Sharing our wetlands is vital

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What is it about?

Managing our freshwater becomes ever more challenging when wetlands and their catchment basins are shared across national borders. Globally, 145 countries – home to over 40% of global population – share river basins with at least one other country. For some countries this challenge is huge – e.g., the mighty Danube River in Europe, which flows through no less than 18 countries, or the Mekong, the Nile and others, each shared by more than 10 countries. With 260 international river basins providing 60% of the world’s freshwater flows, reinforcing the value of ‘sharing’ processes and improving our skills in achieving this is essential.

What the Convention does

Ramsar emphasizes the need to manage wetlands at the basin level because it makes hydrological and ecological sense and the Convention provides countries with the necessary tools to achieve this. Ramsar also formally addresses the need for countries that ‘share’ Ramsar Sites to designate them as Transboundary Ramsar Sites which they manage jointly in a coordinated way. Today Ramsar boasts 13 such transboundary sites with many more under discussion.

What needs to be done next?

The current list of designated Transboundary Ramsar Sites, including lakes and rivers, coastal areas, peat bogs and karst aquifers (see List here), can be easily expanded, given the increasing understanding of the potential benefits of working more closely together on such sites and catchments across the world and the increasing practical experience in transboundary processes.

Flooded Dyje forest in the Czech Republic's part of the "Trilateral Ramsar Site Floodplains of the Morava-Dyje-Danube Confluence."

Photo: Tobias Salathé, Ramsar

Many wetlands are international systems lying across the boundaries of two or more States, or are part of river basins that include more than one State. The health of these wetlands is dependent upon the quality and quantity of the transboundary water supply from rivers, streams, lakes, or underground aquifers. The best intentions of countries on either side of those frontiers can be frustrated without a framework for international discussion and cooperation toward mutual benefits. Cooperation is key.

Increased biodiversity and conservation of natural resources are results of well-managed transboundary water resources. Many of the wetland fauna, including some fish species, waterbirds, insects such as butterflies and dragonflies, and mammals such as otters, are migratory species whose conservation and management also require international cooperation.

Challenges and Opportunities

Identifying the challenges to transboundary wetland management is the first step. Pollution, climate change, water quantity and use conflicts, ongoing drainage, and over-exploitation of resources present complex challenges in transboundary settings and require well-thought-out integrated water management strategies to address them. Once the challenges are clear, managing the solutions over time is the next step, this is why “transboundary cooperation is crucial where functional units of wetland ecosystems stretch across national (or administrative) borders.” (UNECE Second Assessment) Facilitating the management of transboundary shared wetland sites is vital for maintaining the quality and health of transboundary wetlands ecosystems. 

Ramsar works with many partners and transboundary wetlands management organisations to identify opportunities for the management of transboundary water resources. At the 7th European Regional Meeting, September 2011, Ramsar Senior Advisor for Europe, Tobias Salathé facilitated a panel discussion on recent developments of Transboundary Ramsar Sites. This forum brought together transboundary wetlands managers to address key operational points and to exchange of experiences on the best ways to manage shared watersheds and protected areas. Representatives from the Morava-Dyje-Danube confluence, the Pasvik boreal forest watershed, the Upper Rhine floodplain, the Northern Livonia bogs, Transboundary coastal Ramsar Sites, and Prespa Lakes contributed to the dialogue. 

Presentations from Ramsar European Regional Meeting, September 2011:

Trilateral Ramsar Site Floodplains on Morava-Dyje-Danube Confluence - Trilateral cooperation by Libuše Vlasáková, Ministry of the Environment, Czech Republic  [PDF] 

   >  Read more about Morava-Dyje Floodplains, The Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award and Evian Special Prize - 2002

North Livonian Transboundary Ramsar Site (Estonia-Latvia): by Andris Urtans and Juris Jatnieks, Nature Conservation Agency, Latvia and Agu Leivits, Environmental Board, Estonia  [PDF]

   >  Read more about North Livonia  (NorBalWet, 2007)

Cooperation is key

The UNECE Water Convention Secretariat

UNECE Water Convention launched the Second Assessment of transboundary rivers, lakes and ground-waters at the 7th Ministerial Conference “Environment for Europe” on 21 September 2011. (UNECE Second Assessment)   Ramsar focal points contributed information on the services of a selected number of transboundary wetland ecosystems in the major Pan-European river basins.

The Second Assessment provides a comprehensive overview of the status of transboundary waters in the European and Asian parts of the UNECE region, covering more than 140 transboundary rivers, 25 transboundary lakes, about 200 transboundary groundwaters and 25 Ramsar Sites or other wetlands of transboundary importance. 

Ramsar and UNECE have worked together over many years in close cooperation. The need to adopt an integrated approach and the role of ecosystems in water management has been increasingly recognized in past years, but putting it into practice with concrete measures is a complex exercise and a great challenge for every country.

Ministry of Environment of the Slovak Republic and the Slovak Environmental Agency

From Slovakia, the host country of the 7th European Regional Meeting, we have received a very comprehensive report on Ramsar Sites and work in Slovakia. In the report there is good guidance on moving forward for transboundary projects and management.  The full issue of ENVIROMAGAZÍN can be read in full here. [PDF]

Enviromagazín – a magazine about environment protection, Vol. XVI, special edition 2011, published by the Ministry of Environment of the Slovak Republic and the Slovak Environmental Agency,

The current state, advantages and challenges for the future

Latorica. Photo: M. Balla, Enviromagazín

The main obstacles for formal declarations of transboundary co-operation in many Ramsar sites in Europe probably consists of a lack of personal capacity (e.g. because of the work load of Natura 2000 and other EU agenda obligations), a lack of experience and know-how, as well as the fear of some Contracting Parties being dragged into transboundary political conflicts. Others may have uncertainty who should sign such a formal declaration (the highest representatives of ministries, legal officers of a ministry, or province, or the Protected Area Management Authority?). Furthermore, some may have difficulties arising from the use of different languages and different legal systems.

How to move on?

Based on our own experience for the development of transboundary initiatives we can recommend the following step by step approach:

  • Identify those management sectors that need transboundary co-ordination (e.g. hunting, fishing…);
  • Identify the right forum for it (river commission, National Park commission, or a new Ramsar task force);
  • Create a transboundary working group;
  • Agree on common goals (e.g. through a Memorandum of Understanding) and on principles;
  • Define key working fields for transboundary working groups to implement common principles;
  • Prepare a harmonization of management activities in those fields that need co-ordination;
  • Prepare the formal declaration of a transboundary protected area, e.g. a bilateral Ramsar site;
  • Harmonize the name of the new site and Ramsar Information Sheet.

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Number of » Contracting Parties: 168 Sites designated for the
» List of Wetlands of
International Importance
2,186 Total surface area of designated sites (hectares): 208,674,247

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