By Sanjay Kumar Jena
?Establish and enforce no construction zones in vulnerable areas and formulate a sustainable management plan for ecosystem recovery,? urged more than 4,000 scientists, wetland experts and engineers drawn from 32 countries and assembled at the Asian Wetland Symposium. They asked all national governments to give special consideration to victims of natural calamities like the tsunami.
After a day-long session dedicated to tsunami and coastal wetlands, several experts admitted that the tsunami was an extremely natural event of relatively low frequency but became intense due to the climatic change in coastal areas.
The tsunami disaster has helped create opportunities to demonstrate the best practices available in integrated coastal management and how and when to make a paradigm shift from the earlier unsustainable practices.
Experts from 32 countries participate in Asian Wetland Symposium.
The symposium felt an urgent need for coordinated and harmonious assessment in priority areas of affected coastlines in order to identify areas where ecological restoration would be most effective and where natural green-belts for protection against severe sea-storms, like tsunami, can be developed.
Several experts called for combining of competencies in assessment and implementing action plans related to the tsunami response and coastal wetlands. The session attended by all senior officials of Ministry of Environment and Forests favoured a community-led approach to protection and restoration of affected wetlands.
According to an assessment, the main impact of the tsunami on coastal wetlands varied according to the location and distance from the epicentre. The impact was intense where it led to loss of mangroves and seagrass beds, silting and degradation of coral reefs, sedimentation of coastal waters leading to algal blooms and major changes in inter-tidal and coastal lagoons.
Dr Max Finlayson, president, Wetland International, said, ?We discussed the impact of the tsunami to get a better understanding on its environmental aspects. We need to go for new sustainable livelihoods in the affected communities linked to the wetlands.? Dr Finlayson felt that restoration and protection of the remaining wetlands would help in ensuring the future food resources.
Ms Jane Madgwick, chief executive officer, Wetland International, stressed on protection of the remaining coastal ecosystems and re-zoning of development areas. She added that urgent action was needed to map the coastal ecosystems left intact in the region and identify areas for protection and sustainable management.
The symposium urged that degradation of wetlands caused by unsustainable development should be urgently arrested and knowledge-based strategies adopted for improvement of local communities.
Scientists recommended use of soft engineering structures instead of hard and huge structures which may transfer problems to adjacent areas. ?Eco-engineering practices that combine hard and natural structures can be cost-effective and appropriate and their methodologies need to be explored further,? said Ajit Patnaik, chief administrator, Chilka Development Authority.
The seven-point recommendations made at the tsunami assessment sessions will be sent to various governments, UN task forces and several international conventions on wetlands and biodiversity.
The special session was chaired by Ms Meena Gupta, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests.