World Wetlands Day 2004 -- Mexico

09/02/2004

Secretary General's address in Mexico, World Wetlands Day 2004
English original

Address by Peter Bridgewater, Secretary General of the Convention on Wetlands

on the occasion of the inauguration of the 6th Workshop on Management and Conservation of Wetlands in Mexico at the Universidad de Guadalajara, Zapopan, Jalisco, 2 February 2004

First, I would like to thank the Mexican authorities at all levels for arranging this event, and especially thank Minister Cardosa for being here. While I am speaking here some eight hours earlier in Athens and five in Mopti, Mali, key events on this World Wetlands Day have unfolded. Of course, as the day dawned in the South Pacific, activities in New Zealand and Australia had already begun - it is indeed a global day of action for wetlands!! But we are choosing to focus on Greece, Mali and Mexico because of the particular significance of the events in these countries. And I have chosen especially to respond personally to the kind invitation of Mexico because of the record-breaking efforts by federal and state governments, aided by NGOs and local people, in ensuring that 34 new sites are being included as Wetlands of International Importance on this day!

While in Mexico we are seeing a large number of significant sites listed as Wetlands of International Importance for the first time, in Mali the world's second largest Ramsar Site is being listed, and in Greece the role of the MedWet initiative, helping implement the Convention across three of the Ramsar regions, is being showcased.

In many other countries, right around the world, from New Zealand to Peru, WWD will be celebrated by an amazing array of events, many of which use the day as just a starting point for further activities.

This World Wetlands Day, as we look back on 33 years of achievement under the Convention and look forward to many more such years, seems the perfect moment to sketch out a vision of the future for the Ramsar convention. Thirty-three years ago, Ramsar was the first global environmental convention, focusing on a critical ecosystem and its biodiversity elements, primarily because of its key role in protecting sites for migratory waterfowl. The founding fathers of the Convention were exceptionally farsighted. So much so that, even though biodiversity and sustainable development were not yet in the global lexicon, the Convention was written to encompass the ideas encapsulated by those terms. In 33 years the Convention has grown and matured, as a key convention in the conservation and wise use of wetlands.

Right now the world is poised to cope with the issue of ensuring enough freshwater for all - which also means ensuring enough water for wetlands and other ecosystems. I am convinced the Ramsar Convention can become a water convention - for we are already a convention which deals with protection, production and natural purification of freshwater - as well as the near-shore marine environments.

The Convention has increasingly recognized that wetlands not only play a vital role in the hydrological cycle, but that to secure their conservation and wise use it is essential that they are managed in the wider context of basin-scale and water resource management. And wetlands typically perform many functions which could be described as purification of water, so much so that artificial wetlands are now being created for just this purpose. The challenge is to find ways of securing appropriate allocation of water to wetlands in the face of increasing water demand and diminishing water supply through over-abstraction and the effects of prolonged and increasing droughts and desertification in many parts of the world.

When COP9 meets next in Kampala, Uganda, in 2005, Contracting Parties will have before them new guidance on these issues. It is, of course, more than appropriate that this will be the first Conference of the Parties meeting to be held in Africa - the continent where these issues press more urgently than most.

But on this WWD 2004, Mexico is to be especially congratulated for recognizing that the Wetlands of International Importance form a key tool in the promotion of the wise use of wetlands in general. As the theme of WWD 2004 is "from the mountains to the sea", it is especially gratifying that a full range of wetland types is included in the 43 new sites added since November 27, 2003, covering more than 4 million hectares! With these designations Mexico becomes the country in the Americas with the largest number of sites, followed by Canada with 36. Ramsar sites are special places, but to some extent they are also protected areas - indeed many are also identified as protected areas in the national system. So it is appropriate that CONANP is the national institution which has currently the responsibility for the Convention. In the Secretariat we hope the management planning experience in CONANP can be brought to bear on all the Ramsar sites in Mexico, for national and for regional benefit.

As a bridge between North and South America, the range of wetland systems in Mexico is significant in geographic terms - the more so since Mexico also faces two oceans and has significant arid lands, where wetlands are critical ecological drivers in maintaining system function. Inclusion of significant coastal lagoon systems, and especially nesting sites for marine turtles, is another impressive and important contribution to ensure the survival of creatures that are under very great threat. Mention migratory species and wetlands and we most think of the birds. Yet turtles are a critical set of global species needing better protection, and Mexico is to be congratulated for its leadership in the Caribbean on this issue.

Mexico's contribution to highlighting how to implement the Convention in a proactive way is also demonstrated by its actions to establish a national Ramsar committee. Such a body can bring the expertise in the country dealing with the kaleidoscope of issues which Ramsar represents together and be a powerful force for its implementation.

There is much discussion around the world of the need for a new focus, a new institutional framework, a paradigm shift, to deal with the water issue - and yet it seems we already have the pieces there, in place, to deal with this most critical of issues. In recent years, and particularly after the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg, 2002, it has become clear that water is one of the most important resources of the planet, yet also one of the most under pressure. There is thus a necessity for a more coordinated global management of water resources - and the Ramsar Convention appears as the most relevant existing international agreement to deal with this new and increasing responsibility.

Yet we are still seen too often as a convention dealing only with wetlands as a means of ensuring waterbird conservation. While that was once true, and it is still true that the issue of species conservation is a key one for the Convention, we have also moved to become a convention addressing some of the key environmental issues of this century:

  • Provision of water as a means to alleviate poverty;
  • Reducing the loss of biological diversity;
  • Enhancing food and water security;
  • Promoting integrated ways of managing environmental systems.

Linking biodiversity loss and food and water security is especially important in fishing. There is no doubt that all of the world's fish stocks are under great pressure, and ensuring wise use of wetlands is a major step forwards to solving this issue. Ensuring such wise use built upon well-managed Ramsar sites is key to this process.

Of course, we are not going to solve these issues alone, and so we also place great store in creating more comprehensive environmental governance. Linkage and synergy with other conventions is key - we are doing well in this regard with the CBD, and in the critical area of climate change and its affects, we are working ever more closely with the UNFCCC. Here is where synergy means more than cooperation between secretariats: it means coordinated efforts at national level.

In effect, at COP8 our Convention changed gear and moved to a new paradigm, where wetlands were seen as part of the interlinked issues including the production, protection and purification of water sources for the world.

Finally, here in Mexico, one of the key areas which will benefit from the establishment of the new sites will be tourism, especially ecotourism. My definition of tourism is about being human, linking people with nature and culture, providing enriching experiences. Understanding the relationship between people and wetland nature; and translating that relationship to on-ground reality is the key of the Ramsar Convention. Especially the List of Wetlands of International Importance, which represents an opportunity to achieve many issues relating to balancing tourism and biodiversity. Wetlands of International Importance are often sited in areas of high tourist potential or actual visitation. This suggests that future tourist developments need to be carefully managed with the imperatives of conservation and wise use.

One of Ramsar's strengths is involving people and nature in the same equation. Certainly, there is nowhere "pristine and untouched" and wilderness is in the mind, not on the ground! Yet many people yearn for wilderness experiences. So our objective should be to show them wild nature, traditional culture, so that their experiences remain (for them!) valid, yet do not disturb the long-term functioning of ecosystems. A difficult task, but one challenge I am sure Mexico will be able to win! And workshops such as we inaugurate this morning will help in solving this and other management problems.

On this WWD let us recall the successes - and setbacks - of the past 33 years; learn the lessons, and take the Convention to new levels of activity and implementation, from local, to national, to global actions for 2004 and beyond!

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Number of » Contracting Parties: 168 Sites designated for the
» List of Wetlands of
International Importance
2,181 Total surface area of designated sites (hectares): 208,545,658

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