East Kolkata Wetlands
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|Official name||East Calcutta Wetlands|
|Designated||19 August 2002|
The East Calcutta Wetlands, (22 0 27’ N 88 0 27’ E), are a complex of natural and human-made wetlands lying east of the city of Calcutta (Kolkata), of West Bengal in India. The wetlands cover 125 square kilometres, and include salt marshes and salt meadows, as well as sewage farms and settling ponds. The wetlands are used to treat Kolkata's sewage, and the nutrients contained in the wastewater sustaining fish farms and agriculture.
The name East Calcutta Wetlands was coined by Dhrubajyoti Ghosh, Special Advisory(Agricultural Ecosystems), Commission on Ecosystem Management, IUCN, who reached this incredible but neglected part of the city searching the answer to a question: What exactly happens to the city sewage? These natural water bodies which were known just as fisheries provided the answer. Devised by local fishermen and farmers, these wetlands served, in effect, as the natural sewage treatment plant for the city. The East Kolkata Wetlands host the largest sewage fed aquaculture in the world.. After the decision to extend Salt Lake City by converting more wetlands in the area, a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) by CSOs saved the Wetlands by a landmark judgment of Justice Umesh Chandra Banerjee of Calcutta High Court.
The East Calcutta Wetlands were designated a "wetland of international importance" under the Ramsar Convention on 19 August 2002.
There are about 100 plant species, which have been recorded in and around the East Calcutta Wetlands. These include Sagittaria montividensis, cryptocoryne ciliata, Cyperus spp., crostichum aureum, Ipomoea Aquatica, etc. The Sunderbans used to extend up to patuli in the 1950s.
Several kinds of water hyacinths grow across these wetlands. Local farmers and fisher folk use water hyacinth to create a buffer between land and water to minimise erosion.
The area is also home to large numbers of coconut and betel nut trees. Many varieties of vegetables are farmed here, including cauliflower, eggplant, pumpkin, sunflower and sacred basil. Tracts of land are dedicated to paddy cultivation as well.
Numerous species of fish are farmed in the sewage fed ponds called bheris in the East Kolkata wetlands. These include silver carp, tilapia, The area is also home to marsh mongoose and small Indian mongoose. Palm Civet and Small Indian Civet are significant in and around East Calcutta Wetlands. Approximately 20 mammals are reported from this region. Snakes found in the East Calcutta Wetland include Checkered keel back (Fowlea piscator), Smooth water snake (Enhydris enhydris), Buff striped keel back (Amphiesma stolata), and Bronze back tree snake (Tendrelaphis pristis) It is the Type locality of a mammalian species, called Salt Lake Marsh Mongoose. Over 40 species of birds can be spotted at the wetlands. The process of urbanisation however, is leading to the disappearance of many bird species from the area.(Ghosh,A,K, 2004)
Kolkata is an example of how natural wetlands are sometimes being utilised in developing countries. Using the purification capacity of wetlands, the Indian city of Kolkata has pioneered a system of sewage disposal. Originally built to house one million (10 lakh) people, Kolkata is now home to over 10 million ( over 1 crore) people, with nearly one-third of them living in slums. But the 8,000-hectare East Kolkata Wetlands Ramsar Site, a patchwork of tree-fringed canals, vegetable plots, rice paddies and fish ponds – and the 20,000 people that work in them – daily transform one-third of the city's sewage and most of its domestic refuse into a rich harvest of fish and fresh vegetables. For example, the Mudially Fishermen's Cooperative Society is a collective of 300 families that lease 70 hectares into which wastewater from the city is released. Through a series of natural treatment processes – including the use of Eichhornia crassipes and other plants for absorbing oil, grease and heavy metals – the Cooperative has turned the area into a thriving fish farm and nature park.
Recently illegal landfills are on the rise and the wetlands are being slowly assimilated in the stream city. This unprecedented land development and urbanisation are creating concerns about the impact on the environment. This is because the wetlands serve as a natural sponge absorbing excess rainfall and doing its bit to reduce pollution. Wetlands are under threat due to exponential expansion of real-estate projects in eastern Kolkata especially in the Salt Lake and Rajarhat sectors. Now a days, land encroachment and land alteration are the important aspect of threats for East Kolkata Wetland (EKW). Transformation from wetland to fishing pond, i.e, aquaculture field are become a potential threat to EKW (Ghosh et al. 2018).
Microbial Diversity is an integral part of biodiversity which includes bacteria, archaea, fungi, algae, protozoa and protists (Ghosh, A., 2007). East Kolkata Wetland shows an immense diversity of flora and fauna both at the macro and micro level. Microbial richness of a region is its unseen asset that needs to be explored and conserved. Soil samples collected from ECW shows the presence of various new strains of microbes which are not only ecologically important but also have commercial value (Ghosh, A., 2007). These include Actinobacteria which are responsible for the degradation of nitrophenol, nitroaromatic compounds, pesticides and herbicides; Proteobacteria related to the bioremediation of heavy metals, degradation and recycling of woody tissues of plants, oil contaminated soil and toxic compounds and nitrogen fixation along with the cyanobacters; other bacteria playing important roles in metal accumulation, oil degradation, antimicrobial compound production, enzyme production etc. (Ghosh, A., 2007).
Role in climate change mitigation
Sewage fed aquaculture based artificial wetland, like East Kolkata Wetland (EKW), is a robust example of potential carbon sink and spin-off. EKW can sequester ~1.9 Mg C/ha/year, mitigating at least ~118 Gg atmospheric CO2/year. Plus, carbon uptake by harvested fish crop corresponds to ~61 Gg CO2/year - rewarding USD 3.6/kg blue C harvested.
The East Kolkata Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Act, 2006 represents an important landmark as it paved way for establishment of the East Kolkata Wetlands Management Authority (EKWMA) for conservation and management of the EKW. The EKWMA is constituted under Section 3 of the Act, 2006. In 2017 Section 3(2) of the Act, 2006 has been amended and the composition of the EKWMA has been changed. The EKWMA is a thirteen (13) member body with the Chief Secretary, Government of West Bengal, Secretaries of different Departments of State Govt. as well as four experts nominated by the State Govt. under the chairmanship of Minister-in-Charge, Department of Environment, Government of West Bengal. The EKWMA is guided by the East Kolkata Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Act, 2006, the East Kolkata Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2006, and the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2017.
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