The Ramsar Convention is the global agreement on wetlands of international importance.
For the purposes of this Convention, marshes and marshes, peat bogs or basins, natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with standing or flowing water, fresh, brackish or salty, including expanses of sea water the depth of which, during low tide, does not exceed six metres. According to this convention, water birds are birds ecologically dependent on wetlands.
This convention was signed in Ramsar, Iran on 2 February 1971 by a group of governments, scientific institutions and international organizations participating in the International Conference on Wetlands and Waterfowl sponsored by the International Bureau for Wetlands Research and on Waterfowl (IWRB – International Wetlands and Waterfowl Research Bureau), with the collaboration of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN – International Union for the Nature Conservation) and the International Council for the Protection of Birds (ICBP – International Council for bird Preservation).
The Ramsar Convention can be defined as the first true intergovernmental treaty on a global scale for the conservation and management of natural ecosystems.
The Convention was born in a historical period in which the exchange of information and knowledge was not as simple and encouraged as it is now. Being part of the Convention meant officially entering an international debate where one could learn from others as well as influence environmental policies, at least those concerning wetlands, one’s own and those of other countries.
With its decisions, guidelines and debates, the Convention was also created to respond to the need to reverse the process of transformation and destruction of wetlands as primary environments for the life of aquatic birds, which have to travel particular migratory routes through different States and Continents to reach the different nesting, resting and wintering sites in every season.
With the passage of time, and with the increase of international treaties for the conservation of nature, the Convention has sought to broaden its objectives on all aspects concerning the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. According to many, however, the Convention has never managed to acquire the necessary strength and capabilities to coordinate the difficult international debate concerning some aspects of water management, for which other international movements have been initiated.
This brings us to 1997 when World Wetlands Day is established to raise awareness of the value of wetlands for humanity and the planet.
To date, 172 countries have signed up to the Convention and 2,433 Ramsar sites have been designated to date for a total area of 254,645,305 hectares.
Purpose and objectives of the Convention –
The Convention has as its objective the international protection of wetlands through their identification and delimitation, the study of the characteristic aspects, in particular of the avifauna, and the implementation of programs which allow the conservation of the habitats, flora and fauna.
On the basis of these objectives, the Parties undertake to:
– designate the wetlands of its territory, to be included in a list of wetlands of international importance;
– develop and implement programs that promote the rational use of wetlands on their territory create nature reserves in wetlands, whether or not they are listed;
– to encourage research and the exchange of data and publications relating to wetlands and their flora and fauna;
– increase, with suitable management, the populations of aquatic birds;
– promote the Conferences of the Parties;
– promote the training of personnel in the fields of research on wetlands, their management and their surveillance.
Bodies of the Convention –
The Ramsar Convention, for its most useful functioning and achievement of its purposes, is made up of some organs; these are:
– Conference of the Parties;
– Standing Committee;
– Group of Technical and Scientific Experts;
– General Secretariat (RAMSAR BUREAU), based in Gland (CH);
– General secretary.
Conferences of the Parties to the Convention (COP), at which decisions are taken to administer the Convention and guide its implementation, are held every three years.
The Parties are represented by the Standing Committee which meets annually and, together with the COP, is assisted in formulating policies relating to the Convention by two advisory bodies: the Scientific and Technical Review Group (STRP) and the Supervisory Group on communication, education, participation and awareness (CEPA).
All bodies of the Convention are supported by the Secretariat and the partners of the International Organization (IOP) which the parties have formally recognized as official partners of the Convention.
Site Designation –
When a country accedes to the Convention, it must designate at least one wetland as a Wetland of International Importance, information on which is sent with the accession documents to UNESCO, the depositary of the Convention.
The Conferences of the Parties have defined nine Criteria for the designation of Ramsar Sites which, by affirming a unified vision and objectives through a systematic approach, identify the general priorities and modalities for the designation of Sites.
These criteria provide an important guidance and support function to the Parties in the creation of a globally coherent wetland network.