GUWAHATI, Dec 14 - Conservationists and researchers have called for according Ramsar Site status to Son Beel � the largest wetland of Assam situated in Karimganj district � in view of its immense ecological worth. A study titled �Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Benefits of Son Beel Wetland in Assam, India� which was published by Hamburg University, Germany at its annual conference on Climate Change 2020 in March estimates the wetland�s monetary value from a minimum of $88 per hectare per year to a maximum of $29,716 per hectare per year.
Son Beel, popularly known as Shon Beel, is situated near Ramkrishna Nagar town and is the second-largest seasonal wetland in Asia besides being the largest wetland in Assam. The study conducted from January 2016 to December 2018 by Deepak Kumar, environment officer of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), India; Moharana Choudhury, environmentalist and researcher; Ashok Rathore, Biohm Consultant Private Ltd, Surat, Gujarat; and photographer Rahul Choudhury adopted �The Economics of Ecosystem and Biodiversity Model� for the valuation of ecosystem services and benefits of Son Beel.
During the lean season, the wetland offers highly fertile soil for agriculture, particularly rice cultivation. It holds an enormous amount of water that overflows during the rainy season because of the less depth of the beel. The beel water meets the Kushiara river through the Kakra river and drains into Bangladesh, making Son Beel a significant waterway. The wetland also creates a mesmerizing landscape with hills to its east and west.
Over 50 country boats ply on the wetland every day for regular transport service. Nine gaon panchayats encircle Son Beel directly and double the number along the inlet and towards the outlet. The inlet and outlet of Son Beel are river Shingla, which has its origin in Manipur. The beel also has wide fish diversity, including its speciality the bhujia fish.
According to the researchers, the wetland is facing serious ecosystem marginalization where ecosystem services have not been priced and reflected in decision making and which proves a complete market failure.
�Agriculture yield from transformed/converted/encroached lake does not reflect values lost due to flood protection, fisheries, biodiversity, etc. People who degrade are not the same whose livelihoods are affected leading to continued deterioration of the wetland. Wetland governance has been ineffective to address the factors leading to wetland depletion,� Deepak Kumar said.
Stressing how locals are dependent on the wetland for livelihood, Moharana Choudhury said that over 300 families depend on boat services for their income for six months. An equal number of families are engaged in boat making factories as rural artisans.
The beel has abundant biodiversity consisting of a wide range of fish species besides being a paradise for a number of migratory species of birds. Its diverse ecosystem services can be categorized as provisioning services, regulating services, cultural services, and supporting services � each category accounting for diverse services.
�The benefits and products obtained from wetlands as life and livelihood support such as freshwater, food, fibre, fuel, genetic resources, biochemical, natural medicines and pharmaceuticals are part of provisioning services. Regulating services include those benefits obtained from the regulation of the ecosystem services like water regulation, erosion regulation, water purification, waste regulation, climate and natural hazards regulation (e.g. floods, storms and droughts). Cultural services include non-material benefits people obtain from wetlands through spiritual enrichment,� Choudhury said.
Cognitive development, reflection, recreation and aesthetic experiences, cultural diversity, knowledge systems, educational values, social relations, sense of place, cultural heritage and ecotourism also stem from wetlands. Supporting services include those that are necessary for the production of all other ecosystem services.
�The beneficial impacts of such ecosystem services are indirect, likewise primary production, water cycling, nutrient cycling, etc.,� he added.
Choudhury, who is a member of NGO Voice for Environment, said that it had submitted a proposal to the State government for designating it as a Ramsar Site, i.e., a wetland of international importance. �We are confident that this wetland fulfils the nine critical criteria mandated by Ramsar Convention for being designated as an international site,� he said.
Son Beel provides a wide range of natural capital flow in terms of ecosystem services for the lives and livelihood of the people and community.
�It could have been developed as a major tourism hub as well as a research destination. We need to ensure wetland conservation, wise use, and restoration which are also an integral part of sustainable development goals (SDGs) planning and implementation. Integrating wetlands services and benefits in nationally determined contributions for the Paris Agreement on Climate Change is critical to achieving SDGs,� he said.