Rajashree Naik is a third year PhD scholar in the Department of Environmental Science, School of Earth Sciences, Central University of Rajasthan, India. She decided to work in wetlands conservation after visiting Sambhar Lake and witnessing the alarming conditions of degradation and encroachment there.
Sambhar lake is the largest inland saline lake and gateway to Thar desert in India. A biodiversity hotspot, it is a refuge for thousands of plants and animals. Economically, it has been a historically important salt extraction site contributing 9.86% of India’s total salt production. Even with this ecological and economic distinction and even with Sambhar lake being a Ramsar site, the economically lucrative illegal saltpan encroachment had led to degradation, even in the part of the lake that was previously set aside for ecological conservation. Rajashree has found that 30% of the ecologically preserved lake has now been lost to mining. With this, the lake has seen decline in Flamingo population and other biodiversity with reduced soil and water quality. It has also threatened the livelihoods of local people who have always lived in harmony with the lake and its ecology.
Through her work, Rajashree uses remote sensing to look at the historic loss of Sambhar lake and modelling the future under different conservation scenarios. She combines this with field observations of monitoring bird populations and assessing habitat conditions. Interacting with local people, she found that the local community supports wetland conservation. She now works with local communities and NGOs to look into alternative economic measures to reduce the pressure from mining encroachment.
Rajashree believes that in the next 50 years, the Convention on Wetlands should maintain a balance between the newly designated sites and the older designated sites. As many previously designated sites have already been severely deteriorated and many have the potential to be listed on the Montreux Record. By reaching that balance, Rajashree envisions that in 50 years time we will not be repenting the loss of wetlands that we are designating today. She strongly believes achieving this target will be possible by involving youth and local people in wetland conservation.
You can read more about Rajashree’s work and the broader status of youth engagement in wetland protection, conservation and restoration in this 2021 report “Status, Challenges and Aspirations of Wetland Youth“, researched and compiled by Youth Engaged in Wetlands.
Story compiled by Bidhya Sharma