in the Western Ghats that continues to flow its original course as there are no dams or major industries across its 117 km-long flow.

“Because of its virgin flow, the river has created an estuary that is rich with marine and river ecosystems,” says Ashwini Kumar Bhat, a filmmaker who made a documentary on the Aghanashini river.

The natural flow of water ensures the gradation of fresh water at the river’s mouth, which helps protect the life cycle of 84 species of fish, five species of bivalves, and 45 species of mangroves and mangrove-associated species. Nearly 117 varieties of birds have been recorded in the 48 sq km of estuaries. The region is also known for its collection of edible bivalves and crabs, shrimp aquaculture, and traditional fish farming in the estuarine rice fields (locally known as Gazni rice fields).

Cradle for birds

Experts consider Ankasamudra an ecologically important human-made wetland, rich in biodiversity, comprising about 210 species of plants, eight species of mammals, 25 species of reptiles, 240 species of birds, 41 species of fish, three species of frogs, 27 species of butterflies and 32 species of odonata (predatory flying insects). It is an important breeding site for about 29 species of waterbirds including 19 species that are largely nesting waterbirds.

“Ankasamudra, along with the backwaters of Tungabhadra river, attracts thousands of birds from across the globe. The 800 acacia and karijali trees at the lake act as a cradle for 3,000 to 6,000 painted storks, ibis, cormorants, and spot-billed pelicans to build their nests and lay eggs here,” says wildlife expert Samad Kottur. He says over the years, the local panchayat, activists and forest department have ensured that the lake is not encroached upon, and fishing activities have been completely banned.

Dr Rajeev Gejje of Hosapete says there is an immediate need to address the stagnation of water at the lake during the summer. “We need to protect the natural habitat of the lake and allow the lake to dry during summer. Karijali trees, on which birds nest, cannot survive in excess water,” he says.

People’s efforts

While experts say that the forest department has played an important role in documentation, protection and creating awareness among locals, Subash Malkede, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (Wildlife) says it is locals who have protected these water bodies.

“None of the three sites are in a protected area. Locals have been using these water bodies for years now and it is their efforts that have helped conserve them,” he says.

Malkede says the learnings from these sites will help the department in getting approval for Ramsar site tags for other important water bodies such as the backwaters of Tungabhadra and Krishna near Almatti.

Knob-billed duck
Knob-billed duck
Black-capped night heron
Black-capped night heron
Spot-billed pelican. Photos by Rajeev Gejje 
Spot-billed pelican. Photos by Rajeev Gejje 
Bar-headed geese. Photo by Sangamesh Kadagad
Bar-headed geese. Photo by Sangamesh Kadagad
Sangamesh Kadagad
Sangamesh Kadagad
Sangamesh Kadagad
Sangamesh Kadagad
Birds at the Ankasamudra lake. 
Birds at the Ankasamudra lake. 
Birds at the Ankasamudra lake. 
Birds at the Ankasamudra lake. 
ADVERTISEMENT
(Published 21 February 2024, 21:52 IST)

Follow us on

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT