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Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum

Salt flats: exploitable resources or rich ecosystems?

Posted By: Kavita Khanna
Date: Tuesday, 15 February 2000, at 9:33 p.m.

In Response To: Limiting resource extraction/product standardisation (+Bahasa Indonesia) (Bambang Radi)

While the previous contributions refer to salt extraction, there is another aspect to consider. What appears as a commercially exploitable resource is in fact a rich repository of life, which, however, is rarely seen as being valuable. We must make a societal choice as to whether we will care for our natural riches which are collectively inherited to pass on to future generations, or treat them as disposable commodities.

Salt flats (known by different terms regionally e.g. salt marshes, salt ponds), although normally associated with pre-existing wetlands, are actually artificial ecosystems. The process of salt production requires that the ponds are flooded throughout the year, and especially during the summer, which is when numerous natural wetland areas dry up. The majority of the marine salt flats along the coast of Gujarat are located along an important migratory route of aquatic birds. The physical-chemical environment of the salt flats gives rise to rich species diversity of the aquatic macro invertebrates and high biomass per unit area. This explains why the coastal salt flats are used as resting places for migratory birds, as breeding sites for waders and as refuge areas for water birds during the summer, when other wetlands are dry. Thus the salt flats' environment generates high abundance, species richness and diversity in the water bird community in contrast to natural wetlands, which are dependent on climatological and hydrological fluctuations.

Since these are areas of ecological and of cultural value, the management of the natural resources which they harbour, in particular their ornithological importance, is critical. Similarly, with respect to inactive salt flats, it is necessary to determine the degree of physical and biological damage they have sustained.

The elimination and/or the deterioration of these artificial ecosystems, the salt flats, threatens their ecological value.

Moderator's Note: Salt flats, salt marshes and salt ponds are natural ecosystems. In the Indian context, salt pans are man-made structures, which consist of large saline ponds operated by salt makers for the production of industrial and domestic salts. Salt farms are even larger salt pans where fertiliser grade chemicals are extracted from seawater.

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