We have at least 534 natural inland wetlands as glacial lakes and ponds with low turbidity, spread mostly in our higher altitudes. Some 160 wetlands greater than 02.25 ha occupy about 1985 ha in our highlands with North Sikkim having the highest number (135) in the state with an area of 1807.50 ha. Such lakes like Tsomgo for example, freeze over in winter. East and West districts have 14 and 11 wetlands each with an area of 120.75 ha and 56.25 ha while there are none in South Sikkim.
Sikkim has 116 wetlands, mostly glacial and snow-melt lakes listed for inclusion in the National Wetland Conservation Programme; but most of our wetlands are very small ranging from one to five hectares. So far six wetlands Khecheopalri, Tsomgo, Phedang Tso (Bedang Tso), Tamzey, Gurudongmar Tso and Tembao Lake and Glacier Complex were included under National Wetland Conservation Programme (NWCP), but we need to extend conservation to nearby wetlands and include them as clusters or Complexes.
Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) has published a book “Potential and Existing Ramsar Sites in India” with a Sikkim chapter. This includes our three most important wetland clusters, which also form part of Important Bird Areas or IBAs. This information has been forwarded to Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India as Ramsar Wetlands Information Sheets (RISs) so that a good case is made for their inclusion in the international Ramsar List as RAMSAR SITES.
THREE PROPOSED RAMSAR SITES IN SIKKIM
A. Khecheopalri-Khangchendzonga-Lhonak Complex: comprising
a. Khecheopalri Lake and two IBAs or Important Bird Areas
b. Khangchendzonga biosphere Reserve (KBR) (West and North Sikkim)
c. Lhonak Valley (North Sikkim)
A wetland complex of the country’s highest altitude National Park and Biosphere Reserve, with Khecheopalri on the southern fringe, Lhonak Valley on its northern fringe and the Tista River Valley along its right flank. Migratory Avocets and globally threatened Black-necked Crane, Baer’s Pochard and Black-tailed Crake have been sighted here.
B. Tsomgo-Bedang Tso Complex: comprising two IBAs
a. Kyongnosla Alpine Sanctuary–Tsomgo- Tamze-Chola Complex
b. Pangolakha Wildlife Sanctuary–Zuluk-Bedang Tso Complex
The only wetland-forest complex with its main waterbody in Sikkim draining out of the state into Bhutan instead of through it. The largest congregations of waterbirds in East Sikkim including breeding populations of Brahminy Shelduck have been recorded on Phedang Tso (Phaedon = Monal Pheasant in Bhutia).
C. Tso Lhamo Plateau-Lashar-Yumesamdong-Tembao Complex: comprising
a. Tso Lhamo-Lashar-Sebu La-Yumesamdong Complex
b. Tembao Lake and Glacier Complex
The largest wetland complex forming the sources of the principal river of Sikkim, the Tista, originating in the cold desert with typical trans-Himalayan geological formation in the north. This includes the four great lakes on the Tibetan plateau part of Sikkim, namely Gyam Tsona (Ocean Lake) a remnant of the prehistoric Tethys Sea in North Sikkim, where the largest congregations of waterfowl like Northern Pintails, breeding Brahminy Shelduck, have been recorded; Gurudongmar Tso; Tso Lhamo and Khangchung Tso (at the mouth of Tista Khangse Glacier).
The proposal has been sent to Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India. If these three wetland complexes are accepted by the Ramsar Secretariat with help from MoEF, we can look forward to another great achievement of Sikkim towards Biodiversity Conservation.
MANJIT SINGH, IFS
PCCF cum Addl. CS
Dept. of Forest, Env. & WL Management