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The Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar)

Volume 3 Number 2 - February 1999


The Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty which provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. There are presently 114 Contracting Parties to the Convention, with 970 wetland sites, totalling 70.6 million hectares, designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. Originally, the Convention was set up to protect wetland habitats for the conservation of waterfowl but it now seeks to ensure the protection of all important wetlands.

Mission Statement:

"The Convention's mission is the conservation and wise use of wetlands by national action and international cooperation as a means to achieving sustainable development throughout the world" (Brisbane, 1996).


The Convention takes an extremely broad approach in defining wetlands. 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". In addition the Convention provides that wetlands may incorporate "riparian and coastal zones adjacent to wetlands, and island or bodies of marine water deeper than six metres at low tide, lying within the wetlands".

The main emphasis of the Convention is the List of Wetlands of International Importance. Parties to the Convention are obliged to designate at least one wetland for the List. Sites in need of priority action are listed on the Montreux Record "where changes in ecological character have occurred, are occurring or are likely to occur". At present there are 60 Montreux sites.

However, it is explicitly stated under the Convention, that there is a general obligation for the Contracting Parties to include wetland conservation considerations within their national land-use planning. They are required to undertake planning to promote the 'wise use' of wetlands in their territory (as a National Wetlands Policy) (Article 3.1).

Furthermore, contracting Parties are obliged to promote the conservation of wetlands in their territory (whether or not they are included in the list) through the establishment of nature reserves. They also undertake to train personnel competent in wetland research, management and wardening (Article 4.5).

The Convention and Botanic Gardens

Botanic Gardens are in a strong position to promote the conservation of wetlands through research, education and the management and restoration of wetland areas (see Box). Many gardens cultivate rare and endangered aquatic plants. For example, the Conservatoire Botanique National Méditerranéen, Porquerolles, France cultivates Marsilea strigosa. The plants found in the swamps at Cranbourne Annexe (a satellite of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne, Australia) are of state conservation significance as are the plant communities. These collection are important for research into the cultivation and biology of wetland plants and raising public awareness about the importance of wetland habitats.

Wetland Biodiversity: a Message to Take Home

Wetlands are one of the most diverse and productive ecosystems on the earth. In southern Ontario alone 80-90% of the pre-settlement wetland base has been lost due to drainage, filling or habitat alteration. This enormous loss of habitat is of major concern since 24% of the world's wetlands are found in Canada. The Toronto Zoo, Canada has developed two outdoor exhibits that feature created native wetland systems: the Wetland Habitats, a series of ponds and adjacent meadows, and the Waterway Wetlands, a large marsh fed by a meandering stream of typical pool and riffle morphology.

The exhibits complement an educational programme that addresses local wetland conservation. The Adopt-A-Pond Programme was developed at the Toronto Zoo in 1991 and now over 1200 schools are involved. Staff responsible for Adopt-A-Pond collaborate with, and provide educational material and resources for, national and international partners in the effort to raise concern for the protection and restoration of wetlands globally, and to provide action opportunities in our own schoolyards and backyards.

Implementing the RAMSAR Convention at the Atlanta Botanical Garden, U.S.A.

Many botanic gardens do not have a formal written policy to implement the various Conventions relevant to their work, whether it be the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), or the RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands. However, these same gardens, including the Atlanta Botanical Garden (ABG), are implementing projects that are in line with and enforce the spirit and directives of these conventions.

The U.S.A. ratified the Ramsar Convention in April 1987, and has 17 sites on the Ramsar List, covering a total of 1,177,980 hectares. These include the world-renown southeastern wetlands: the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (Georgia, Florida, 159,889 ha) and the Everglades National Park (Florida, 566,143 ha). The Atlanta Botanical Garden, Georgia, U.S.A. implements the primary goals of the Convention by working in the lesser known, but increasingly endangered, southeastern mountain and Coastal Plain seepage bogs, home to many endemic carnivorous plant species. These species are used to promote the conservation and sustainable use of such biologically diverse wetland habitats in a region with a long history of wetland destruction. ABG’s priorities over the last ten years have been to monitor extant pitcher plants, by using simple but effective restoration techniques (see BGCNews 2: 10, June 1998) and to ‘spread the word’ about wetland loss to as wide an audience as possible. Public displays at ABG help reinforce these messages, and teacher workshops, that are held as part of the Georgia Endangered Plant Stewardship Network (GEPSN), allow ABG and other members of the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance (GPCA – see BGCNews 2: 7, December 1996) to extend their educational outreach to a state-wide audience. ABG cooperates and collaborates with a number of private, state and federal agencies, such as the Nature Conservancy, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service to achieve these goals.


Geert Raeymaekers and Hugh Synge, 1996. International organisations and agreements for the conservation of wild plants in Europe (see Resources p. xx)

T.J. Davis, (D. Blasco with M. Carbonell revised, 1997). The Ramsar Convention Manual A Guide to the Convention on Wetlands 2nd ed. IUCN - The World Conservation Union, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, U.K.. English version ISBN 2 940073 23 6. Available from IUCN Publications Services Unit (see page xx). Different editions in French and Spanish.

Web Site
The text of the Convention in English, French, German and Spanish.
Joint Website of the Biodiversity-Related Conventions (see Box on p. xx).


The Ramsar Convention Bureau
Rue Mauverney 28,
CH-1196 Gland
Tel. +41 22 999 0170
Fax +41 22 999 0169
Internet site:

The Ramsar Bureau in Switzerland has four technical officers, each responsible for a major region (Europe, Neotropics, Africa, Asia). The Bureau maintains a Wise Use Resource Centre on its website. It includes a Directory of Wetland Management Training Opportunities (second edition, January 1999), a resource library, a list of experts and hot topics.