What is the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands?

The Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty adopted on 2 February 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar (thus the common name “Ramsar Convention”). It is the first of the modern global intergovernmental treaties on the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. As of December 2014, 168 countries from around the world have ratified the treaty. Even though the treaty was first developed in a very different time in world history, the decisions made by the Conference of the Contracting Parties meeting every three years have managed to further develop and interpret the general guidelines of the treaty and have succeeded in making the Ramsar Convention a pioneer in all matters pertaining to wetlands.

One key instrument of the Convention is its List of Wetlands of International Importance (the “Ramsar List”). All Parties to the Convention have the obligations to include in the List at least one site that meets the criteria established by the Conference of the Parties. There are currently 2,186 Ramsar Sites, covering more that 208 million hectares an area larger than the surface of France, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland combined.

The mission of the Ramsar Convention, as adopted by the Parties in 1999 and refined in 2005 and 2011 is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local, regional and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world. To achieve this Mission it is essential that the vital ecosystem services, and especially those related to water and those that wetlands provide to people and nature through their natural infrastructure, are fully recognized, maintained, restored and wisely used.”

The definition of “wetland”

The Ramsar Convention has adopted a very inclusive definition:

“…wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres.”

Thus, for the Convention, and by implication for MedWet, practically all places where there is water, permanently or temporary, be it fresh, brackish or salt water, including all the coastal lines up to six meters of depth at low tide, is a “wetland”. In this sense the application of the Convention in the Parties has a very large remit.

What is the “wise use” of wetlands?

The “wise use” of wetlands is a phrase used by  MedWet very often and is taken directly from the definition given by the Ramsar Convention in 1987 and revised in 2005 in Resolution IX.1 Annex A.

“Wise use of wetlands is the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development.”

The wise use concept implies that wetland conservation need not exclude the human element but rather make human use a promoting factor for the sustainable management of wetlands. The Ramsar wise use concept applies to all wetlands and water resources, not only to those sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance. The concept’s application is crucial to ensuring that wetlands can continue to fully deliver their vital role in supporting biological diversity and human well-being.

Why is there a need for an intergovernmental network on wetlands in the Mediterranean?

 Mediterranean wetlands across countries face very similar problems, hence promoting best practice examples and cooperation in the region is vital for the better management of wetlands.

In addition, many wetlands are shared between countries and their “wise use” depends on the actions of all the countries in question. One such example is the Prespa Transboundary Park, where Megali Prespa Lake is shared between Albania, Greece and The FYR of Macedonia. The actions of one country greatly affect the water quality, resources etc. of the other. Furthermore, wetland fauna like water birds or fish species are migratory and their conservation requires cooperation between many countries.

Finally, cooperation on wetlands issues is another way to promote regional cooperation and understanding in a region that has many values in common but also a series of conflicts that should be resolved as soon as possible for the benefit of all Mediterranean people and their environment.

For more information on the Ramsar Convention go to www.ramsar.org