Ramsar Convention – The environment has constantly been changing at a rapid catastrophic rate since the early 1920s. Starting with automobile emissions, oil spills, industrial waste, and the devastating effects of pesticide use, especially DDT. Over the years, these causes have become much more, causing severe damage to the ecosystem. All across the planet, every creature faces a wealth of new and challenging environmental problems every day. Environmental problems have led to not only environmental pollution; but a change in the form of the earth’s formation as a whole. Any environmental problem requires millions of years to recoup and can lead to vulnerability to disasters and tragedies, now and in the future.

Early in the 1960s, several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), governments, and wetland and waterbird ecologists recognized the need for intergovernmental agreements in the face of increasing concerns about losses of wetland habitat and associated declines in waterfowl populations. After eight years of discussions, meetings, and negotiations, in 1971, governmental representatives from 18 countries met in the Iranian city of Ramsar (the convention was named after this city), on the coast of the Caspian Sea, to seek to settle the terms of the treaty. On February 2, 1971, the treaty (Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat 1971) concluded and opened for signature. The Ramsar Convention began into force on December 1975 and became the oldest of the modern global intergovernmental environmental agreements.

An overview of Ramsar Convention - Sheet1
The Ramsar Convention _ ©https://whc.unesco.org/en/news/1197

The Convention text allows several procedural options for a country to become a Ramsar party. Any country can join the treaty either by a notification of accession, signature of the Convention subject to ratification (followed by ratification), or signature without reservation of ratification. The notification of accession must be sent to the Director General of UNESCO as a legal depository organization of the Ramsar Convention. Every three years, representatives of the contracting parties meet at the Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP), the policy-making member of the convention which adopts decisions both resolutions and recommendations to administer the work of the convention and improve how the parties can implement its objectives.

The Convention uses a broad definition of wetlands. It includes all lakes and rivers, underground aquifers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands, peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas, tidal flats, mangroves, and other coastal areas, coral reefs, and all human-made sites like fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs, and salt pans. As the health of a wetland is influenced by its placement in the landscape, the ecosystem services it provides, and the activities that occur within its watershed. Thus, focusing solely on the wetland site may result in losing the bigger image. The Ramsar Convention places upon its parties these primary obligations “three pillars”.

An overview of Ramsar Convention - Sheet2
Loktak lake, a Ramsar Wetland site, hosts 38 indigenous fish species, India_ © Kartik Chandramouli/Mongabay.

The Pillars of Ramsar:

  • The Wise Use of Wetlands

The Ramsar Convention requests Ramsar parties to” formulate and implement their planning to promote as far as possible the wise use of wetlands in their territory”. This requirement applies to all wetlands and water resources under a party’s authority. The “wise use” pillar means to maintain their ecological character, and implement ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development. Ramsar parties fulfill their wise use obligations through varied mechanisms at different levels of management.

  • The List of Wetlands of International Importance

The Ramsar Convention states that each Ramsar party has to consider “shall designate suitable wetlands within its territory for inclusion in a List of Wetlands of International Importance”. These Wetlands of International Importance are also known as Ramsar sites. The Ramsar party put some guidance such as “should be selected for the List on account of their international significance in terms of ecology, botany, zoology, limnology, or hydrology”. In 2005, The Ramsar parties established nine criteria for identifying a Ramsar site, a site need only meet one criterion to qualify. The Ramsar Sites list includes 2208 Sites, the highest number of sites in the United Kingdom.

An overview of Ramsar Convention - Sheet3
The Ramsar Sites map around the world _ ©http://birdmapsuk.blogspot.com/2015/02/ramsar-sites-in-cartodb.html
  • International Co-operation

It requires that parties should consult with each other about treaty obligations, especially where they share wetlands, water systems, or migratory waterbird species. This obligation of international cooperation can take many forms, including participating in Ramsar conferences, meetings, and regional initiatives; working to protect transboundary sites and species conservation; working together to maintain the ecological character of all Ramsar sites.

Organizations established by the Convention.

  • Conference of the Contracting Parties: This is the convention’s governing organization consisting of all governments that have ratified the treaty. This authority reviews progress under the agreement identifies new priorities and develops action plans for members.
  • The Standing Committee: The Standing Committee is the intersessional executive organization that represents the COP during its triennial meetings within the framework of decisions made by the COP. The contracting parties are members of the Standing Committee elected by each meeting of the COP to serve for three years.
  • The Ramsar Secretariat offices in Gland, Switzerland: The Scientific and Technical Review Panel provides scientific and technical guidance to the Conference of Contracting Parties, the Standing Committee, and the Ramsar Secretariat.
  • The Secretariat: The Secretariat implements the day-to-day coordination of the convention’s activities. It’s based at the headquarters of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in Gland, Switzerland.

The implementation of the Ramsar Convention is a continuing partnership between all these organizations together.

Gippsland Lakes Ramsar Site, Australia_ © Official site for Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Our daily life affects the ecosystem around us on so many levels. With this constant rapid increase in pollutants, people need to be aware of what types of environmental problems our planet is facing. A part of solving the problem is understanding and never underestimating any small change that can make a difference not just in our life now but for the upcoming generations in the future. As Mehmet Murat ildan said: “The more we pollute the earth, the less we deserve to live on earth!”


  1. Gardner, R.C., Davidson, N.C. (2011). The Ramsar Convention, Wetlands, Springer(.Last updated 2011) available at: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-007-0551-7_11#Sec6   [Accessed 26.Aug.2022].
  2. About the Convention on Wetlands (2014). Ramsar website (.Last updated 2014) available at:  https://www.ramsar.org/about-the-convention-on-wetlands-0    [Accessed 26.Aug.2022].

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