Wular lake rich in its biodiversity and socio- economic values

Wular Lake, the second-largest freshwater lake in Asia, is situated between the towns of Bandipora and Sopore. Wular Lake is the livelihood source of thousands of anglers and is a natural flood reservoir and water security for Jhelum River as it drains off the excess water. The natural beauty of Wular Lake is its location, situated amidst the snow-clad hills.

Wular Lake is the primary habitat for the exotic avian and Pisces life of the region. The freshwater lake provides about 60 per cent of the fish yield of the Kashmir region and around eight thousand to ten thousand fishers earn their livelihood from this region and supply adequate quantities of fish in the whole state.

The Wular wetlands generate a source of revenue for the state government through fisheries and sales of fodder, chestnut, and other economically important species. The catchment area of the lake supports various indigenous species such as the alpine pastures and the coniferous forests.

Water-chestnuts or water-caltrops being the major production of the area, covers a significant portion of Wular. The lake is also home to a wide variety of fishes. The heart-shaped fruit is scooped out from picturesque floating plants that appear to be natural carpet of mosses covering the length and breadths of the lake.

Wular Lake is rich in its biodiversity and socio-economic values and houses multiple exotic and terrestrial birds like sparrow hawk, eared kite, Himalayan pied woodpecker, short-toed eagle, alpine swift, and many more.

Due to its rich biodiversity, Wular Lake was designated as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention in the year 1990. Wular Lake remains as the ideal for a romantic time near the turbulent and shimmering waters.

Wular Lake is the 2nd largest fresh-water lake of Asia, situated on the foothills of Haramuk Mountain. It is spread in a total area of 200 square km covering almost 24 km in length while its breadth is 10 km.  Main source of water for Wular Lake is River Jhelum. This lake also has a small island in its centre called the ‘Zaina Lank’. This island was constructed by King Zainul-Abi-Din. Wular Lake is also said to be a remnant of Satisar Lake that existed in ancient times. The premises of this lake also form a popular sunset point.

Jammu and Kashmir government is considering establishing 34.58 kilometres boulevard coming up along the periphery of Wular Lake to revamp the picturesque Ramsar Site. Official figures reveal that total perimeter of Wular boundary is 83.6km and the proposed boulevard project will begin from Garoora to Sopore, covering around 34.58km of its periphery.

The project will be completely eco-friendly and only battery driven cars would be allowed to ply on the road. Under Eco-Tourism plan, various look-out points, wooden ghats, tourist information centres, parking areas, besides many other initiatives would be undertaken and developed around the lake.

Massive slitting, rampant plantation, unabated encroachment, untreated sewerage and solid waste dumping have adversely affected the eco system of the lake; it is dying a silent death.

Official figures reveal that the area of the Wular Lake was 217.58 sqkm, including 58.37sqkm of associated marshes in 1911. As per the new revenue records of Jammu and Kashmir, the actual lake area excluding the associated marshes has now shrunk to 130 sqkm.

Wular Lake is said to be a remnant of Satisar Lake, a lake of the ancient times and the premises of this lake was a famous sunset point. At the entrance of the Wular Lake, a project known as the Tulbul Project was constructed to keep the navigation in a lock-cum-control structure.

The Wular Lake is commonly associated with the wetlands as it is an essential habitat for multiple migratory water birds within the Central Asian Flyway and also supports a rich biodiversity.

Due to its hydrological, biological, and socio-economic values, the Wular lake falls under the council as a Wetland of National Importance for its intensive conservation and management purposes under the Wetlands programme of the ministry of environment and forests, government of India in the year 1986.

In the year 1990, the Wular lake was given the designation as the Wetland of International Importance which falls under the Ramsar Convention.

Wular Lake has played a vital role in supporting biodiversity and livelihoods for decades. Due to the widespread reclamation and drainage of the lake and its marshes for agriculture, settlements and plantations the lake produces hundreds of tons of silt every year.

The rivers Erin, Bohner, and Madamati, arising and channelling its way from the mountain ranges and the rivers Vetasta and the Ningal from the south are the root cause of the uprising silting problem experienced at the site of the Wular Lake.

The second-largest Asian lake has met its end due to the high levels of silting, encroachment, massive plantation, and extension of agriculture fields. These activities have contributed to the shrinkage of the Wular Lake area and degradation of the natural resources.

During the period between 1911 to 2008, due to the overall water spread and marsh areas, the Lake shrunk by over half, reducing almost one-fifth of the area’s water storage capacity. The levels of the ever-increasing populations, encroachments around the Wular Lake has led to the killing of its aesthetic beauty.

Another significant contributor to Wular Lake’s pollution and shrinkage is the plantation of about two million willow trees. The willow trees were the primary source of wood for several insects such as crickets, bats, source of fruits, and the primary contributor of fires.

The lake and its extensive surrounding marshes have a vital flora and fauna collection.  The Wular Lake is a sustainable wintering destination for several migratory waterfowl species such as Shoveler, Little Egret, Mallard, Cattle Egret, and the common Pochard.

The Lake houses exotic species of birds that are enlisted under the RED List of the IUCN such as Pallas’s Fish-eagle and Marbled Tea. However, multiple terrestrial species of birds are observed to be dwelling around the Wular Lake such as Himalayan Pied Woodpecker,  Short-toed Eagle,  Monal Pheasant,  Little Cuckoo, and the European Hoopoe.

Another important fact about the Wular Lake is the habitat for fishes and contributes about 60 per cent of the fish yield in the region of Kashmir valley. The most governing species of fishes that are found to survive in Wular Lake are multiple species of Schizothorax, Gambusia affinis, Cyprinus carpio, Crossocheilus latius, Barbus conchonius, and species of Nemacheilus. These thriving availability of the species of fishes help more than 8000 fishermen earn their livelihood.

Additionally, the frequent hits of drought and flood have diminished the water regulation capacity of the wetland leading to a loss in water-holding power and shrinkage of the Wular Lake.

The only way to save the freshwater lake is through a demarcation line so that human intervention can be stopped as Wular Lake fosters an essential role in the hydrographic system plan for the Kashmir valley as it helps in the absorption of the basin for annual floodwater.

The author can be mailed at [email protected]

X (Twitter): @haniefmha


Related Articles