stories, plays, rhymes and other things for children and childlike adults

Saturday, November 28, 2009

THE CALCUTTA WETLANDS

Can you believe that chaotic, crowded Calcutta is home to 200 species of birds? But we need to fight to keep it that way. Here is the remarkable story of

The Calcutta Wetlands



Calcutta has had more than 300 years of haphazard, unplanned, chaotic growth. Its population has exploded beyond its infrastructure. It is a city bursting at its ageing seams. Yet it is still a city vibrant with animal and plant life. Within its limits, the city can boast of 10 species of mammals, 200 species of birds, 15 species of reptiles, 13 species of amphibians and 40 types of butterflies! One of the reasons for the city’s abundant animal life is the wetlands in the city’s backyard.

Only a few decades ago the Calcutta wetlands covered an area of 20,000 acres. Then the city’s planners decided to build a satellite township called Salt Lake, by filling up about 10,000 acres of the ponds and marshes that made up the wetlands. In the last decade or so, the bustling township has attracted private promoters to fill in more wetland areas surreptitiously. Several boating resorts and picnic spots as well as a couple of amusement parks have made use of some of the ponds. Also, the government had plans to reclaim more of the wetlands for even more buildings. As they stand now, the Calcutta wetlands are a dwindling 750 acres or so of marshes and ponds, also known as bheris.

The Calcutta wetlands are home to 40 species of algae, 2 types of ferns, 7 types of monocods, and 21 kinds of dicods as well as 155 summer birds and 90 winter birds. Many of these birds are migratory and flock to the city from places as far away as Siberia and Eastern Europe.

The entire waste and drainage water of Calcutta runs through a system of channels going through the wetlands. The wetlands provide the city of Calcutta with the invaluable service of recycling all its sewage through a natural process of oxidation, radiation, bio-degradation and fisheries.

The Calcutta wetlands are used for commercial pisciculture (fish farming), agriculture (growing rice and vegetables) and horticulture. They are also used for garbage dumping and composting and disposing of the city’s solid wastes. So they provide a livelihood for a large number of Calcutta’s population.

If the Calcutta wetlands are not preserved and maintained, the cost to the city would be very high. I can already think of some of the immediate effects of the loss of the wetlands:

· The destruction of the wetlands would mean a loss of beauty and open spaces in a city that does not have enough of either.

· Air pollution would increase to noxious levels, causing more respiratory problems for the city’s population.

· Without the wetlands, Calcutta’s water quality would deteriorate, become harder and more filled with harmful minerals. The ground water would become unpredictably saline. The water would become unfit for human consumption and the river Hoogly would need to be tapped and treated for the city’s population.

· During the monsoons, the city would lose its natural drainage and there would be tremendous flooding leading to an increase in health hazards like malaria, gastroenteritis and cholera.

· Costly pumping stations would have to be set up for drinking water; expensive sewage treatment plants would be required and new garbage disposal sites would need to be earmarked.

· The cost of fish and vegetables would rise. They would need to be brought into the city from distant places because the wetlands could no longer provide Calcutta with its daily fish and vegetables.

· Many poor people would lose their livelihood.

· Innumerable animals and plants would lose their habitat and die. The city of Calcutta would lose its pulsating plant and animal life.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

WETLAND FACTS:

Wetlands are pieces of land that are filled with water for at least part of the year.


Marshes are wetlands that show the beginnings of aquatic vegetation such as grasses, sedges and rushes.

Swamps are wetlands dominated by wooded vegetation

Peatlands are wetlands characterised by an accumulation of peat

Bogs are wetlands that depend on rain or snow for their moisture. They are usually mossy and peat-covered or peat-filled and have very poor drainage and their environment is nutrient deficient and acidic.

Bog plants are extremely interesting, and include several species of Sphagnum moss, Reindeer Moss lichen, orchids and insect-eating plants.

Amphibians, such as frogs and toads, depend on wetlands for survival. They live half in the water and half on land - so they need to live on the edge of water. When wetlands are polluted, amphibians suffer. They breathe through their skin. When water is polluted, the chemicals soak through their skin, causing deformities and extinction.

Many of the animals that visit or live in wetlands are endangered. In fact about 35 percent of all endangered species live in wetlands.

A man who fell into a bog and died about 2000 years ago was found in the 1950s in an almost perfectly preserved state!

Monday, November 16, 2009

WHAT, EXACTLY, DO WETLANDS DO?

They are beautiful, natural open spaces. If all the wetlands of the world performed no function other than look good, that would be enough reason for us to preserve and protect them.


As we urbanise the world with steel and concrete, any patch of blue and green where we can go to relax, boat, fish, picnic, walk, bird-watch or just sit quietly and observe Nature’s splendour ought to be saved for future generations. But wetlands give us so much more than just beauty that it is a crime to lose them to commercialism.

Wetlands purify water, maintain the air and water cycles and recycle our waste matter.
They are a haven for a huge number of animals, waterfowls, fish, plants and micro-organisms. Many living beings rely on wetlands for food, shelter and breeding.
Migratory birds, many rare and endangered, find sanctuary in the southern wetlands. Their journey southwards is dependant upon a network of wetlands on the way where they can stop, rest, feed and recuperate before starting again.

Many fish species hatch and grow to maturity in the safety of mangrove swamps. They move out of these mangrove nurseries and into the oceans as they grow into adulthood.

An entire gamut of plant life can exist only within the special environmental conditions of the wetlands.

Wetland areas are a vital link in the food chain, processing food for some species. They play an important role in Nitrogen fixing—a process by which Nitrogen is altered to a form that can be used by living beings

These low-lying areas act as natural regulators and reservoirs for rivers. They slow down the speed of the water that rushes into a river from streams and give the river time to adjust to the tides. Without these wetlands, streams would flow unchecked into rivers and cause the river to overflow and flood its surroundings.

Thus, wetlands perform the important service of controlling devastating floods by acting as a collection point for overflow and then releasing the water slowly into the ground.

Wetlands maintain the ground water and surface moisture levels, and contribute pure water to wells.

Wetlands are the all-important factor in curbing soil erosion in coastal regions.

Mangrove marshes in coastal areas, especially in West Bengal and Bangladesh act as buffers against devastating storms in the Bay of Bengal.

Wetlands are vital for maintaining the local climate. They absorb air pollution and release Oxygen into the air we breathe.

Economically speaking, too, wetlands are worth their weight in gold! They support thriving fishing industries all over the world, provide wonderful paddy fields, save some cities millions of dollars by recycling waste free of cost, and give livelihood to millions of people.

WETLANDS: THE MYSTERIOUS MARSHES

Bogs, Fens, Quagmires, Marshlands and Swamps,
Wilds that make your heart beat in THUMPS!
They’re dark and mysterious places,
Get lost here—there’ll be no traces!


There is no place on earth that’s stranger,
In every nook, there lurks a danger.
Toads, newts, owls, crocodiles and snakes,
Hungry insects in all shapes, colours and makes


Call these lowland sloughs their home.
In some marshes TIGERS roam!
Reeds, ferns and mosses set up their traps
To capture the hapless—YOU perhaps?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

WHAT IS A WETLAND?

A view of the Calcutta wetlands

Wetlands are low-lying areas that get filled with water due to various reasons. The amount of water in them varies with their type, their location, the weather and the time of year. There are many kinds of wetlands in the world—some are dark and dangerous--like bogs—and some, like the marshes, billabongs and estuarine wetlands, are green and serene places filled with shallow, water-bodies.

Bogs are the most common form of wetland areas in Canada and most places in the Northern Hemisphere that used to be glacier beds. Bogs are known for their high water tables, acidic vegetation and peat accumulation. Bogs have no real inflows or outflows of water and are stagnant pools that have, over the centuries, been covered with a layer of floating vegetation. The spongy sphagnum moss, peat accumulation and the vegetation cover make Bogs look like solid ground and are primarily responsible for their being dangerous.

Marshes and Swamps are lowland areas filled with reeds.

Billabongs are old river-beds abandoned when a river changes its course. During rains or floods, these areas fill with water and become a haven for wildlife.

Estuarine wetlands and mangrove marshes occur at the point where a river begins to merge into the sea. These areas are filled with brackish water that is a mixture of fresh river water and salt sea water. The water in estuarine wetlands rises and falls according to the tides.

Some wetlands like the extensive Calcutta Wetlands have developed in their own special way. These large tracts of water-bodies called “Bheris” have developed between the distributories of two rivers—the Hoogly and the Bidyadhari—as they meandered their way into the Bay of Bengal.

These marshy areas used to be a tidal channel and acted like spill-basins or places where the extra tidal water was collected. Gradually, the Calcutta Wetlands changed character because embankments were built around them for agricultural and piscicultural (fish cultivation) purposes.

These wetlands are used to treat the city’s sewage and a big part of the "bheris" or water-bodies have been reclaimed for construction.

THE WETLANDS: EARTH’S KIDNEYS

Think of Earth like a living entity—a giant body with vital organs that make it perform and pulsate with life. Like the millions of mites, bacteria and other micro-organisms that live within our own bodies, we and all the other living beings are sustained by the body of planet Earth. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that if Earth’s organs malfunction, or if our planet is unhealthy, we are all in danger of extinction.

Now, if our planet is a living body, it has its own lungs and kidneys and heart and other vital organs. Each of these organs need to be completely healthy if they are to keep Earth alive and well. Because what affects the kidneys affects the lungs, the heart and the brain. What affects the parts affects the whole. And what affects Earth, affects us in a direct way.

Wetlands are the kidneys of Earth. They purify the waters that pass through them and distill out poisonous sediments, chemicals and pollutants. When our kidneys fail, toxins start collecting in our bloodstream and our whole system slowly collapses. We die.

Wetlands purify waste matter through a natural process of oxidation, radiation, bio-degradation and pisciculture (fish cultivation). Wetlands also regulate and maintain the planet’s air and water cycles including the levels of oxygen, nitrogen, sulpher, methane and carbon-dioxide.

If the world’s wetlands are not protected and their state of good health is not maintained, our planet will not survive the untreated, unfiltered onslaught of the toxins and wastes we pollute it with.

Friday, November 6, 2009

KAKRA KAKA'S OCEAN-FLOOR TRIVIA

If you take an object just 1000 feet under the sea, water pressure will squeeze and compact it to about half its original size!





Mount Everest is not the highest mountain in the world by any means. There are many mountains on the ocean floor that are much higher! In fact, some trenches are deeper than the height of Mount Everest!


Volcanoes often erupt on the ocean floor and build mountains. When these mountains rise above the surface of the ocean, they become islands. The Hawaian chain is one such example of a chain of volcanic islands.