The Threatened Wetlands of the Nilgiris

Wetlands are a widely neglected ecosystem. Often regarded as wastelands, wetlands continue to be among the world’s most threatened regions. Most of them have been converted for agriculture, ongoing drainage, conversion, pollution, over-exploitation, fishing, real estate development and even building parks. The concern for conserving them have been steadily rising over the years and received a big push with the signing of the Ramsar Convention in 1971.

Globally and in India, wetlands are facing relentless pressure. They have been steadily and rapidly disappearing across the country over the past decades. The most severe impact has been from man and his activities that are commonly termed as anthropogenic pressure. Besides, increased threat of invasive plant species has also accelerated loss of wetland habitat.

In the Nilgiris, wetlands have been perceived as wastelands associated with disease, difficulty and danger. Emphasizing the negative impacts and ignoring their importance, these habitats were considered obstacles in the path of progress and hence drained, filled, despoiled and degraded for economic gains. The wetland loss has been responsible for bringing to the verge of extinction many species of animals and plants. Inadequate understanding of the crucial role and utility of wetlands is a matter of serious concern.

Historically, most wetland losses were due to agriculture. Today, the most common threat to Nilgiris wetlands is development because of fertile soil and location, many wetland areas are desirable for farming, business and housing developments and form localized high population zones within the Hill District.

In fact, a preliminary analysis suggests that the region has suffered an immense amount of loss in the number of wetlands due to agricultural interventions in the plain, fertile, valley areas. Lately, wetland losses are also due to other developmental activities like housing, community halls, toilets, schools as well as other business activities like eucalyptus oil distillation plants.

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