The wise-use plan recommended by a Ramsar official to manage the ecologically fragile East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW) calls for a review of the map of the 12,500 hectare site and the land-use changes since 2002, the year when it was included in the Ramsar list.
Following the visit of an official of the Ramsar secretariat, the West Bengal government has decided to come up with a "wise use" plan on how to best manage the wetlands in the future.
An international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands is called the Ramsar Convention or the Convention on Wetlands. The traaty draws its name from the city of Ramsar in Iran, where the convention was signed in 1971.
The recommendations for the wise-use plan were compiled following a two-day workshop earlier this month.
Through presentations, discussions and break-out sessions, the participants agreed there was a need to take a holistic approach to managing the site with the participation of all the relevant stakeholders. This would involve clearly marking the boundary and developing a wise-use plan for the site.
According to the report uploaded on the Ramsar site by Lew Young, Ramsar Senior Advisor for Asia & Oceania, the plan would include "a review of the map of the site when it was designated in 2002 to estimate the actual area of wetlands at that time and to estimate the land-use changes since".
The other recommendations include: "A census of the people within the site, an updated account of the present ecology and socio-economic condition of the East Kolkata Wetlands Ramsar Site, a description of the threats and challenges being faced by the site and the people living within it."
The report also stresses on "a clear set of actions on how to address the threats and challenges with a timetable of when the action would be taken and the budget required and where the funds would come from".
The Ramsar secretariat carries out the day-to-day coordination of the Ramsar Convention, which is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. It is named after the city of Ramsar in Iran, where the Convention was signed in 1971.
The next step will be the formation of a broad-based group stakeholder group who would develop the wise-use plan and to oversee its implementation, said Young.
The workshop was organised in association with Kolkata Commons Centre for Interdisciplinary Research and Analytics (CIRA).
The Ramsar Convention defines wise-use of wetlands as "the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development".
Wise-use can be seen as the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and all the services they provide, for the benefit of people and nature.
The EKW located on the eastern fringes of Kolkata forms one of the largest assemblages of sewage-fed fish ponds. It nurtures the world's largest wastewater-fed aqua culture system.
Each day, the wetland receives some 1,000 million litres of sewage which is passed through a series of canals, fish-pond and agricultural (mainly paddy) fields that make up the East Kolkata Wetlands, before discharging it into the Bay of Bengal after some 3-4 weeks.
On August 19, 2002, the EKW was included in the Ramsar list of 'Wetlands of International Importance'.
The wetlands encompass nearly 254 sewage-fed fisheries distributed across the districts of South and North 24-Parganas.
This natural waste water treatment system developed by the local community with their traditional wisdom saves the city the cost of having to build and maintain a conventional treatment plant.
In addition, the wetland also provides livelihood for around 25,000 families of fishermen, produces over 10,000 tonnes of fish per year along with rice and vegetables for the people of Kolkata.
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