Agasthya 6.3 The changing dimensions of wetlands in T amiraparani river basin
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Centre for Excellence in Conservation Science
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The one ecosystem that maintains substantial biodiversity outside the 'forest' or the 'Protected Area' is wetlands. In the Tamiraparani basin which straddles the districts of Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi of Tamil Nadu, many such wetlands have been conserved by the local peoples primarily, perhaps, due to their utilitarian values. Apart from using it for irrigating agricultural land, wetlands has many other uses lotus from the wetland is used in religious ceremonies, fish is harvested by contractors and local traders, firewood and timber is also harvested, certain varieties of grass and sedges are collected for mat weaving, silt is collected for agriculture and the wetlands are used as pasture lands once they dry up. For long, the way wetlands were used did not often conflict with the biodiversity that they harboured and hence the birds and wetland plants have co-existed with human use. This may not be such a happy story for long as wetlands now face different kinds of threats primarily from developmental pressures such as land conversion. For example, the new bus stand in Tirunelveli stands on what was once part of a wetland and currently, what remains of the wetland is the confluence of sewage from the city. In Ayan Singampatti village, the wetland has been encroached with paddy fields and the one in Pappankulam plays host to the garbage from the granite quarry. The frequent dynamites that go off in such quarries make sure that Diwali is celebrated all year keeping the birds away. Pattarkulam, a wetland in Kallidaikurichi is strewn with chicken waste and garbage. In most wetlands in Tirunelvelidistrict, lotus collectors are now using fertilizers like urea to increase the harvest. Hunting parties frequent Perungulam lake targeting pelicans. Some species, like the pond terrapin, even have a well-knit market for it to be traded. Even mongooses in dry wetlands are not spared as they are hunted either for their meat or for their fur. Trees that stand in wetlands face harvesting, which is unavoidable as they were planted by the forest department to be auctioned and harvested. Regardless of the threats, there have been instances when wetlands have triumphed despite odds. In Pudur, a cardboard factory was letting out its effluents into the wetland causing a stench and change in colour. After stiff resistance from local villagers the factory has now stopped polluting the wetland. But such examples are rare. A wide range of stakeholders need to take concerted efforts to conserve wetlands. Since the control of many of these wetlands lies with the Public Works Department, the department needs to have a strong action plan to maintain and manage these wetlands. In some villages, funds from the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee program are being used to clear wetlands of weeds. Such opportunities should be explored to help in planting saplings and maintaining trees in and around the wetlands. Effective replication of such well- intentioned efforts at a larger scale could help conserve and secure the future of wetlands which could be beneficial for both biodiversity and human well-being.



Editorial Team
Editor: Allwin Jesudasan
Associate editor: Rajkamal Goswami
Editorial Review: R. Ganesan, M. Soubadra Devy, T. Ganesh
Design and presentation: Kiran Salagame

Volume 6,  Issue 3
      November 2012

A S H O K A   T R U S T   F O R   R E S E A R C H   I N   E C O L O G Y   A N D   T H E   E N V I R O N M E N T

The changing dimensions of wetlands in Tamirabarani river basin
- Allwin Jesudasan and Mathivanan M
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