International Waterbird Census coordinator and senior technical officer at Wetlands International, Taej Mundkur recently gave a talk ‘Birds, Wetlands and Flyways’ organised by Goa Bird Conservation Network (GBCN) at Carmel College, Nuvem on August 1. Taej spoke to
NT BUZZ about the urgent need of conserving and protecting Wetlands and Waterbirds
SACHI NAIK | NT BUZZ
“If you don’t turn science into action it just remains science in the book,” is what Taej Mundkur, International Waterbird Census Coordiator and Senior Technical Officer at Wetlands International believes. He further says that science needs to be used in policymaking and its effective implementation to utilise them to the best.
Wetlands International is a global non-profit organisation that works to sustain and restore wetlands and their resources for people and biodiversity. It is an independent body, supported by government and NGO membership from around the world. Taej says: “We try to work closely with Government because we feel that if you want to change something for long term it is very important to work closely with government for development at ground, local, national and international levels.” Wetlands International works like a bridge at a local, national and international level and try to bring many experts together to get updated on the latest information so that they can work effectively with different communities, people, government and NGOs.
In the recently held talk on ‘Birds, Wetlands and Flyways’ conducted by Goa Bird Conservation Network (GBCN), Taej informed audience that we have reached a level where we need to restore wetlands. With a decrease in the number of wetlands, we won’t have water and hence we won’t be able to live. We have lost many wetlands already and many more are on the verge of being lost if not restored.
There is need to work with local people and take help of different institutions and organisations. Wetlands International uses minimum resources to conserve maximum wetlands. Taej mentions that some people feel marshes, ponds and lakes are wetlands, some consider mangroves as wetlands, some think rivers are wetlands and there are many more explanations to what exactly the wetlands are. However wetlands can be glaciers, rivers, lakes, ponds and all the wetlands are connected. If glaciers are melting it will affect the sea level and hence the streams, seas, etc.
Taej says that apart from taking water, we depend on wetlands for a number of reasons. It is used for hydropower (production of energy), agriculture, industry requirements, and wetlands provide fish. We must understand that quality water is difficult to find in wetlands these days especially for domestic consumption. Pressures of development and tourism often lead to misuse of water and the coast that brings with it climate change. He adds: “Wetlands International celebrates Wetlands Day on February 2 every year with a different theme to create awareness among people on the value of wetlands. It is recognised that with the rapid decrease in the number of wetlands worldwide from the period of 1970s to 2008, there is a loss of value of the wetlands by the people.”
Speaking about the waterbirds, Taej says that water birds with regards to their shape, size, bills, bill tip, beak, legs have minor differences of major importance. He mentions about Curlew water bird has a long and curved bill that can reach deep inside the mud to catch its prey. Similarly, Bar-Tailed Godwit has almost a similar kind of bill and it can reach deep enough inside the mud. Oyster Catcher on the other hand cannot reach its bill so deep inside the ground as Curlew and Bar-Tailed Godwit. Other birds have short beaks and most of them feed on the surface of the ground. “All the birds feed together happily because all of them are predator to different preys. They do not compete with each other for food,” says Taej.
These birds do not have boundaries to migrate from one country to a different country and indirectly they teach how we humans can live together as well, hence Taej mentions of how the world is divided into ‘flyways’. He says: “a flyway is the route that the birds take while they are on their annual migration. People often get confused about whether this route is for one bird or for a particular species, or for all water birds. But we have simply divided these flyways as the route that the water birds take while they are on their annual migration.”
Most waterbirds take a route and move to the north to breed in the short summer from May to July in the Arctic region. Although the surface is solid, it is usually covered with snow and they get their food at the coast, making the region suitable for their breeding. These birds then migrate to the south near the equator or further down in between November and February (non-breeding seasons).
Further they leave the northern region as per their species. Some male birds leave soon after breeding, some wait till the eggs are hatched, while some male birds migrate down to south with their family. While migrating they stop at a few points to rest. These spots need to be maintained as per the requirements of the species. If not, they change their spot. Taej cites an example of Carambolim Lake that was once a resting spot and home to many waterbirds that do not visit the spot today.
The Bar-Tailed Godwit is an exceptional bird that flies 11,000 kilometres non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand every year. “Many birds may not rest at the same spot when they move to Northern regions while they have rested during their trip to the Southern regions. In Goa, June to September is a rainy season, certain birds which move southward may rest at the wetlands of Goa, but they may not rest here while they move in their northward direction due to climate change and other reasons.”
To stop hunting and preserve different species of waterbirds, there is a need to work closely with locals. In Mongolia, Dalmation Pelican was hunted only to make sweat blades from their upper mandible. This blade is used to groom the horses and it can be made from other materials too. Until the local communities are made aware that these birds are endangered and they can use other materials for horse grooming they will continue hunting the birds. Taej adds: “Before spreading awareness, there is need to find out the dependence of locals and the reasons why they hunt birds. Only after studying this, one can get the solutions.” In many coastal regions, they have stopped hunting of water birds and introduced the concept of eco-tourism for the survival of locals and protecting the water birds.
Taej says that unlike animals, humans have endless wants. “Any other species will kill only as much as they need for their survival, and not more than that. Following the Western model of development even we Indians have gone against our own cultural beliefs and have become materialistic. I spoke on plastic 30 years back and today it is a global issue. There are many such issues that are affecting our environment today and are degrading habitats of animals and birds. It is high time that we act to restore,” he concludes.