Signiskär, Finland. Photo: Hannu Vallas

Signiskär, Finland. Photo: Hannu Vallas

Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

The Convention on Wetlands is an intergovernmental treaty adopted on 2 February 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar. The name of the Convention is usually written “Convention on Wetlands (Ramsar, Iran, 1971)”, but it has become known popularly as the Ramsar Convention. Ramsar is the first of the modern global intergovernmental treaties on the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.

The official name of the treaty, The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat, reflects the original emphasis upon the conservation and wise use of wetlands primarily as habitat for waterbirds. Over the years the Convention has broadened its scope of implementation to cover all aspects of wetland conservation and wise use, recognizing wetlands as ecosystems that are extremely important for biodiversity conservation and for the well-being of human communities.

The Convention entered into force in 1975 and now has 162 (06/2012) Contracting Parties, or member States, in all parts of the world. The Parties have created the List of Wetlands of International Importance (the Ramsar List which is the keystone of the Convention) with more than 2,040 wetlands. These wetlands cover more than 192 million hectares and have a status for special protection as Ramsar sites. The central Ramsar message is the need for the sustainable use of all wetlands.

The mission of the Ramsar Convention is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local, regional and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”.

Three pillars of the Convention:

  1. Wise use of wetlands

    There is a general obligation for the Parties to include wetland conservation considerations in their national land-use planning. They have committed themselves to implement this planning so as to promote as far as possible “the wise use of wetlands in their territory”. The wise use of wetlands is defined as "the maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development". The Ramsar wise use concept applies to all wetlands and water resources, not only to those sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance. Its application is crucial to ensuring that wetlands can continue fully to deliver their vital role in supporting maintenance of biological diversity and human well-being.

  2. The List of Wetlands of International Importance

    Another commitment is for a Party to designate at least one wetland at the time of accession for inclusion in the “Ramsar List” and promote its conservation, and in addition to continue to “designate suitable wetlands within its territory” for the List.

    There are over 200 Ramsar sites in the Nordic-Baltic region and the total area of these sites is nearly 5,000,000 hectares.

  3. International cooperation

    Contracting parties agree to consult with other Contracting Parties about implementation of the Convention, especially in regard to transboundary wetlands, shared water systems and shared species.

    In the NorBalWet region there is one formally designated Transboundary Ramsar Site (“Nigula Nature Reserve” and “Sookuninga Nature Reserve” in Estonia and “Northern Bogs” in Latvia), as well as a number of existing transboundary Ramsar Sites without a formal joint designation and only unilaterally designated but potentially transboundary Ramsar sites.


The Ramsar Strategic Plan is intended to provide guidance to the Contracting Parties on how they should focus their efforts for implementing the Convention on Wetlands.

More information

Ramsar Convention on Wetlands

Ramsar Sites Information Service