Two of Gujarat’s four Ramsar wetlands, Nalsarovar and Wadhwana, are likely losing favour with many migrating bird species as a result of the floods of sweet Narmada water, according to scientists.
Aquatic weeds that sprout above the surface of the water are creating an alarming reduction in the open water surface at Nalsarovar. The lake, a sanctuary for migrating birds, made headlines recently because water levels were rising to an unsuitable level for waterbirds. Similar to Wadhwana in Dabhoi, which is unfavourable for waddling birds that prefer shallow water due to 20-foot water levels on its deep side. The final day of the bird census revealed that there are probably fewer than 200 greater and lesser flamingos in Nalsarovar.
Other migratory species including the shoveler, garganey, pintail, and pochard may also experience a 40% reduction in population. The total number of birds in 2020 was only 2.5 lakh. In a similar vein, only about 50,000 birds are observed in and around Wadhwana this year compared to over 90,000 last year. Senior forest officials said that constant changes in water levels at Wadhwana and inundation of Narmada water may be the prime reasons behind the decline in numbers. “It is a cause for concern.
We want to ascertain why the number of birds is so low at Wadhwana this year. We are planning to rope in experts to conduct a study on the water’s chemical characteristics,” a senior official said.
Participating birdwatchers in the census claim that there are now more common cranes and greylag geese in Nalsarovar. These species only wander around Nalsarovar’s edges in order to forage and roost. One ornithologist who regularly visits Nalsarovar said, “A large area, about 30% of the lake surface, is covered with emergent aquatic weeds. This is not conducive for many migratory species and ducks.”
Another ornithologist said the increase in emergent aquatic weeds is because the salinity level of the lake is being reduced. “With inflows of Narmada water, the nature of the lake is changing quickly and there has been no study commissioned on this matter,” an ornithologist said.
A senior officer said, “We need to commission a long-term study to ascertain the impact of this type of vegetation on birds,” he said. Dr Bakul Trivedi, an ornithologist and a doctor by profession, said, “We cannot say anything with certainty in Nalsarovar as the department has not carried out any study. This is the first Ramsar site in the state and efforts should be intensified for its proper management.”
The Little Rann of Kutch’s decreased salinity, which has led agariyas (workers at salt pans) to record a sharp decline in salt production, may also be due to Narmada water imports. The presence of Narmada water in the Little Rann has been a blessing for ornithologists because it keeps some bird species there for longer periods of time.
The birds would leave by October if there was no water from the Narmada River. Up until January, migratory birds can be spotted at locations like the Tundi wetland and Bajana due to the mixing of Narmada water with pooled precipitation. This may cause a decline in the number of migratory birds in the other wetlands.