Ramsar Convention Mechanisms and Opportunities for Promoting Wetlands Conservation
By Néstor Windevoxhel Lora*
Archives
1998
Volume 1, No. 2


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:

  • Conserve wetlands and associated resources.
  • Preserve the ecological processes that sustain them.
  • Promote restoration of wetlands areas associated with important ecosystems.
  • Promote wise use of wetlands and their resources.

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:

  • Designate at least one wetlands area in their territory for inclusion in the List of Wetlands with International Importance;
  • Promote wise use of wetlands in their territory;
  • Consult one another regarding compliance with Convention obligations, especially in the case of a shared wetland or watershed; and
  • Create wetlands preserves

The Convention also establishes clear parameters and suggestions for wetlands management and conservation, and recommends that countries:

  • Protect their wetlands areas
  • Promote wise use of their wetlands and associated resources
  • Promote and develop national policy for wetlands conservation

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.

Central American Wetlands with
International Importance

Country/Ramsar Site
Date
Region-Location
Size(Ha)
PANAMÁ
·Golfo de Montijo
·Punta Patiño
·San San-Pond Sak

11/26/90
10/13/93
06/09/93

Veraguas
Darién
Bocas del Toro

80,765
13,805
16,414
COSTA RICA
·Caño Negro
·Gandoca-Manzanillo
·Humedal Caribe Noreste
·Isla del Coco
·Palo Verde
·Tamarindo
·Térraba-Sierpe

12/27/91
12/11/95
03/20/95
04/21/98
12/27/91
06/09/93
12/12/95

Alajuela
Limón
Limón and Heredia
Pacific Ocean
Guanacaste
Guanacaste
Puntarenas

9,969
9,445
75,310
99,623
19,800
500
30,654
NICARAGUA
·Los Guatuzos

07/30/97




Guatuzos/SIAPAZ

43,750
HONDURAS
·Barras de Cuero y Salado
·Parque Nacional Jeanette Kawas
·Refugio de Vida Silvestre Punta Izopo

06/23/93
03/28/95
03/20/96

Atlántida
Atlántida
Atlántida

13,225
78,150

11,200

GUATEMALA
·Laguna del Tigre
·Manchón-Guamuchal
·Refugio de Vida Silvestre Bocas del Polochic

06/26/90
04/25/95
03/20/96

El Petén
San Marcos
Izabal

48,372
13,500
21,227
EL SALVADOR
·Laguna de Jocotal

08/1998

San Miguel

ND

BELIZE / BELICE
·Crooked Tree Lagoon Area
·Mexico and Jones Lagoon
Area


1998
1998

Belize river flood plain
ND

ND
ND

The Convention establishes a series of services and mechanisms to facilitate the work of signatory parties in complying with their objectives:

  • List of Wetlands with International Importance
    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 world’s most extensive source of essential information on wetlands, and is thus extremely important for monitoring their situation.
  • Wetlands Conservation Fund
    This fund provides financing for actions designed to conserve internationally- important wetland areas and promote their sustainable use. With support from donors, the Convention secretariat develops other funding strategies, such as the Wetlands for the Future program, financed by the Government of the United States.
  • Monitoring Procedures
    Countries concerned about degradation of areas on the list of internationally important wetlands can request monitoring from the Convention secretariat. This mechanism is thus a way of helping signatory countries to establish the technical, administrative and social measures for restoring the wetland area quickly and efficiently, ensuring its sustainable use, and receiving follow-up to guarantee that measures are effective.
  • Associations with organizations that provide leadership in the field of conservation and sustainable use of wetlands
    The Convention secretariat collaborates closely with organizations actively working in wetlands conservation and their sustainable use, particularly Wetlands International and IUCN.

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.

 

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