Hokersar Wetland fights for survival amid neglect

SRINAGAR, OCT 30: Nestled on the outskirts of Srinagar, the picturesque wetland of Hokersar has long been celebrated as the “Queen of Wetlands” due to its invaluable ecological significance. However, this serene sanctuary, which has been a refuge for migratory waterfowls, shorebirds, and trans-Himalayan species during the winter months, now faces an ominous threat to its very existence.

Hokersar’s story is a stark reminder of the alarming decline of wetlands in the region, characterized by official neglect and public indifference.

Considered to be vital components of our ecosystem, wetlands play a crucial role in filtering water and acting as natural buffers against floods. Unfortunately, the wetlands in Jammu and Kashmir are deteriorating at an alarming rate, a result of official apathy and public indifference.

Among the many wetlands facing a severe threat to their existence, Hokersar, located on the outskirts of Srinagar, stands out as a prime example. Hokersar, once known as the “Queen of Wetlands” due to its immense ecological value, is now on the brink of extinction. This wetland serves as a sanctuary for migratory waterfowls, shorebirds, and trans-Himalayan species during the winter months.

However, a lack of sustained conservation efforts has caused Hokersar to lose its carrying capacity and vital flora and fauna. Decades ago, Hokersar was characterized by vast expanses of water and marshy land, but today, most of it has dried up and turned into land.

Studies indicate that Hokersar has significantly shrunk, from 18.13 square kilometres in 1969 to a mere 13.42 square kilometres. The open water body has reduced from 210 hectares to just 45 hectares during this period.

Despite being designated as a Ramsar site, indicating international importance under the Ramsar Convention, no substantial measures have been taken to restore Hokersar. Large areas that were once marshy and teeming with wildlife have been colonised by aquatic weeds, while some parts have been converted into paddy fields and urban colonies.

The degradation of Hokersar’s ecological status is a consequence of encroachment, poor management strategies, and the devastating floods of 2014, which deposited tons of silt in the wetland, compromising its hydraulic function.

A recent study conducted by the Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUAST-K) found deteriorating water quality in Hokersar. The study revealed that the water and sediment quality varied seasonally and spatially due to regular inputs of pollutants from natural and anthropogenic activities. The high values of various pollutants and trace elements at the inlet site indicate human-induced activities as the primary source.

The excessive biological oxygen demand (BOD) level in the wetland’s water indicates severe pollution. To conserve Hokersar, experts recommend various strategies, including afforestation of the catchment region, prohibition of grazing in the watershed area, the establishment of a wastewater cleaning system, and continuous monitoring of the ecosystem.

According to a Government of India report, Jammu and Kashmir has lost 2372 kanals of wetlands over the past decade, underscoring the urgency of addressing the issue.

The arrival and number of migratory birds at Hokersar should not be mistaken as an indicator of its health. The Department of Wildlife Protection’s claim of reclaiming over 2000 kanals of encroached land and planting trees in Hokersar emphasizes the magnitude of encroachment. According to experts to protect Hokersar, proper demarcation and fencing are essential to prevent further encroachment.” The situation demands scientific measures and inter-departmental coordination to expedite conservation efforts. National and global experts should be engaged to save Hokersar and make its restoration a model for the conservation of other wetlands in Jammu and Kashmir.”

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