The scores of fish ponds, leased out to private players by panchayats on whose land the 850-acre Keshopur Chamb (wetland) has been established, are disturbing the ecological system of the area.

These have set off alarm bells among environmentalists who term it a dangerous trend.

In terms of area, the wetland — located on the land owned by five panchayats — is considered to be one of Asia’s biggest marshes.

A census conducted recently by Gursharan Singh, Divisional Forest Officer (Wildlife), Pathankot, and his team has concluded that this year, 21,000 birds visited the area.

This is lower than the 25,000 birds that arrived in the corresponding period last year.

This decrease occurred despite the fact that several measures, including removal of water hyacinth and construction of nature trails and bird hides (where ornithologists can sight birds without disturbing them) were undertaken.

Ornithologists attribute the decline to the fact that people who have taken fish ponds on contract resort to clapping of hands and beating of wooden drums to scare away fish-devouring birds. The kingfisher and cormorant varieties are notorious for eating fish.

“When people beat drums, birds of all varieties get scared and subsequently, fly away. Some contractors also bring firecrackers and burst them. Birds come here in search of food, tranquillity and to escape the frozen winters of central Asian countries and Siberia. High-decibel noises do not suit them. They are quick to bid adieu to that place, following which the ecosystem of the area goes for a six. If preventive steps are not taken, their numbers may drop further.

“This disturbing trend needs to be arrested. We educate the fish-pond contractors about the need to preserve the peace of the area, but nobody seems to be listening to us,” said Gursharan Singh.

An old timer, Harpreet Rinku Dala, whose home is adjacent to the wetland, said, “Fish ponds are an inseparable feature of wetlands but some drastic steps need to be taken to maintain the ecological balance. We know the worth of water only when the wells go dry.”

Source: February 21, 2017, The Tribune