The Andaman and Nicobar Islands has been known for its rich diverse and endemic flora and fauna, its thick and varied forest types, its coral reefs with high biodiversity indexes have been well documented for their conservation values. But there never has been a wetland of sizable importance in these islands. The only wetlands have been the numerous mangrove creeks in both Andaman and Nicobar island groups.  A contiguous wetland ecosystem has never been a part of the island bio-geography.

This changed with the boxing day tsunami and the earthquake which caused it on 26th Dec 2004, tectonic forces had changed the shore profile of the islands and the invading sea which had claimed a sizable chunk of agricultural land at Sippighat and the surrounding villages of Taylorabad, Garacharma, Attam Pahad never retreated creating a wetland here in these lowlands. Spanning a vast area, these wetlands are best described as separate water bodies and marsh lands comprising of several connected blocks of different eco-types in different stages of ecological succession, some being of shallow & medium depths colonized by reeds, marshes, mangroves and mangrove associates while some are deep water blocks with breeding fish stocks.  Being connected with the sea results in daily tidal flushing, bringing in nutrients and fresh fish stock to this wetlands, while fresh water inflow occurs during both the NE & SW Monsoons to this water-body making it a dynamic ecosystem. 

Known as the Sippighat wetlands this site today is a rich and evolving wetland ecosystem. The current status of the Sippighat wetlands is that it stands on revenue & private land holdings.  The conservation value of these wetlands can be easily judged by resident and migratory water fowl as well as raptors which have started colonizing these wetlands, its proximity to Port Blair and ease in accessibility ensure it being a must-visit birding spot in the itineraries of both amateur and serious bird watchers. This ease however also attracts local hunters who have been frequenting this site for hunting the Lesser Whistling & the endemic Andaman Teal inhabiting these wetlands.  

Wetlands have very short nutrient cycles and thus are one of the most dynamic ecosystems easily colonized by biota and just as easily can become waste lands as a result of mismanagement. Being recently formed it has yet to be colonized by heronries and that day might not be far away if these wetlands are protected and managed properly.       

This wetland is a potential Ramsar site being a habitat for endemic species like the Andaman Teal. It could be a good conservation success story if proper steps are taken for its management.

There is a real and urgent need to study and document the ecosystem of these wetlands so that a conservation policy can be framed for its protection and management. A well-managed Sippighat Wetlands could be a high value tourist destination, involving the local community in its protection and management would generate a sense of ownership among the community itself making it a wonderful success story creating new bench marks in conservation.

- Amlan Dutta (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)  

Disclaimer: The views expressed are the writer’s own.