Jan 30 2021
2021 is the 50th Anniversary of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.
Is this a cause for celebration?
50 years on, our wetlands face greater threats than ever before despite the efforts by those pioneers dedicated to wetlands conservation in the lead up to the Ramsar Convention and since its ratification, over 60 years in all. It will take a mammoth effort by us all to turn back the tide on the loss and degradation of the world’s wetlands, given today’s political climate where environmental conservation sits at the bottom of the list of priorities of some our wealthiest nations, while our poorest nations depend on water and wetlands for their livelihoods like never before.
We each have a voice whether communicating our concerns to the politicians we vote for or taking actions on the ground as conservationists. This can be working with under resourced state, territory and local governments. An example is shown in the AWSG newsletter Tattler #49 on this website.
Most people are unaware of the history of the lead up to the event in February 1971 when a convention was convened by Dr Luc Hoffmann in 1960 as detailed below.
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat is an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. It is named after the city of Ramsar in Iran, where the convention was signed in 1971. This was ten years after an international Convention was conceived in 1960 when IUCN received and approved a proposal from Dr Luc Hoffmann which called for an international programme on the conservation and management of marshes, bogs and other wetlands. It was designated ‘Project MAR’ since these are the first three letters of the word for wetlands in several languages – MARshes, MARecages, MARismas. IUCN asked that the International Council for Bird Protection (ICBP) (BirdLife International) as well as IWRB should be asked to participate, and appointed Luc Hoffmann as Coordinator. At the beginning of 1962 he became the honorary Director of IWRB, which from then onwards played a central role.
An international convention was conceived in 1960 when IUCN received and approved a proposal from Dr Luc Hoffmann which called for an international programme on the conservation and management of marshes, bogs and other wetlands. It was designated Project MAR since these are the first three letters of the word for wetlands in several languages – MARshes, MARecages, MARismas. IUCN asked that the International Council for Bird Protection (ICBP), BirdLife international since 1993. As well as IWRB, Wetlands International since 1996, should be asked to participate, and appointed Luc Hoffmann as Coordinator. At the beginning of 1962 he became the honorary Director of IWRB, which from then onwards played a central role.
Luc Hoffmann organized a MAR Conference in the French Camargue, at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, from 12 to 16 November 1962. This was attended by some 80 experts from 12 European countries and from Australia, Canada, Morocco and the United States. Nearly 60 papers were presented on the economic, scientific and moral considerations; the criteria for defining wetland areas and reserves; the legal and administrative devices; the management, utilization and restoration of wetlands; the role of man-made aquatic habitats; the international efforts needed for the conservation of wetlands and their fauna. These impressive proceedings appeared in 1964, in English and French.
It took just over eight years of conferences, technical meetings and behind-the-scenes discussions to develop a convention text that had any hope of being accepted widely in the political climate of the time.
The Ramsar Convention is the oldest multilateral international conservation convention and the only one to deal with one habitat or ecosystem type, wetlands. The convention’s headquarters are in Gland, Switzerland, and it works closely with the IUCN.
The convention was held in the city of Ramsar, Iran, in February 1971 and was originally contracted by seven countries when it came into force on 21 December 1975. As of October 2019 there are 171 contracting parties and over 2,000 designated sites covering over 200,000,000 hectares (490,000,000 acres). Every contracting country has at least one Ramsar site, and 31 of the contracting countries have only one site. The country with the most sites is the United Kingdom with 170. To become a Ramsar site, a site must be nominated by a contracting country, meet at least one of nine criteria, and undergo scientific review.
Phil Straw, AWSG East Asian Australasian Flyway Liaison Officer
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