Wetlands are ecosystems saturated with water, either seasonally or permanently. They store water and ensure its quality, providing resilience against drought. They play a central role in sustainable development by supplying all our fresh water. According to the RAMSAR Convention, wetlands include: “all lakes and rivers, underground aquifers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands, peat lands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, mangroves and other coastal areas, coral reefs, and all human made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs and salt pans”. Due to regional and local differences wetlands vary widely due to differences in soils, topography, climate, hydrology, water chemistry, vegetation, human disturbance and other factors. They are found all over the world, on every continent except Antarctica.
Since ancient times, humanity has inhabited wetlands and used them in different ways. In fact, the ancient society of Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, was founded and thrived in wetlands. Wetlands play a major role in protecting land against floods and the impacts of storms. They provide food and diverse habitats which support genetic, species and ecosystem biodiversity. Wetlands play a key role in the life cycles of many species and in annual migration patterns.
Unfortunately, wetlands are being degraded and lost due to pollution, over exploitation, climate change and human population growths. In recognition of these challenges, the RAMSAR Convention, an international treaty, was adopted in 1971. The Convention was designed to address global concerns regarding wetland loss and degradation.
Preserving remarkable sites
The Convention on Wetlands was signed in Ramsar, Iran, 1971. Since then, UNESCO-MAB and the Ramsar Bureau have been partners. Synergistic efforts to preserve wetlands concern in particular a network of common sites of interest:
- Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems which are internationally recognized within the framework of UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme.
- Ramsar Wetlands are sites inscribed on the List of Wetlands of International Importance (the "Ramsar List") under the Convention on Wetlands (signed in Ramsar, Iran, 1971).
Among the most remarkable protected wetlands we find:
- Tonle Sap (Cambodia)
- Pantanal (Brazil)
- Lac Saint-Pierre (Canada)
- Ciénaga Grande de Santa Marta (Colombia)
- Camargue (France)
- Hara Biosphere Reserve (Iran)
- Volga Delta (Russian Federation)
- Langebaan (South Africa)
- The Everglades (USA)
- Delta du Saloum (Senegal).
- Joint UNESCO-RAMSAR wetlands sites
- Ramsar Website