40 Years of Wetland Conservation | WWF

40 Years of Wetland Conservation

In March 1971 an intergovernmental treaty was drawn up to protect a very special ecosystem. Some 40 years later, the Ramsar convention, named after the Iranian city where it was born, protects and conserves wetlands around the world and is the only global environmental treaty to deal with a specific ecosystem.

Mangrove Tree, Toliara, Madagascar
© John E Newby / WWF


All the numbers


The Convention on Wetlands is 40 years old in 2011.


From Albania to Zambia, the number of Contracting Parties is now 160.


The total number of sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance is 1918.*


The total surface area of designated sites covers 187,044,576 hectares.*

*Figures updated 28 February 2011

The Ramsar Mission

The conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world.

How does Ramsar designation protect wetlands?

On signing up to Ramsar, member countries are required to nominate at least one Wetland of International Importance. The criteria for inclusion on the list are varied, but include being a rare or unique example of a type of wetland or providing habitat to endangered species.

Ramsar's member countries are committed to maintain the ecological character of their Wetlands of International Importance. Thus, once these sites are listed and their size is recorded, they should be protected from development, pollution and drainage.

Through its list of Wetlands of International Importance, Ramsar aims to develop and maintain an international network of wetlands which are important for the conservation of global biological diversity and for sustaining human life.

	© WWF / Michel GUNTHER
Local fishing port on the Mediterranean coast, Merja Zerga National Park, Ramsar Zone, Morocco One of the best-known birding sites in Morocco, Merja Zerga is a large shallow lagoon connected to the sea by a narrow channel. The surrounding countryside has cork oak forest, marshes and grassland and the area as a whole is highly attractive to waders and waterfowl which occur in both variety and high numbers.
© WWF / Michel GUNTHER

The oldest

On 8 May 1974, Australia's Coburg Peninsula became the first area to be added to the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance.

Covering over 220,000 hectares in the Northern Territory, it contains extensive tidal flats, estuaries, mangroves, riverine wetlands and Melaleuca (paperbark) swamps, dominated by eucalyptus forest.

The newest

The most recent additions to the Ramsar List are Refugio de Vida Silvestre Laguna Cabral o Rincon in the Dominican Republic, the Complejo Jaltepque in El Salvador and the Ba Be National Park in Vietnam which were all added on 2 February 2011.

WWF's work

WWF's freshwater programme works to protect freshwater ecosystems and improve water access, efficiency and allocation for people and the environment. This includes water stewardship, water security and climate change adaptation. Work to protect wetlands is particularly focused on habitat protection.

Around 75% of new sites included in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance since 1999 are the result of WWF’s work at different levels.

Working with the Ramsar Convention, national governments, international river basin organizations and other institutions, WWF's efforts to work to protect these vital wetlands includes:

  • Supporting implementation of international agreements and treaties on biodiversity and wetlands.
  • Promoting payments for environmental services (PES) for financing freshwater ecosystem services.
  • Assessing and increasing the representativeness of freshwater habitats in protected area networks.
  • Establishing freshwater conservation networks.
  • Restoring critical freshwater habitats.

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