Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: Getting Ready to Celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands


It’s not too soon to start planning.  February 2, 2011 is a very special day for wetlands around the world.  It will be 40 years since an international treaty was completed in Ramsar, Iran.  It is the only international treaty that addresses a specific kind of ecosystem.  The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, commonly called ‘Ramsar,’ was the result of eight years of international and technical meetings.  It was initially envisioned as a treaty for the protection of waterfowl, but the concept evolved to encompass the conservation of all wetland habitats.  In 1971 delegates from 18 countries signed onto the treaty.  Over the years the number of countries that are part of Ramsar has increased to 160.

It is perhaps difficult for people in the United States to understand the importance of Ramsar in other countries. Wetland regulation and restoration programs that exist in the U.S. are largely absent in other parts of the world.  For most countries Ramsar is the only tool available to protect wetlands.

There is no international body to enforce Ramsar.  It is an agreement among countries to implement the ‘three pillars’ of the convention which are

• work towards the wise use of all wetlands through national land-use
planning, appropriate policies and legislation, management actions, and
public education;
• designate suitable wetlands for the List of Wetlands of International
(“Ramsar List”) and ensure their effective management; and
• cooperate internationally concerning transboundary wetlands,
shared wetland systems, shared species, and development projects that
may affect wetlands.

Placing wetlands on the list of Wetlands of International Importance brings national and international attention to conserving and protecting unique wetlands.  However, it does not provide any guarantee of success.  In many countries Wetlands of International Importance are threatened by economic development and inconsistencies in government policies. The livelihoods and cultures of local indigenous populations are also imperiled by threats to these wetlands.

The Association of State Wetland Managers is a member of the U.S. National Ramsar Committee There are currently 29 Wetlands of International Importance in the United States.  Many are well known wetlands such as the Okefenokee Swamp and the Everglades.  But others like Catahoula Lake and Cheyenne Bottoms are not.  It requires a sustained effort to complete the work required to get a site designated as a Ramsar wetland The US National Ramsar Committee has published a guidebook that provides detailed information about nominating a site.

Plans are already underway for the 40th Anniversary celebration in 2011.  The Ramsar Secretariat has created a webpage about the 40th anniversary and will be adding information in the coming months Serbia, China and Iran have commemorative activities scheduled.

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance has achieved growth and success over the past 40 years.  Significant challenges remain.  International cooperation and collaboration will be necessary to meet those challenges.  But let’s not forget to celebrate.

“It’s the job that’s never started that takes longest to finish”
J.R.R. Tolkien

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