On the occasion of #WorldWetlandsDay, a long-time friend of Daily Dump and a huge inspiration for many of us on all things water and Nature – S Vishwanath (more popularly known as @zenrainman!) – readily agreed to our request for a guest post. This is a part of our 15 year celebrations.
Every evening one makes it a point to go out for a walk. There is a lake close to the home and 5.30 p.m. is a good time to arrive there. The evening walkers are a plenty. Clockwise walking is the norm. Only a few walk anti-clockwise. Notice this next time you are in a park or a lake.
Another ritual is to say hullo to the old grass cutter later in the evening. He comes in every day. Walks in to the lake and for a couple of hours cuts the grass growing profusely in the lake bed. Loads it up on his head and walks 6 to 7 bundles outside the gate to his bicycle. This will feed his two cows and two more of his neighbours. In addition to the grass, he prefers taking a particular species of feed called Honngonnay soppu, which too grows profusely in the nutrient rich waters of the lake. This feed he says is particularly liked by his cows.
What are wetlands? Simply put, they are areas which can be water and land during parts of the year. They are places which can have a seasonal fluctuation of water and land. These places have typical species of plants and wildlife which have adapted to or take advantage of these conditions.
Wetlands are everywhere near you. In this city, almost all the ancient tanks or lakes which remain are wetlands. They harbour bio-diversity, even more than water bodies. Small reptiles, mammals, birds, plants and even algae thrive in these spaces, enhancing the quality of life of citizens. Wetlands have the property to assimilate nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates, heavy metals, organic carbon and help clean up water.
Wetlands are natures kidneys. In a city awash with nutrients, from bio-degradable kitchen waste, to human waste, to Phosphates in detergents and dishwashers, it is impossible for a water body to remain pristine like a swimming pool. The nutrients allow algae to bloom, certain species of plants to grow and proliferate.
Cat-tails, bulrushes, alligator grass, water lettuce, water hyacinth are all plants which love the nutrients in the water and thrive in it. They fix carbon from the air, take the nutrients from the water and grow quickly. Pretty soon they can occupy the whole of the water body.
Some of the plants like the water hyacinth can be freely floating, while others like the Cattails are deep rooted. Some plants can also survive fully submerged and some even on dry land on the side.
However, these plants or macrophytes as sometimes they are referred to can also clean waters. If managed well i.e., removed when too much and allowing for controlled growth, they can clean up wastewater pretty well.
Livelihoods: Cat tails can be woven into mats or can be used as roof thatching. Grass is a great feed for cattle. A good approach to managing wetlands is to dovetail livelihoods and bio-diversity. People who depend on the wetlands can be its greatest protectors in long term sustainability provided they are involved in the planning and management of the wetland. Often the poorest who depend the most on wetlands tend to get marginalized and kept away from it.