Ramsar – the city for Wetlands (Hooray! It’s World Wetlands Day!)


Pantanal, Brazil – the world’s largest freshwater wetland (Source: Rio Art Tours)

2nd February 1971, marks the date of the signing of the The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance – the Ramsar Convention – in the Iranian city of Ramsar, located on the shores of the Caspian Sea.

Under the “three pillars” of the Convention, the Contracting Parties commit to:

  • working towards the wise use of all their wetlands;
  • designating suitable wetlands for the list of Wetlands of International Importance (the “Ramsar List”) and ensure their effective management; and
  • cooperating internationally on transboundary wetlands, shared wetland systems and shared species.

Wetlands are land areas that are saturated or flooded with water, either permanently or seasonally. These include marshes, ponds, lakes, fens, rivers, floodplains, and swamps in inland areas; and saltwater marshes, estuaries, mangroves and lagoons in coastal areas. They can range in size from less than a single hectare to the Pantanal in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, which covers an area three times the size of Ireland.

They are vital for human survival and are among the world’s most productive environments; cradles of biological diversity that provide the water and productivity upon which countless species of plants and animals depend on.

Wetlands are indispensable for the countless benefits or “ecosystem services” that they provide humanity. Yet study after study demonstrates that wetland area and quality continue to decline in most regions of the world, thus compromising these services.

So here are seven good reasons we should be spending the time and money to protect and rehabilitate them:

1. Wetlands ensure freshwater for all of us

Less than 3 % of the world’s water is fresh and most of that is frozen. Wetlands provide our water needs by replenishing the groundwater aquifers that are an important source of fresh water for humanity.

2. Wetlands guarantee our food supply

Humans consume 19 kg of fish each year on average. Most commercial fish depend on coastal wetlands for part of their life cycle, typically as breeding grounds/nurseries. Rice is also grown in wetland paddies and is the staple diet of nearly three billion people, accounting for 20% of the world’s nutritional intake.

3. Wetlands purify and filter harmful waste from water

Some of the pollutants from pesticides, industry, mining, and development including heavy metals, toxins and nutrients are absorbed by wetland sediments, plants and marine life.


Mangrove forests off the eastern coast of Kalimantan in Indonesia have suffered severe losses due to human pressures such as palm oil development (Source: World Resources Institute, http://www.wri.org)


4. Wetlands are nature’s shock absorbers (flood control & climate change mitigation)

Peatlands and wet grasslands in river basins act as natural sponges, absorbing rainfall, creating wide surface pools and reducing floods in streams and rivers. This storage capacity also helps safeguard against drought. Mangroves, saltmarshes and coral reefs all reduce the speed and height of storm surges. Their roots bind the shoreline, resist erosion
by wind and waves, and increase resilience against climate change.

5. Wetlands store carbon

Peatlands alone cover an estimated 3% of the world’s land area, but they hold 30% of all carbon stored on land. This is twice the amount stored in all the world’s forests. But when they are burned or drained for agriculture, they go from being a carbon sink to a carbon source. CO2 emissions from peatland fires, drainage and extraction equate to 10% of all annual fossil fuel emissions.


Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia (Source: http://russiantimes.net/)

6. Wetlands are critical for biodiversity

Wetlands are home to more than 100,000 known freshwater species alone, and this number is growing all the time. From 1999 to 2009, some 257 new species of freshwater fish were discovered in the Amazon. Wetlands are essential for many amphibians and reptiles, as well as for bird breeding and migration. Individual wetlands often hold endemic species; forms of life that are unique to one particular site such as Lake Baikal in Russia or the Rift Valley lakes of East Africa.

7. Wetlands create sustainable products and livelihoods

61.8 million people earn their living directly from fishing and aquaculture. Including their families, more than 660 million people depend on these sectors. Sustainably managed wetlands provide timber for building, vegetable oil, medicinal plants, stems and leaves for weaving and fodder for animals.

If you want to find out more about your closest protected Ramsar wetland, check out the Ramsar Convention website: http://www.ramsar.org/country-profiles

Source: Ramsar Convention on Wetlands Fact Sheets