A home on Loktak Lake. © Sharada Prasad CS / Wikimedia Commons

Although these are plants, the phumdis deserve a special mention. These are a unique flora and freshwater habitat found in Manipur, a state in the northeastern region of India.

Several thousands of these floating islands freckled across the Loktak Lake are vital for the state’s irrigation, drinking water, food supplies. The lake is also a source of livelihood for the rural fisherman who live in the surrounding areas and on phumdis. Phumdis are comprised of vegetation, soil, and organic matter (at different stages of decomposition) that have been thickened into a solid form giving them a trampoline like feel.

While only a thin circular layer is visible at the water surface, most of the mass (80%) lies beneath. They are sturdy enough to support local establishments such as huts and schools. The phumdis are home to around 200 species of aquatic plants and 400 species of animals, including the rare Indian python and the endangered brow-antlered sangai, or “dancing deer,” whose hooves have adapted to the island’s spongy ground.

The world’s only floating national park is the largest single mass of phumdi is in the southeastern part of the lake, covering an area of 40 square kilometers.

Like several freshwater species, phumdis are also currently threatened by dam construction which is causing them to thin and break apart due to higher water levels.

The continued discovery of new species shows that there is still much to explore and discover within the freshwater realm in India. Unfortunately, the unprecedented deterioration and the ongoing pressure and demand for water resources have deemed (or rather doomed) the freshwater ecosystems as one of the most degraded in the world.

We will need to take urgent and widespread action in order to conserve and restore these valuable ecosystems. Only then we can only hope to continue to explore our wonderous waters for the wild and the weird.

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