A three-hour walk around small walkways in the Bhandup wetlands off the Eastern Express Highway on Sunday morning left Nidhi Trivedi, 19, fascinated with the marine eco-system.
“The entire mangrove stretch is so pristine,” said Trivedi, a student of Nirmala Niketan College of Social Work, Churchgate.
As the city gears up to celebrate World Wetlands Day on Thursday, Trivedi’s concern echoes this year’s theme for wetlands: ‘Wetlands and Tourism’.
World Wetlands Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands in 1971, in the city of Ramsar in Iran, to protect and conserve these spaces. India is a signatory to the Ramsar Convention.
According to environmentalists, wetlands can serve as places for recreation and eco-tourism and have the potential to compensate for the lack of open spaces in and around Mumbai. In recent years, massive urbanisation have led to reclamation of wetlands.
While nature trails to watch flamingoes at the Sewri mudflats or backwaters and marshes at Airoli are regularly organised, there are a large number of less-known wetlands.
“People go near water bodies, be it the sea or a pond, to relax and recreate,” said Rishi Agarwal, secretary, Mangrove Society of India, Maharashtra Chapter.
Agarwal said that designating wetlands into tourist spots would serve a dual purpose. “Firstly, it would help conserve wetlands. That means saving ourselves because they help in various ways such as flood prevention and food security.”
Environmental experts said that wetland areas such as Navi Mumbai, Thane creek, Bhandup-Kanjurmarg-Vikhroli and Mumbra-Bhiwandi-Diva-Kalyan belts, which are home to many species of mangroves birds and migratory birds such as lesser flamingoes, greater flamingoes, storks, Eurasian spoonbills, harriers and egrets, have the potential to be recreation areas.
On Sunday, Elsie Gabriel, founder president, Young Enviromentalists Programme Trust wrote to state environment secretary Valsa Nair Singh to designate the city’s wetlands as tourist spots and display information on the area, wildlife and biodiversity at entry points of all mangrove zones in Mumbai.
“If discharge of effluents into creeks is controlled, the wetland will be a paradise for birds and marine life. The state government can designate them as tourist spots instead of letting them go into hands of developers,” said Gabriel.
Tomorrow: wetlands that have disappeared or are under threat.