Policy makers, experts, and practitioners from the Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) converged at a symposium held on the side lines of the 10th INTECOL International Wetland Conference in Changshu, China, from 19–24 September 2016. The day-long symposium, Novel Ecosystem of Alpine Wetlands in the Context of Climate Change, was co-organized by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), and the National Plateau Wetland Research Centre (NPWRC), China, on 23 September 2016.
Hosted by Kun Tian, NPWRC, and Sunita Ranabhat, ICIMOD, the symposium provided a platform for participants from the HKH to share their experiences, discuss multiple drivers of changes, and share management strategies for wetlands in the region. The participants held scientific discourse on the principles of alpine wetlands ecology, citing examples of research carried out in Bangladesh, China, India, Nepal, and Myanmar.
The INTECOL International Wetland Conference (IWC), held every four years, provides an opportunity for wetlands researchers from around the world to convene. They learn about and share current understandings of wetland biodiversity, the wise use of wetlands, and the functional role of wetlands in ecosystem management as an ecosystem service. More than 800 participants from 76 countries attended this year.
Sunita Ranabhat, ecosystem analyst at ICIMOD, described research trends and gaps in relation to the ecosystem services of high altitude wetlands in the HKH. She said that although high altitude wetlands are important environmentally, ecologically and socio economically, research on the ecosystem services they provide is still inadequate. Though they are a unique ecosystem, their economic value has limited recognition among policy makers, and the public.
Policies, practices, and opportunities for high altitude wetland conservation in Nepal, were presented by Ishwari Prasad Poudel from the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation, Nepal. Poudel said that the government of Nepal has prioritized wetland conservation, and recognizes the role of communities in the conservation, management, and wise use of wetlands, including benefit sharing from wetlands.
Shailendra Pokharel, president of Conservation Development Foundation, Nepal, presented on wetland governance for the sustainability of Himalayan lakes in Nepal. Pokharel said that the establishment of a National Lake Conservation Development Committee (NLCDC) is a step towards effective lake governance in Nepal. He said that more information and knowledge is needed, that appropriate technology must be explored, and adequate finance leveraged, for the sustainability of lakes.
Ishana Thapa, who is with Bird Conservation Nepal, presented on the importance of Rara Lake, a high altitude lake in Nepal, and a Ramsar site, listed for its biodiversity and the livelihood opportunities it offers local people. She said that pressures on wetland resources are leading to the degradation of wetlands.
Hang Wang, from the National Plateau Wetlands Research Centre, China, said that the domestication of Tibetan pigs poses a threat to local ecosystems. Rooting pigs not only change plant structure and species composition, but also change soil composition and soil fraction. This behaviour in pigs also impairs carbon storage, and the water holding capacities of wetland soil.
Xiao Feng Wang from Chongqing University, China, presented findings from the study he carried out in the Changjiang River. He said that rapid urbanization processes alter hydrology, and increase nutrient flow in the water. This, he said, alters the carbon biogeochemical cycle in the terrestrial-aqueous-atmospheric ecosystem which impacts global carbon budgets.
Xing Zhong Yuan from Chongqing University said that the importance of mountain wetland agriculture was recognized in China as early as the 14th Century. He said that multifunctional mountain wetland agriculture is the best approach to solving issues related to pollution, water conservation, and biological production.
Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, from the IUCN Bangladesh Country Office, talked about the introduction of community based management in Tanguar Haor for the sustainability of wetlands. Rural economy depends largely on production related to the hydrological functions of wetlands in Bangladesh. The sustainable management of wetlands is therefore indispensable here. Speaking of the benefits of Tanguar Hoar’s community based sustainable management project, Chowdhury said, “The community’s decision making capacity has increased since the intervention. Good governance, and the wise use of wetland resources have increased as well.”
Myanmar’s Inle Lake is facing threats due to the over extraction of resources, land use change, and pollution. Pyae Phyo Aung, programme manager of the Biodiversity and Nature Conservation Association (BANCA), said that a zoning principle has been introduced to the lake for the conservation of wetland ecosystems.
Chongpi Tuboi, a research scientist at the Wildlife Institute of India, said that ecological information on the structure and function of floating meadows is insufficient. Presenting a study on vegetation structure, and the composition of the floating meadows of Keibul Lamjao National Park in India, she pointed out that although 57.4% of the park is covered in meadows, the thickness of the floating mass shows a decreasing trend. She said that thick meadowed areas need to be conserved for the long term conservation of wildlife species endemic to the lake.
Neeraj Mahar, Wildlife Institute of India, said that although the buffer zone concept is available for wetlands and water fowl habitats, it is hardly practiced in a manner that keeps wetlands free from external disturbances and development pressures. He presented a scientific approach to delineating buffer zones around wetlands based on the Flight Initiation Distances (FIDs) of water fowl in the Changthang Wildlife Sanctuary in Ladakh, India. He suggested that this approach be replicated in other wetlands, and be considered a necessary tool for wetland management.
Irfan Rashid from the University of Kashmir, presented on the ecology, biodiversity, and conservation of Tsomoriri – a high altitude Ramsar site. He highlighted the importance of these wetlands for migratory birds and key mammal species.
“Wetlands are facing the growing impacts of tourism, unplanned development activities, and overgrazing,” he said, adding that it is important to take necessary measures immediately to maintain ecological balance in the lake and its surroundings.