What are the Ramsar Sites?
Concerned about the declining state of wetlands worldwide, nations came together to address this issue by signing a convention aimed at safeguarding and preserving internationally significant wetlands. The convention, which was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and became effective in 1975, has garnered participation from nearly 90% of UN member states. These countries, known as “Contracting Parties,” have committed to upholding the convention’s three fundamental principles:
- Work towards the wise use of all their wetlands.
- Designate suitable wetlands for the list of Wetlands International Importance and ensure their effective management.
- Cooperate internationally on transboundary wetlands, shared wetland systems, and shared species.
There are 9 criteria in two groups on which basis we can declare a site as a Ramsar site. Apart from the other factors, there are criteria based on species and ecological communities, waterbirds, fish, and on other taxa. You can browse our popular birdwatching tours in India.
The Ramsar Sites in India
India boasts a total of 75 Ramsar sites, encompassing inland wetlands, human-made wetlands, and marine or coastal wetlands. These sites are also classified based on the ecosystem services they offer, namely Provisioning services, Cultural services, regulating services, and Supporting services. These invaluable sites face various threats, such as climate change, pollution, invasive species, human intrusion etc.
In this article, we will share information about 10 wetlands that are of international importance and a breeding ground for many bird species.
Deepor Beel Sanctuary, Assam India
Located in Guwahati, the most populous and modern city in Assam, Deepor Beel is a permanent freshwater lake abundant with aquatic vegetation. The term “Beel” originates from the Assamese language, meaning lake. Encompassing approximately 900 hectares, Deepor Beel stands as one of the largest lakes of its kind in lower Assam. Its primary water sources include two rivers and monsoon rain runoff, with the lake eventually draining into the Brahmaputra River. The lake hosts a diverse range of tropical aquatic flora and is bordered by a forest on one side.
Birds found in Deepor Beel Sanctuary: Around 150 species of birds are found in this Beel which includes nine threatened species. The wetland harbors many species of migratory birds in India. the garbage dump near the lake is one of the largest congregations of Greater Adjutant Stork, an endangered species of bird. Ferruginous duck and Large whistling duck are found in great numbers.
Nalsarovar Wildlife Sanctuary, Gujarat
The Nalsarovar Wildlife Sanctuary sprawls across an expanse of 12,082 hectares and ranks as one of India’s most expansive shallow freshwater lakes. This lake features an elliptical basin characterized by a gradual incline. Remarkably shallow, it reaches a maximum depth of just 3 meters, with approximately 360 islands scattered throughout its waters.
Nalsarovar exemplifies the characteristics of a typical temporary shallow wetland, primarily observed in arid regions. This diverse ecosystem accommodates around 50 species of algae and boasts an impressive array of over 72 species of aquatic plants, contributing to its ecological richness.
Birds found in Nalsarovar Wildlife Sanctuary: Nalsarovar Wildlife Sanctuary is a haven for bird enthusiasts, with a documented presence of approximately 250 bird species, out of which 158 are waterbirds. Among these avian inhabitants are endangered species such as the Dalmatian Pelican, Pallas’s Fish-eagle, and Indian Skimmer. Additionally, the sanctuary is home to several common bird species, including the Eurasian Coot, Northern Shoveller, Northern Pintail, Eurasian Wigeon, Greater Flamingo, and Painted Stork.
Sultanpur National Park, Haryana
The Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary and National Park in the Gurugram district of Haryana occupy a total area of 143 ha. Sultanpur Lake forms the core area. This shallow lake is fed by the overflow from neighboring canals and agricultural fields, and replenished by saline groundwater. The park has seasonal aquatic vegetation and open grasslands, dotted with artificial islands planted with Babul trees.
Birds found in Sultanpur National Park: A total of over 320 bird species have been recorded in the park, as documented in Harvey’s 2003 study. Notably, the park serves as a crucial wintering ground for waterfowl, attracting a significant population of migratory birds. In years with sufficient rainfall, the sanctuary has been able to support over 20,000 individuals of these migratory bird species, underscoring its importance as a vital habitat for avian biodiversity. Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary wetland is home to a notable waterbird breeding colony, housing species such as the Painted Stork, Oriental Darter, Black-headed Ibis, and a pair of Sarus Cranes that nest here annually. In addition to these breeding birds, the adjacent dry flats serve as crucial wintering grounds for various lark and wheatear species. Furthermore, the area supports breeding populations of the Indian Courser, Yellow-wattled Lapwing, and Chestnut-bellied Sandgrouse, contributing to the wetland’s rich avian biodiversity.
Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, Karnataka
Ranganathittu stands as one of India’s oldest bird sanctuaries, renowned for hosting one of the most picturesque heronries in the country. Its status as a sanctuary was established in 1940, following the efforts of Sálim Ali, often referred to as India’s Birdman. The sanctuary is composed of six islets and one main island, shaped by a weir constructed by the ruler of Mysore across the River Kaveri during the 1640s.
Within Ranganathittu, the Kaveri River flows at a leisurely pace, creating numerous secluded waterways where the water is almost still. These tranquil waters offer an ideal habitat for colonial nesting of waterbirds. The sanctuary is enveloped by irrigated agricultural fields, providing ample foraging grounds for the diverse avian population residing in this unique sanctuary.
Birds found in Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary: Ranganathittu is home to an impressive array of bird species, with nearly 170 different kinds recorded in the area. During the winter season, the sanctuary becomes a temporary residence for various bird species including the Indian Blue Robin, Forest Wagtail, Western Marsh Harrier, Common Swallow, Asian Paradise Flycatcher, Greenish Warbler, Booted Warbler, Blyth’s Warbler, Paddyfield Warbler, Brown Shrike, and Greater Spotted Eagle, enhancing its appeal as a birdwatcher’s paradise.
Pong Dam Lake, Himachal Pradesh
The Pong Reservoir came into existence in 1976 through the damming of the Beas River in the foothills of the Himalayas, situated on the northern periphery of the Indo-Gangetic plain. The reservoir encompasses a number of deforested islands, which serve as a magnet for a diverse range of waterbirds. The northern edge of the reservoir features flat terrain, marked by mudflats and wet grasslands, creating an ideal environment that draws significant concentrations of birds to the area.
Birds found in Pong Dam Lake: The lake attracts a rich avian diversity, with over 200 bird species documented in the area. Among the notable species observed are the Great Cormorant, River Tern, Bar-headed Geese, Northern Pintail, Common Coot, and Common Teal, which are often seen in substantial numbers around the site.
Tso Moriri, Ladakh
Tso Moriri, located in eastern Ladakh, stands as the largest high-altitude Trans- Himalayan Lake entirely situated within Indian territory. This significant natural waterbody was designated as a Ramsar Site in 2003, recognizing its international importance for biodiversity and conservation efforts. Tso Moriri Lake is sustained by streams and snowmelt from two major stream systems, leading to the formation of extensive marshes as they flow into the lake. During winter, from December to April, the lake freezes, transforming into a serene icy expanse. The presence of small islands near the north and south ends of the lake holds great importance as breeding grounds for various waterfowl species, contributing significantly to the lake’s biodiversity.
Birds found in Tso Moriri: Tso Moriri holds remarkable significance as one of the most crucial breeding sites for waterfowl in Ladakh. Notably, it is renowned as the best-known and most important breeding ground for the Bar-headed Goose within Indian territory, as documented in Pfister’s 1998 study. Namgail et al. reported counting 135 Bar-headed Geese in late July in the northern part of the lake, emphasizing the lake’s importance for this species.
Additionally, Tso Moriri supports substantial breeding populations of various avian species including the Great Crested Grebe, Ruddy Shelduck, Lesser Sand Plover, Brown-headed, and Common Tern. This diversity underscores the lake’s crucial role in supporting the breeding ecology of these waterfowl species.
Loktak Lake, Manipur
Lokatk lake is the largest freshwater lake in Northeast India. Keibul-Lamjao National Park, situated in the southern portion of Loktak Lake and is characterized by a vast continuous swamp area featuring floating mats of vegetation, locally referred to as phumdis. These phumdis cover a significant portion of the lake’s surface and are primarily composed of decaying vegetation.
Keibul-Lamjao National Park, covering an area of 4,000 hectares, serves as the habitat for the Endangered Manipur Brow-antlered Deer (Cervus eldi eldi), which is one of the three subspecies of Thamin Deer (Cervus eldi). Locally known as Sangai in Manipur, this deer holds the prestigious title of State Animal. The establishment of Keibul-Lamjao National Park was primarily aimed at safeguarding this unique deer species. Initially believed to be extinct in 1951, a subsequent survey conducted by the IUCN revealed the presence of a small population within the park.
Sangai possess remarkable adaptations to their floating habitat, including distinctive hooves that enable them to navigate effortlessly across the park’s floating islands. These characteristics make them exceptionally suited to this environment, underscoring the importance of conserving Keibul-Lamjao National Park as their essential refuge.
Birds found in Loktak Lake: Keibul Lamjao is part of the Loktak Lake ecosystem which is a refuge to thousands of birds of at least 116 species, including 21 species of waterfowl.
Chillika Lake, Odisha
Chilika Lake is an estuarine lagoon, shallow throughout its spread of 116,500 ha. It is the largest brackish-water wetland in India (Kar & Sahu 1993). The Government of India notified Chilika Lake as a Ramsar site in 1981. Several islands are located in Chilika lagoon covering an area of 22,300 ha. One of these, namely Nalabana Island with an area of 1,553 ha, was declared as a bird sanctuary in 1987. Nalabana literally means ‘forest of reeds.
Birds found in Chillika Lake: Chilika Lake, and specifically Nalabana Island, are paramount waterfowl habitats in India, supporting a significant avian population. The overall waterfowl count in Chilika nears 800,000, with notable species including the Northern Pintail ranging from 80,000 to 100,000 individuals. Other birds, such as the Garganey, Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal, Red-crested Pochard, Black-tailed Godwit, Brown-headed Gull, and abundant marine terns such as Large Crested Tern and Lesser Crested Tern.
Keoladeo Ghana National Park, Rajasthan
Keoladeo National Park, widely known as the Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary, enjoys global acclaim for its diverse avifauna. In addition to its rich birdlife, the park offers sightings of various mammals. What sets Keoladeo National Park (KNP) apart is its unique wetland ecosystem, which originated from a natural depression, once a transient rainfed wetland. The park’s transformation into a permanent waterfowl reserve traces back to the construction of Ajan Bandh, a temporary reservoir located approximately one kilometer from the park’s current boundary, around 250 years ago. This human intervention, involving the flooding of the area, marked the beginning of the park’s evolution from a natural depression to a thriving habitat for waterfowl and other wildlife.
Birds found in Keoladeo Ghana National Park: Keoladeo National Park, recognized as one of the most biologically diverse bird areas globally, is home to over 350 bird species. A comprehensive study conducted over a three-year period from 2003 to 2006 identified a total of 343 bird species within the park’s boundaries. This makes Keoladeo one of the most extensively studied bird habitats in India.
The park serves as a crucial breeding ground for several bird species, including the Painted Stork, Asian Openbill, Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-headed Ibis, and Oriental Darter, as well as various egrets, herons, ibises, and storks. Among the 26 species of birds breeding in heronries across India, 15 species find their breeding grounds within the confines of Keoladeo National Park.
Asan Conservation Reserve, Uttarakhand
The Asan Conservation Reserve, is located at the confluence of the Yamuna hydel canal and Asan River (a small rain-fed tributary of the Yamuna). It was declared as the first conservation reserve of India in 2005 and includes a freshwater reservoir of approximately 100 ha and surrounding varied habitats, totaling 444 ha.
Birds found in Asan Conservation Reserve: The wetland at Asan Barrage boasts a 30-year-old nesting site for the Vulnerable Pallas’s Fish-eagle. During winter, the area sees an impressive gathering of up to 5,000 waterfowl, showcasing high species diversity. This is attributed to the presence of both shallow and deep waters, coupled with the proximity of the Yamuna River. Among the commonly observed species are the Ruddy Shelduck, Mallard, Wigeon, Gadwall, Northern Shoveller, and Common Teal. Additionally, the site is frequented by Red-crested Pochard, Common Pochard, and Tufted Duck. Asan Barrage stands out as one of the best locations for witnessing large congregations of Ruddy Shelduck and various other bird species.
Noteworthy events include the sighting of over 2,000 Ruddy Shelducks on February 12, 2003. The area also serves as a habitat for diverse raptors, including the Osprey, Marsh Harrier, Steppe Eagle, Oriental Honey-buzzard, and Changeable Hawk-eagle. Positioned in the northwest and serving as a stopover for Trans-Himalayan migratory birds, Asan Barrage attracts waterfowl migrants that are seldom seen elsewhere. This includes rare species like the Black-necked Grebe and Great Crested Grebe. Some exceptional records in this area consist of the Common Shelduck, Black-necked Stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus), and Black-bellied Tern. In total, more than 250 bird species have been documented in this Important Bird Area (IBA), encompassing many globally threatened and Near Threatened species.