Celebrating World Wetlands Day

Yesterday was World Wetlands Day, established by one of the least well known international conventions, the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, known familiarly as the Ramsar convention after the city in Iran where it was first agreed in 1971. Canada joined the Ramsar Convention in 1981, the USA followed in 1987. There are now 168 members of the Convention, the most recent being Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Kiribati, Oman, and South Sudan, all with ratifications in 2013. The Ramsar Convention is one of the few multilateral agreements that operates outside of the UN system, though it communicates extensively with relevant UN agencies. It maintains its headquarters at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in Geneva, Switzerland.

The Ramsar Convention operates on the “wise use” principle, which it defines as “the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development”. The Secretariat further states that “Wise use” has at its heart the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and their resources, for the benefit of humankind.

One of the Convention’s more significant aspects is the development and maintenance of an international network of wetlands that are important for the conservation of global biological diversity, including waterbird flyways and fish populations and for sustaining human life. There are 37 sites covering 13 million hectares designated as Ramsar sites in Canada. That contrasts with 35 Ramsar sites covering somewhat less than 2 million hectares in the United States. Canada has more land area designated as Ramsar sites than any other country except Bolivia (just under 15 million hectares). The lead agency for Canada’s participation in the Ramsar Convention is the Canadian Wildlife Service of Environment Canada.

The Convention Secretariat also maintains the Montreux Record, “a record of Ramsar sites where changes in ecological character have occurred, are occurring or are likely to occur”. Canada currently has no sites on this list.

Lots of information about the Ramsar Convention, including the list of designated sites, can be found on the Convention secretariat website at http://www.ramsar.org/

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