Vembanad-Kol backwaters, Kerala, Vembanad-Kol backwaters, Kerala, India © Wetlands international - South Asia, 2012
The project is aimed at developing a management planning framework for conservation and wise use of Vembanad-Kol backwaters as a means to support mainstreaming wetland ecosystem services and biological diversity into developmental planning and decision making processes. The objective of this project is to design an ecologically and socioeconomically sound ecosystem restoration programme for Vembanad Kol backwaters, Kerala.
Vembanad-Kol constitutes one of the largest wetland regimes on the Malabar coastline. The wetland complex comprises Vembanad estuary flanked by river floodplains of Kuttanad and Kol, in south and north respectively interspersed by river estuaries and mangrove marshes which are interconnected by an intricate network of natural and manmade channels extending to over 1,780 km2. Spanning around 145 km along the coastline of Alappuzha, Ernakulam and Thrissur Districts, Vembanad-Kol wetlands form a part of the extensive chain of backwaters which are characteristic features of the state. The rich diversity supported by these wetlands is indicated by recorded presence of 147 plankton, 338 plant, 158 fish, and 225 bird species. Each year during winters, Vembanad-Kol harbours one of the highest populations of migrating waterbirds in the Central Asian Flyway within India. The wetland sustains livelihoods of nearly 0.2 million households through backwater tourism, inland navigation, and a range of resources as clams, shellfish and finfish. Located at the apex of the basin, Vembanad-Kol also regulates hydrological regimes, providing flood protection to large settlements as Cochin and Ernakulam as well as water for agriculture in the Kuttanad region – the Rice Bowl of Kerala. Vembanad – Kol was designated as a Wetland of International Importance (Ramsar Site) under the Ramsar Convention by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India in 2002. Vembanad Estuary and Kol Lands have been also identified as Important Bird Areas (IBA) of Kerala State. Mangalavanam, located on the eastern fringes of the wetland and a site of large waterbird congregation was declared as a Bird Sanctuary1 under the Wildlife Protection Act in 2004.
Lack of consideration of wetland ecosystem processes and its full range of ecosystem services and biodiversity values in regional developmental planning has led to rapid transformation of Vembanad-Kol, creating several adverse ecological and socioeconomic impacts.
State Departments of Environment and Forests, and Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries
Tourism Sector (including Boathouse operators and owners)
Fishing and Aquaculture community
The output of this project is an Integrated Management Planning Framework for the Conservation and Wise-Use of the Vembanad Kol. The Kerala State Government is keen to carry out a similar exercise for a number of other wetlands in Kerala.
Implementation of the regulatory framework is challenged. A formal structure for managing wetlands of Kerala is yet to emerge.
In August 2013, the Supreme Court took suo-moto cognizance of the fact that Vembanad Backwaters was “undergoing severe environmental degradation and there has been large scale encroachment and constructions going on in violation of the CRZ Notifications”, and directed the state government to identify all the CRZ violations around Vembanad backwaters and its islands. In July 25, The Kerala High Court ordered demolition of 59 villas and constructions on the island of Nediyathuruthu, near Cochin. Similarly, land use change analysis within Kuttanad indicates slow but increasing incidence of conversion of paddy lands for alternate uses. Discharge of untreated or partially treated industrial waste into rivers and water bodies continues unabated. Conserving mangroves has been equally challenging as they are located on lands with private titles.
The drivers and pressures that impact wetlands are numerous. This project aims to identify the threats and cumulative impacts of these threats, on the Vembanad Kol wetlands in Kerala, which support the livelihoods of hundreds.
The following are the key lessons and experiences with reference to establishing a wetland management institution for Vembanad Kol:
Vembanad-Kol backwaters, Kerala, India
28th Nov 2011 to 30th Nov 2012
Co-financing from Wetlands International-South Asia: INR 295,000
Mr. Ritesh Kumar
Conservation Programme Manager
Wetlands International - South Asia