Ramsar Site | Interesting facts about Ramsar Convention | 12th Biology
A Ramsar site is a wetland site selected to be of international status under the Ramsar Convention. The Convention on Wetlands, known as the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental (international) environmental contract established in 1971 by UNESCO. This convention came into force in 1975. The convention provides an international platform for the countries for national action and international cooperation regarding the conservation of wetlands, and judicious sustainable use of their resources.
Ramsar recognizes wetlands of international importance, especially those that have waterfowl (ducks, geese, and swans) habitats. As of 2016, there were 2,231 Ramsar sites, protecting 214,936,005 hectares (531,118,440 acres) of land, and there are 169 national governments that are currently participating.
A wetland is defined as a place where the land is covered by water. Marshes, ponds, the edge of a lake/ocean, the delta at the mouth of a river, low-lying areas that frequently flood —are all classified as wetlands. Wetlands which are of international importance are also known as Ramsar sites. The most common feature of all wetlands is that the water table (the groundwater level) is very close to the soil surface or shallow water is present on the surface for at least part of the year. The main characteristics of a wetland are determined by considering the salinity of the water in the wetland, the soil type and the plants and animals living in the particular wetland.
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands
The Convention on Wetlands, which are internationally important and holds a very unique distinction for being the first modern accord between nations that aimed at conserving natural resources. Ramsar is the oldest of the global intergovernmental environmental agreements. The Convention on Wetlands was signed in 1971 at the small Iranian town of Ramsar. Therefore, the Convention on Wetlands has been known as the Ramsar Convention. The Ramsar Convention was accepted on 2 February 1971. Therefore 2nd of February, each year is World Wetlands Day.
The main objectives of the Ramsar Convention are:
i. To ensure the wise use of all their wetlands. The wise use of wetlands means; maintaining the ecological character of a wetland.
ii. To designate appropriate wetlands for the list of Wetlands of International Importance (the “Ramsar List”) and to guarantee their effective management.
iii. To cooperate worldwide on transboundary wetlands, shared wetland systems and shared species.
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The Montreux Record
It is a register maintained regarding the wetland sites that are present on the List of Wetlands of International Importance. In this register, changes on the ecological character of the site have occurred, are occurring, and also likely to occur. This has occurred a result of technological developments, pollution or other human interference. The Montreux Record is maintained as a part of the Ramsar List.
Interesting facts about Ramsar Convention/Sites
i. The number of parties/ countries that have joined the convention is 169.
ii. At the time of joining the Convention, each joining Party undertakes to elect at least one wetland site for inclusion in the list of Wetlands of International Importance.
iii. The inclusion of a wetland, of a “Ramsar Site” in the List exemplifies the government’s commitment to take the necessary steps in order to ensure that its ecological character is maintained.
iv. Wetlands that are included in the List gain a new national and international status, that is: they are recognized for being of significant value not only for the country or the countries in which they are located but for humanity as a whole.
The Ramsar Sites Information Service (RSIS) is a record which provides information on each Ramsar Site. The Ramsar Convention works in close connection with six other organizations known as International Organization Partners (IOPs). These are:
i. Birdlife International
ii. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
iii. International Water Management Institute (IWMI).
iv. Wetlands International.
v. WWF International.
vi. Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT).
The Ramsar classification of wetland types is needed as a means for fast documentation of the main types of wetlands by the Ramsar Convention.
The wetlands are classified into three major classes:
i. Marine/coastal wetlands
ii. Inland wetlands
These are further divided into fresh/saline/brackish/alkaline, and may be further classified by the substrate type of other characteristics.
1. Marine/ Coastal Wetlands
Marine wetlands are saltwater wetlands that are constantly exposed to waves, currents, and tides in an oceanic setting. These types of wetlands include coral reefs, and aquatic subtidal beds with seagrass and kelps (a large brown seaweed that typically has a long, tough stalk with a broad frond divided into strips). Seaweed forms of algae that grow in the sea. They are a food source for ocean life and range in color from red to green to brown to black. Coastal / Marine wetlands are important nursery and feeding areas for animals like fish, dugongs, and marine turtles. These wetlands are very important destinations for tourism and recreation. These wetlands also provide important habitats for migratory waterbirds.
2. Inland Wetlands
Inland wetlands are the lands that are covered with fresh water all or some part of the year. It does not include lakes, reservoirs, and streams. These wetlands are located away from the coastal areas. Some inland wetlands are marshes (with few trees), swamps (dominated by trees and shrubs), floodplains (which receives excess water during heavy rains and floods), bogs and fens (includes waterlogged soils that tend to accumulate peat*, and may or may not have trees), and wet arctic tundra in summers.
*peat means moss or mulch.
3. Human Made Wetlands
A constructed wetland (CW) is human-made wetland to treat municipal or industrial wastewater, greywater, or stormwater runoff. It may also be designed for land recovery after mining, or as a mitigation step for natural areas lost as a result of land development. Greywater or sullage is the wastewater that is generated in households or office buildings without fecal contamination, it means all streams except for the wastewater from toilets. Sources of greywater include sinks, showers, baths, clothes washing machines or dishwashers. Greywater contains fewer pathogens than domestic wastewater, so it is generally safer to handle and easier to treat. It is reused onsite for toilet flushing, landscape or crop irrigation, and another non-portable use.
Stormwater is the water that originates during precipitation and melting of snow/ice. Stormwater can soak into the soil called infiltration, or can be held on the surface and evaporate, or runoff and end up in nearby streams, rivers, or other water bodies (surface water).
In natural landscapes such as forests, the soil absorbs large quantity of the stormwater. The plants help in holding stormwater where it falls.
Constructed wetlands are engineered systems that use a natural environment like vegetation, soil, and organisms to treat wastewater. Like natural wetlands, constructed wetlands act as a biofilter and can remove a different pollutant (such as organic matter, nutrients, pathogens, heavy metals) from the water. Constructed wetlands provide a hygiene technology that has not been designed specifically for pathogen removal, but instead, they have been designed to remove other water quality constituents such as suspended solids, organic matter and nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus). All types of pathogens (i.e., bacteria, viruses, protozoan, and helminths) are expected to be removed to some extent in a constructed wetland.
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