A brief history of the Ramsar Convention
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The initial call for an international convention on wetlands came in 1962 during a conference which formed part of Project MAR (from "MARshes", "MARécages", "MARismas"), a programme established in 1960 following concern at the rapidity with which large stretches of marshland and other wetlands in Europe were being "reclaimed" or otherwise destroyed, with a resulting decline in numbers of waterfowl.
The MAR Conference was organized by Dr Luc Hoffmann, with the participation of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (now IUCN-International Union for Conservation of Nature), the International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau, IWRB (now Wetlands International), and the International Council for Bird Preservation, ICBP (now BirdLife International), and was held in Les Saintes Maries-de-la-Mer in the French Camargue, 12-16 November 1962.
Over the next eight years, a convention text was negotiated through a series of international meetings (St. Andrews, 1963; Noordwijk, 1966; Leningrad, 1968; Morges, 1968; Vienna, 1969; Moscow, 1969; Espoo, 1970), held mainly under the auspices of IWRB, the guidance of Prof. G.V.T. Matthews, and the leadership of the government of the Netherlands. Initially the envisaged convention was directed specifically at the conservation of waterfowl through the creation of a network of refuges, but as the text developed, especially with the expert advice of legal consultant Mr Cyrille de Klemm, conservation of wetland habitat (rather than species) took prominence.
Finally, at an international meeting organized by Mr Eskander Firouz, Director of Iran's Game and Fish Department, and held in the Caspian seaside resort of Ramsar in Iran, the text of the Convention was agreed on 2 February 1971 and signed by the delegates of 18 nations the next day.
The Convention entered into force in December 1975, upon receipt by UNESCO, which had agreed to act as the Convention's depositary, of the seventh instrument of accession to or ratification of the Convention, which came from Greece. The Convention has recently celebrated throughout 2011 the 40th anniversary of its creation.
Since its adoption, the Ramsar Convention has been modified on two occasions: by a protocol (a new treaty which amends the original treaty) in December 1982, and by a series of amendments to the original treaty, known as the "Regina Amendments" of 1987.
The Paris Protocol and the Regina Amendments
The Paris Protocol was adopted at an Extraordinary Conference of the Contracting Parties which was held at UNESCO headquarters in Paris in December 1982. The Protocol, which came into force in 1986, established a procedure for amending the Convention (Article 10 bis) and adopted official versions of the treaty in Arabic, French, English, German, Russian and Spanish.
The Regina Amendments are a series of amendments to Articles 6 and 7 that were accepted at an Extraordinary Conference of the Contracting Parties held in Regina, Canada, in 1987. These did not affect the basic substantive principles of the Convention, but related to its operation - briefly, the amendments defined the powers of the Conference of the Parties, established an intersessional Standing Committee, and established both a permanent secretariat and a budget for the Convention. These amendments came into force on 1 May 1994, although the Parties, in the spirit of Resolution 3.4 from the 1987 meeting, observed the provisions of the amendments on a voluntary basis throughout the interim period.
New Contracting Parties normally join the Ramsar Convention as amended by the Paris Protocol and the Regina Amendments, using the model instrument of accession.
A Ramsar chronology - key events
2 February 1971
The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat is agreed by representatives of 18 nations meeting in the Iranian town of Ramsar, and signed the following day.
Australia becomes the first State to deposit an instrument of accession to the Convention.
An International Conference on the Conservation of Wetlands and Waterfowl is held in Heiligenhafen, Germany, and adopts the first "Criteria to be used in identifying Wetlands of International Importance" as a recommendation; the conference was intended to be the first meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties, but an insufficient number of countries had ratified the Convention to bring it into force in time.
The Ramsar Convention comes into force four months after the seventh nation, Greece, deposits an instrument of accession. (The first six were Australia, Finland, Norway, Sweden, South Africa, and Iran.)
Contracting Parties are invited to prepare the first National Reports on the implementation of the Convention in their territories, for presentation to the First meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties.
First meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties, Cagliari, Italy:
- adopts new criteria for identifying wetlands suitable for designation to the List of Wetlands of International Importance;
- approves the elaboration of a protocol (later to become the Paris Protocol) to amend the treaty.
A Protocol modifying the original text of the Ramsar Convention is adopted by an Extraordinary meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties at the headquarters of UNESCO in Paris.
Second meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties, Groningen, Netherlands:
- establishes the framework for implementing the Convention, a list of agreed commitments, and priorities for the next triennium.
Paris Protocol enters into force (after acceptance by two-thirds of Contracting Parties in 1982).
Extraordinary meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties adopts the Regina Amendments to Articles 6 and 7 of the Convention.
Third (ordinary) meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties, Regina, Canada:
- adopts revised criteria for identifying wetlands of international importance;
- adopts guidelines for the implementation of the wise use of wetlands concept;
- establishes the Standing Committee, which meets for the first time;
- approves the establishment of the Ramsar "Bureau" (or secretariat) in two units, one within IUCN headquarters in Gland, Switzerland, and one within IWRB headquarters in Slimbridge, UK;
- establishes formal scientific and technical links with IUCN and IWRB;
- establishes a Wise Use Working Group to develop case studies and guidelines for wise use of the wetlands.
The Ramsar Secretariat (called the "Bureau") is formally established as the Convention's permanent secretariat, with Mr Dan Navid (USA) as the first Secretary General.
The Ramsar Advisory Mission (then called the 'Monitoring Procedure', and later the 'Management Guidance Procedure') is established by the Ramsar Standing Committee at its fourth meeting, in Costa Rica.
Adoption of the first Ramsar logo (a soaring blue bird of unknown species, trailed by splashes of pastel blue and green).
Viet Nam becomes the 50th Contracting Party to the Convention.
Ramsar publishes its first book, A Legal analysis of the adoption of the implementation of the Convention in Denmark, by Veit Koester (in the IUCN Environmental Policy and Law Papers series).
Fourth meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties, Montreux, Switzerland:
- approves the framework for the implementation of the Convention;
- develops and adopts revised criteria for identifying wetlands of international importance;
- expands the guidelines for the implementation of the wise use concept;
- consolidates the Ramsar Secretariat into a single unit within IUCN headquarters in Gland, Switzerland;
- continues to charge IWRB with responsibility for maintaining the Ramsar Database of Listed Sites;
- formalizes the Management Guidance Procedure;
- establishes the Montreux Record (though not formally known by this name until June 1993);
- establishes the Wetland Conservation Fund (later renamed "the Ramsar Small Grants Fund for Wetland Conservation and Wise Use");
- adopts Spanish as the third working language of the Convention, alongside English and French.
First Ramsar Regional Meeting (Asia) takes place, Karachi, Pakistan.
Fifth meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties, Kushiro, Japan:
- adopts the Kushiro Statement as the basis for the Contracting Parties' priorities for the coming triennium;
- establishes the Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP);
- adopts additional guidance for the implementation of the wise use of wetlands concept;
- adopts management planning guidelines for wetland sites.
Publication of The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands: its history and development, by G.V.T. Matthews.
Publication of Towards the wise use of wetlands, the report of the Wise Use Project.
Lithuania becomes 80th Contracting Party to the Convention.
First meeting of the STRP takes place in association with the IUCN General Assembly in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Regina Amendments to Articles 6 and 7 of the Convention enter into force.
Mr James McCuaig, seconded from Environment Canada, serves for six months as Interim Secretary General, replacing Mr Dan Navid.
Mr Delmar Blasco (Argentina) becomes the Convention's second Secretary General.
Memorandum of Cooperation signed between the secretariats of the Ramsar Convention and the Convention on Biological Diversity, the first of many memoranda between the Ramsar Secretariat and the secretariats of other Multilateral Environment Agreements (MEAs). In subsequent years, Joint Work Plans are developed to increase synergies between the two conventions.
The Ramsar Convention's website is inaugurated.
Sixth meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties, Brisbane, Australia:
- adopts the Strategic Plan 1997-2002;
- adopts criteria based on fish for identifying wetlands of international importance;
- adopts working definitions of ecological character and guidelines for describing and maintaining the ecological character of listed sites;
- adopts a resolution on Ramsar and water.
The Standing Committee formally establishes 2 February as World Wetlands Day.
The Mediterranean Wetlands Committee (MedWet/Com) is established as the first regional arrangement under the Convention.
Bahamas and Georgia both accede to the Convention on 7 February, becoming the 99th and 100th Contracting Parties.
2 February 1997
The first World Wetlands Day is celebrated in about 50 nations and becomes an annual event.
The Ramsar Forum, a public e-mail discussion group for Ramsar-related issues, is established by the Secretariat.
The Ramsar Secretariat's Internship Programme begins with the arrival of the first group of four assistants to the Senior Regional Advisors (then called "Regional Coordinators").
Ramsar publishes The Economic valuation of wetlands in English, French, and Spanish.
First three-year phase of the Wetlands for the Future initiative begins by agreement between the Ramsar Secretariat, the United States State Department, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service; later renewed regularly.
Wetlands, biodiversity and the Ramsar Convention: the role of the Convention on Wetlands in the conservation and wise use of wetlands, edited by A.J. Hails, is published by the Ramsar Secretariat.
The Evian Project, to assist communications and training activities under the Convention, is established by an agreement signed among the Ramsar Secretariat, the Groupe Danone from the private sector, the French GEF, and the government of France.
The Standing Committee adopts the new Ramsar logo (the word Ramsar on a blue-green background with two white lines suggesting waves).
Seventh meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties, San José, Costa Rica:
- adopts an array of guidelines on National Wetland Policies, reviewing laws and institutions, river basin management, education and public awareness, international cooperation, and more;
- adopts a Strategic Framework for the development of the Ramsar List;
- revises the system of regional representation under the Convention and reconstitutes the membership of the Standing Committee and STRP;
- confers the first Wetland Conservation Awards upon five recipients;
- formally confirms BirdLife International, IUCN-International Union for Conservation of Nature, Wetlands International, and WWF International as 'International Organization Partners' (IOPs) of the Convention.
Honduras designates the Sistema de Humedales de la Zona Sur de Honduras, the Convention's 1000th Ramsar Site.
The Society of Wetland Scientists inaugurates its annual Ramsar Support Framework grants programme; the programme runs until 2004.
The Ramsar Handbooks for the wise use of wetlands are published in nine booklets in a boxed set. A CD-ROM version is published by the United Nations University in September 2002.
Inauguration of a joint website between Ramsar and UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere Programme. A Programme of Joint Work is agreed between the two secretariats in March 2002.
Hungary and Slovakia agree the collaborative management of the first Transboundary Ramsar Site, the Baradla Cave System and Domica, respectively.
The MedWet Coordination Unit is opened in Athens, Greece, at that time a 5-member outposted branch of the Ramsar Secretariat, headed by a new MedWet Coordinator and funded by the government of Greece and members of the MedWet Committee.
Surface area coverage of the world's Wetlands of International Importance surpasses 100 million hectares with the designation of Peru's Abanica del río Pastazo.
Eighth meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties, Valencia, Spain:
- adopts further guidance for the Parties, covering allocation and management of water, site management planning, integrated coastal zone management, wetland inventory, under-represented wetland types, wetland restoration, peatlands;
- adopts a new Strategic Plan for the period 2003-2008;
- adopts a new modus operandi for the Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP);
- adopts a Communications, Education, and Public Awareness (CEPA) programme for 2003-2008, as a successor to the Outreach Programme 1999-2002;
- confers the second set of Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award to three organizations.
Peter Bridgewater (Australia) named as the Convention's third Secretary General, succeeding Delmar Blasco.
Thirty-eight Ramsar Sites are added to the List by Finland, which brings the total number past the 1,500 mark.
Ninth meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties, Kampala, Uganda:
- adopts further guidance for the Parties, covering groundwater management, river basin management, and rapid assessment of wetland biodiversity;
- adopts frameworks for understanding relationships among existing guidance on wise use, water-related issues, and wetland inventory, assessment, and monitoring;
- establishes a Management Working Group, an STRP Oversight Panel, and a CEPA Oversight Panel as functions of the Standing Committee;
- endorses eight regional initiatives within the framework of the Convention and authorizes financial assistance for five of them;
- adopts a new modus operandi for the Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP);
- adopts topical Resolutions on fisheries resources, poverty reduction, and avian influenza;
- endorses a fifth member of the Convention's International Organization Partners, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI); and
- confers the third set of Ramsar Wetland Conservation Award to four recipients.
Barbados joins the Convention as its 150th Contracting Party.
Launch of the Ramsar Technical Reports series, with its first title, Guidelines for the rapid assessment of inland, coastal and marine wetland biodiversity, published jointly with the Convention on Biological Diversity.
The 11th annual World Wetlands Day is celebrated with the theme of "wetlands and fisheries".
Benin's designation of the Site Ramsar du Complexe W and Zone humide de la rivière Pendjari brings the Convention's total area covered to over 150 million hectares.
Launch of the Biosphere Connections partnership between the Star Alliance airline network and the Ramsar Convention, UNESCO MAB Programme, and IUCN.
Mr Anada Tiéga takes over as the Ramsar Convention's fourth Secretary General. The 3rd edition of the Ramsar Handbooks for the wise use of wetlands, now grown to 17 volumes, is published on CD-ROM.
The Danone Group's financial support for a succession of joint projects with the Ramsar Convention enters its 10th year.
The 12th annual World Wetlands Day is celebrated with the theme of human health: "Healthy wetlands, healthy people".
Designation by the Democratic Republic of Congo of the world's largest Ramsar Site, Ngiri-Tumba-Maindombe, at more than 6.5 million hectares.
Gambia and Senegal agree the collaborative management of the Convention's 10th Transboundary Ramsar Site, called "Niumi-Saloum", and its first TRS outside of Europe.
Tenth meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties, Changwon, Republic of Korea:
- adopts the "Changwon Declaration" on wetlands and human health and well-being;
- adopts guidance on principles for partnerships with the Convention, describing the ecological character of wetlands, wetlands and river basin management, and highly pathogenic avian influenza;
- adopts frameworks for guidance on Ramsar data and information needs and on detecting, reporting, and responding to change in ecological character;
- adopts topical Resolutions on wetlands and human health, climate change, "biofuels", extractive industries, urbanization, poverty alleviation, small island states, and biodiversity in rice paddies;
- adopts a new Strategic Plan and a new Communications, Education, Participation, and Awareness (CEPA) Plan for 2009-2015; and
- confers the fourth set of Ramsar Wetland Conservation Awards.
The 13th annual World Wetlands Day is celebrated with the theme of river basins: "Upstream-Downstream: wetlands connect us all".
The first issue of the quarterly Newsletter of the Scientific and Technical Review Panel (STRP) is published.
Argentina designates the world's southernmost Ramsar Site, Glaciar Vinciguerra y turberas asociadas, at 54º45'S 068º20'W.
The 14th annual World Wetlands Day is celebrated with the theme of "Caring for wetlands - an answer to climate change".
Launch of the Convention's YouTube channel
The 15th annual World Wetlands Day is celebrated with the theme of "Forests for water and wetlands". Publication of Ramsar's liquid assets, highlighting 40 years of the Convention's achievements and challenges; 40th anniversary celebrations continue throughout 2011.
The Convention's List of Wetlands of International Importance surpasses 2,000 Ramsar Sites worldwide.
The Star Alliance of airlines, through its Biosphere Connections agreement with Ramsar, IUCN, and UNESCO, releases a series of high quality of films, some of which are focused upon Ramsar Sites.
Publication of the 4th edition of the Ramsar Handbooks for the wise use of wetlands on the Ramsar website and CD-ROM.
Creation of the Ramsar Convention's Facebook page, with 59,849 fans by November 2012. An on-line Photo Gallery was also launched to enable wetland enthusiasts to contribute their favorite photographs directly (www.40thramsar.org/).
The 16th annual World Wetlands Day is celebrated round the world with the theme of "Wetlands and Tourism".
Launch of the Convention's Scientific and Technical Briefing Notes series of PDF publications from the STRP.
Eleventh meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties, Bucharest, Romania, with the theme of Wetlands, Tourism and Recreation:
- adopts a significant Resolution on "Tourism, recreation and wetlands";
- adopts new procedures and guidance on describing Ramsar Sites at the time of designation and in subsequent updates, paving the way for on-line submission of site data by Parties in coming years;
- adopts new guidelines for avoiding, mitigating and compensating for wetland losses
- adopts Resolutions on important cross-sectoral issues such as wetlands and energy, management of urban wetlands, wetlands and health, wetlands and poverty eradication, wetlands and climate change, rice paddy pest control, and promoting sustainable investment by the private sector;
- adopts Resolutions on administrative matters, such as the budget for 2013-2015, the composition and responsibilities of the Standing Committee,the modus operandi of the STRP and future implementation of scientific and technical aspects of the Convention for the next triennium;
- resolves years of study by choosing to continue the institutional hosting by IUCN rather than join the United Nations system; and
- confers the fifth set of Ramsar Wetland Conservation Awards.
The 17th annual World Wetlands Day is celebrated round the world with the theme of "Wetlands and Water Management", in recognition of the UN's International Year of Water Cooperation.
Dr Christopher Briggs takes over as the Ramsar Convention's fifth Secretary General, replacing Mr Anada Tiéga.
Two Ramsar publications provide a detailed background to the Ramsar Convention's historical and legal development up to 1993:
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands: Its History and Development, by G.V.T. Matthews, 1993; and
The Legal Development of the Ramsar Convention, by C. de Klemm and I. Créteaux, 1993.
Additional background resources:
Karin Baakman, Testing times: the effectiveness of five international biodiversity-related conventions. Nijmegen, Netherlands: Wolf Legal Publishers, 2011.
Michael Bowman, "The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands: has it made a difference?", in Yearbook of International Co-operation on Environment and Development 2002/2003 (London: Earthscan), 61-8. [reprinted www.ramsar.org/pdf/key_law_bowman2.pdf]
Royal C. Gardner, "Rehabilitating nature: a comparative review of legal mechanisms that encourage wetland restoration efforts", Catholic University Law Review, v. 52, no. 3 (2003) [reprinted www.ramsar.org/pdf/wurc/wurc_rest_incentives_gardner.pdf]
Clare Shine and Cyrille de Klemm, Wetlands, water and the law: using law to advance wetland conservation and wise use. Gland: IUCN and Bonn: IUCN Environmental Law Centre, 1999.