World famous for its beauty, the Kashmir Valley is teeming with various types of freshwater bodies and the region has many wetlands of national importance and international recognition. These water bodies are a critical source of livelihood and job opportunities for a large number of the population in the form of fishing, agriculture, and tourism.
The National Wetland Atlas (NWA) in 2011 had listed 3,651 wetlands covering 3,91,501 ha in the then undivided state of Jammu and Kashmir. Of the total number of wetlands, 2,240 have an area of less than 2.25 ha.
Wetlands of Jammu and Kashmir
The region has six wetlands Shallabugh, Haigam, Surinsar-Mansar, Hokersar, Wular and Tsomoriri (now in Ladakh) of International Importance identified under the Ramsar convention.
Among a total of 1,230 lakes/wetlands listed in the directory of wetlands and water bodies, 415 are in Kashmir, 150 in Jammu and 665 in Ladakh. Extensive swamps have also been formed in low-lying areas through catchment drainages, particularly between Srinagar and Sopore: Rakh Asham, Hokersar, Naugam, Shallabugh, Anchar, Soibugh, Narkara, Mirgund, Malgam, Chatlam/Krachloo are some of the main wetlands from the valley. While the Jammu region has five prominent wetlands namely Pargwal, Gharana, Sangral, Kukrian and Nanga.
In addition, most of the wetlands in the region fall under the Central Asian Flyway Zone (CAF) and are visited by thousands of migratory and endangered birds during their annual flyway. These wetland areas also provide a safe haven for native vegetation and wildlife. Their protection is crucial to combat the double impact of climate change, water scarcity and flooding.
Furthermore, the central government in September 2019 identified 12 wetlands in the region for priority restoration in the next five years.
Dying wetlands of Kashmir valley
The Kashmir Valley is home to a chain of wetlands covering an area of more than 7,000 hectares. Wetlands are very effective systems that help in the cycling of nutrients, act as defenders of food chains, maintenance of water quality and its cycle.
Wetlands are recognized for their shallow, moist soil and aquatic vegetation. Its important services include water cleaning, groundwater recharge, biodiversity reserves for threatened and endangered species, and nutrient cycling.
The Hokersar Wetland (34°06′ N latitude, 74°05′ E longitude) which is located in the northernmost part of the Doodhganga Basin is a protected wildlife reserve and Ramsar site at an altitude of 1,584 m (masl). The wetland is home to around two million winter migratory waterfowl that migrate from Siberia and the Central Asian region. The wetland is fed by two inflowing streams Doodhganga (from the east) and Sukhnag Nalla (from the west).
The wetland of Hokersar has been traditionally used for various subsistence purposes for centuries. People living on the periphery of wetlands cultivate rice, vegetables, rare poultry, livestock, fish, and also engage in other activities such as gathering wood, mulch, and cane. The wetlands of Kashmir provide a hibernation place for millions of waterfowl. It has shrunk in size and been depleted due to anthropogenic activities and invasions.
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