A picturesque getaway for the urban crowd, a haven for resident and migratory birds, and a source of livelihood for the local communities—wetlands have multiple roles to play. Did you know that wetlands are referred to as the 'kidneys of the environment'? The microbes and different plant species present in these water bodies filter the groundwater and improve its quality. Additionally, wetlands help recharge groundwater and absorb excess rainwater, thus preventing floods. Wetlands protect shorelines from natural disasters providing ecological and economic benefits. Wetlands also support a wide range of floral and faunal biodiversity. Of course, all of these functions exist only if the wetlands remain healthy, which is sadly far from the truth.

Since 1970, across 26 cities in India, wetland degradation has accelerated at an alarming rate, shares Dr Ritesh Kumar, Director, Wetlands International South Asia, in an interview. According to the data gathered, for every square kilometre increase in built-up area in these cities, about 25 hectares of wetlands have been lost. India is losing wetlands at the rate of about 2-3 per cent per year, and 85 per cent of our wetlands are located in rural areas, which remain a vital source of water and livelihood for the local communities.

Birds in Pallikaranai Marshlands in Chennai in Tamil Nadu
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Pallikaranai Marshlands in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, provide a haven for resident and migratory birds. Developmental activities in the vicinity are slowly encroaching on the wetlands and adding to the waste disposed here. Photograph: Samyak Kaninde

Wetland degradation has many facets to it. While indiscriminate dumping of waste and pollution due to effluents makes up one side of the story, wetlands are also impacted by urban development, encroachment, overfishing, deforestation and climate change.

Although wetlands, in general, mean a patch of land that is saturated with water, they can be further divided into marshes, mangroves, swamps, paddy fields, coastal watersheds, saltwater lakes, lagoons, lakes and more! The exhaustive list emphasises the need for conservation measures to be devised based on the nature of the water body, the issues specific to it, and its geographical location.

Lesser Flamingos in Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat
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The Little Rann of Kutch hosts an impressive diversity of birds and animals. It is estimated that its wetlands are frequented by more than 170 species of birds. But, the habitat is fast changing with developmental activities increasing in the vicinity. Lesser Flamingos (Phoeniconaias minor) | Bajana, Gujarat | Photograph: Yash Darji

Every year, World Wetlands Day is celebrated on February 2nd to raise awareness about the state of our wetlands. This year, the campaign is focused on spreading the message of #ActForWetlands—appealing to invest financial, human and political capital to save the world’s wetlands

In this photo feature, we bring you a series of images that highlights the various issues our wetlands and the species that depend on them face. We hope these telling photographs encourage thought and action towards wetland preservation and highlight the urgency of the issue at hand.

Smooth-coated Otters in polluted River Chambal in Rawatbhata Rajasthan
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Otters rely on pristine riverine habitats for survival, and pollution caused by indiscriminate disposal of waste is a significant threat to the species. Smooth-coated Otters (Lutrogale perspicillata) | Rawatbhata, Rajasthan | Photograph: Mohit Nagarwal
     Hiren Kadikar MG      | Nature Infocus
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Birds often mistake plastic to be an edible food source and ingest poisonous chemicals. Researchers across the world have found plastic debris inside bird carcasses. Birds also use plastic material to build nests, harming their chicks in the process. Lesser Flamingo juvenile (Phoeniconaias minor) | Gandhinagar, Gujarat | Photograph: Hiren Kadikar
Sagnik Basu                  | Nature Infocus
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A significant concern for wildlife, plastic pollution not only impacts their habitats but also exposes the animals and birds to toxic substances. Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) | Purbasthali, West Bengal | Photograph: Sagnik Basu

     Achintya Singh img      | Nature Infocus
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While wetland degradation is often discussed in the context of birds and aquatic species, the image shows how other lifeforms are equally impacted by these activities. Rivers and streams are home to a host of animals, including reptiles. Checkered Keelback (Xenochrophis piscator) | Dehradun, Uttrakhand | Photograph: Achintya Singh
     Rudra Chakraborty                    | Nature Infocus
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Did you know that globally, about 79 per cent of all the discarded plastic makes its way into the environment? Only a meagre 9 per cent is recycled. The data highlights the dire need to increase awareness about recycling and efficient waste management. Bronze-winged Jacana (Metopidius indicus) | Howrah, West Bengal | Photograph: Rudra Chakraborty
     Amith Menezies IMG        | Nature Infocus
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The overgrowth of duckweed, algae, hyacinth, etc can be harmful for several faunal species. Such neglected wetlands quickly become sites for garbage dumping, further worsening the situation, as seen in the image. Skink (Eutropis sp.) | Bangalore, Karnataka | Amith Kiran Menezes
  Done      conservation issues special mention abhijit addya dsc      | Nature Infocus
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The Rajarhat wetlands, situated about 15km from Kolkata, is a hunter's paradise. Hunters utilise trap nets to catch unaware avians, set up strategically across water bodies and marshes. Rajarhat, West Bengal | Photograph: Abhijit Addya
     Anindita Datta Muhuri | Nature Infocus
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Ghost nets or fishing nets left behind in water bodies cause serious harm to aquatic species and birds. Birds get trapped in these nets and sometimes accidentally ingest them, leading to injury or death. Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) | Bhigwan, Maharashtra | Photograph: Anindita Datta Muhuri
     Siddhant Arya                  | Nature Infocus
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The growth of urban infrastructure has drastically reduced wetland areas across cities in India. In Bhopal, active steps have been taken to restore and conserve the Upper Lake and Bhoj wetland, which has led to many birds frequenting the area. Bishankhedi, Bhopal | Photograph: Siddhant Arya
     dhruv prajapati                  | Nature Infocus
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While most accounts of feral dog attacks on wildlife focus on terrestrial animals, they also affect wetland avian species. Research has shown that feral and free-ranging dogs have been the cause behind the extinction of at least eight bird species across the world while placing numerous others in grave danger. Dabhoi, Gujarat | Photograph: Dhruv Prajapati
     Sushant Jadhav                      x     | Nature Infocus
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A host of birds visit the Bhandup Pumping Station area in Mumbai. Although the region has seen excessive degradation due to garbage dumping and plastic pollution, local NGOs and other organisations are mobilising efforts to bring change. Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) | Mumbai, Maharashtra | Photograph: Sushant Jadhav
       Devendra Chauhan basking in the glory | Nature Infocus
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Crocodiles routinely bask in the sun to moderate their body temperatures. The littered basking site shows how the pollution of wetlands impacts the daily activities of the animals that depend on them. Marsh Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) | Girnar, Gujarat | Photograph: Devendra Chauhan