The Ramsar Convention (Iran) or International Convention on Wetlands Conservation was signed in 1971 and came into effect in 1975. The definition of wetlands adopted for the Convention is similar to the following:
They are extensions of marshes, swamps and bogs, or water-covered surfaces, whether natural or artificial, temporary or permanent, stagnant or running, fresh, salty or brackish, including seawater where depth at low tide is no greater than six meters.
The Convention establishes that areas of greater depth can be included in the definition or delimitation of a wetland if they constitute an integral part of the ecosystem. This definition is extremely broad, making it possible to:
The RAMSAR Convention, as an international agreement, is sufficiently general to respect the rights, individualities and autonomy of signatory nations. Countries adhering to the Convention are obliged to take wetlands conservation into account in their land ordering plans. Countries also assume commitments to:
The Convention also establishes clear parameters and suggestions for wetlands management and conservation, and recommends that countries:
As can be noted, the Convention urges signatory parties to promote and develop activities by means of all the mechanisms that have been described. It also provides a legal framework that takes precedence over organic laws in most of the Latin American countries, and thus serves as a framework of reference orienting national policies with either positive or negative relation to wetlands ecosystems.
All of the countries in Mesoamérica have signed the Ramsar Convention. The table below indicates the date countries signed the Convention, and some general characteristics of wetland areas with international importance included in the Ramsar list thus far.
The Convention establishes a series of services and mechanisms to facilitate the work of signatory parties in complying with their objectives:
This list is derived from national wetlands that signatory nations all over the world designate as having international importance. Database on Wetlands Areas with International Importance
With the support of Wetlands International (ex IWRB) and IUCN, the Convention secretariat has developed and maintains a database on wetlands with international importance. This is now the worlds most extensive source of essential information on wetlands, and is thus extremely important for monitoring their situation.
The formal character of the Ramsar Convention is evident in terms of the international commitments established through country signature, but its procedures serve as instruments that facilitate wetlands conservation in imminently practical ways.
Wetlands Conservation: A Challenge at Every Level
Not only do wetlands comprise a large number of ecosystems, they are also extremely heterogeneous and variable in terms of both time and space. Nevertheless, decisions must often be made regarding management and use of their resources.
It is important to be aware that these decisions are not the exclusive responsibility of governments; the responsibility and commitment corresponds to society as a whole. Just like the wetlands themselves, mechanisms for achieving these objectives are both varied and dynamic.
Wetlands conservation can be achieved through management plans, private sector development strategies, management and conservation strategies, administration as protected areas and other mechanisms. But none of these offer a recipe that can be applied in the same way from one place to another. One or several of these mechanisms combined may be the key to reaching objectives for conservation of biodiversity in wetlands, as the capital base of sustainable development for people all over the world.
To achieve these goals, different paths must be forged in
response to the cultural, social, economic and ecological context of each area, country or
region. The Ramsar Convention mechanisms provide opportunity for identifying and using all
types of routes. But there is one universal factor, which is that wetlands-based
conservation and sustainable development requires determination and participation from
everyone, from governments to civil society to the private sector, at every level. The
challenge belongs to us all.