What is the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands?

The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty adopted on February 2nd, 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar. Its official name is “Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)” but has become commonly known as the Ramsar Convention. It is the first of the modern global intergovernmental treaties on the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. The Contracting Parties to the convention are the countries with Ramsar-designated wetlands who meet every three years in the Conference of the Contracting Parties. 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 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 to this day.

The Convention entered into force in 1975 and now has nearly 160 Contracting Parties in all parts of the world. They have created a List of Wetlands of International Importance (the “Ramsar List”) with more than 1,850 wetlands having special protection status as “Ramsar sites”, covering about 180 million hectares (1.8 million km2), larger than the surface area of France, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland combined.

The mission of the Ramsar Convention, as adopted by the Parties in 1999 and refined in 2005, 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”.

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 maintenance of biological diversity and human well-being.

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

The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental convention which does not belong to any one government. Equally, MedWet is a Mediterranean Initiative that promotes collaboration between Mediterranean countries in issues pertaining to wetlands. Such intergovernmental organizations are necessary because 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 Greece, Albania and FYROM. 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, 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.

The information in this section have been taken from the Ramsar Convention of Wetlands.