Under-represented wetland types in the Ramsar "List of Wetlands of International Importance"
For more than 30 years, the Ramsar Convention has been the principal instrument for international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. Adopted in Iran in 1971, it was the first of the modern global conservation treaties, and is still the only one dedicated to a particular ecosystem type. Parties to the Convention have committed themselves to designating all of their "suitable wetlands", based upon criteria developed over the years, for inclusion in the List of Wetlands of International Importance (the "Ramsar List") and maintaining their ecological character through management planning for their conservation and sustainable use.
As the Ramsar List has grown (presently to about 1,400 recognized sites of International Importance), certain types of wetlands, as loosely defined in the Ramsar Classification System for Wetland Type, have been identified by the Contracting Parties as having been neglected in favor of other, more common and obvious types (e.g., swamps). Numerous Resolutions and Recommendations over the years have called for greater attention to these under-reported wetland types, and in Resolution VIII.11 (2002) the Parties provided guidelines for the designation of peatlands, wet grasslands, mangroves, and coral reefs in particular. In addition, a few other wetland types have been put forward as requiring special attention, including mountain and Andean wetlands, seagrass beds, and temporary pools.
This index page is intended to provide an up-to-date entry into Ramsar and related materials on the Convention's progress in bringing renewed conservation attention to these so-far under-represented wetland types. Readers with knowledge of additional fruitful links of Ramsar-related significance are heartily invited to bring them to our attention (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Ramsar Convention's definition of "wetlands" is intentionally broad, including amongst many other types all "areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres" (Article 1.1), but also explicitly allowing the inclusion in the Ramsar List of "coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, and islands or bodies of marine water deeper than six metres at low tide lying within the wetlands" (Article 2.1). Thus according to the Ramsar Classification System for Wetland Types, coral reefs figure prominently as Number 3 amongst the categories of marine and coastal wetlands. Some of the best-known internationally important wetlands in the Ramsar List are coral sites located in Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Cuba, Djibouti, Ecuador, France, Guinea, Honduras, Islamic Republic of Iran, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, United Kingdom and Venezuela. In several of these countries the sites go deeper than 6 metres, in accordance with Article 2.1.
Mangrove swamps are forested intertidal ecosystems that occupy sediment-rich sheltered tropical coastal environments, occurring from about 32ºN (Bermuda) to almost 39ºS (Victoria, Australia). Around two-thirds to three-quarters of tropical coastlines are mangrove-lined. Mangroves carry out critical functions related to the regulation of fresh water, nutrients, and sediment inputs into marine areas. By trapping and stabilizing fine sediments they control the quality of marine coastal waters. They are also exceptionally important in maintaining coastal food webs and populations of animals that live as adults elsewhere and depend upon the mangrove at different stages of their life cycle, such as birds, fish, and crustaceans. Mangroves have an important role in pollution control through their absorptive capacity for organic pollutants and nutrients, and they play an important role in storm protection and coastal stabilization.
A large proportion of the world's mangrove resource has been degraded by unsustainable exploitation practices; habitat destruction; changes in hydrology due to stream diversions for irrigation and dam construction; and pollution, including industrial and sewage effluents and chronic or catastrophic oil spills. Mangroves are particularly vulnerable to oil pollution and increased coastal erosion, sea-level rise, and natural events such as hurricanes, frosts, tsunamis, and human-induced climate change.
Covering some 400 million hectares in total, peatlands represent approximately 50% of the world's terrestrial and freshwater wetlands. Despite being the most extensive single wetland type in the world, less than 10% of the global peatland area is represented on the Ramsar List.
Peatlands are made up of mainly semi-decayed plant material accumulated over some five to eight thousand years. They are major contributors to the biological diversity of regions in many parts of the world and provide a variety of goods and services, both directly and indirectly, in the form of forestry and fishery products, energy, flood mitigation, water supply and groundwater recharge. They also have a functional significance far beyond their actual geographical extent - the carbon stored in peat represents some 25% of the world soil carbon pool which would contribute to global warming and climate disruption if released.
The world's peatlands are under increasing pressure from development such as agricultural conversion, forestry and mining, for both energy and horticultural supplies. In recent years, working with the Global Peatland Initiative and organizations such as the International Mire Conservation Group, the International Peat Society, and others, the Ramsar Convention has developed Guidelines for Global Action on Peatlands and, in November 2003, has taken the lead in forming a Coordinating Committee for Global Action on Peatlands.
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What's Next? (One can dream)
mountain and high Andean wetlands (coming soon)