The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat was adopted on the 2nd February 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar. Thus, it has come to be popularly known as the “Ramsar Convention”, and the 2nd of February each year is celebrated as World Wetlands Day.
Wetlands are areas where water is the primary factor controlling the environment and the associated plant and animal life. They occur where the water table is at or near the surface of the land, or where the land is covered by shallow water. The Ramsar Convention takes a broad approach in determining the wetlands which come under its aegis. Under the text of the Convention (Article 1.1), wetlands are defined as: “areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six meters”. This definition encompasses freshwater and saline lakes, rivers, streams and canals, mires, waterlogged meadows and forests, rice paddies and polders, coral reefs, sea-grass beds and marine meadows in the coastal waters, intertidal marshes, mangrove swamps, estuaries, karst and other subterranean hydrological systems and glaciers.
Wetlands are among the world's most critical ecosystems. They have a significant influence on the hydrological cycle, regulating surface and underground run-off, help stabilize climatic conditions and maintain biodiversity, provide freshwater supply, and improve water quality by filtering out sediments, excess nutrients, and many chemical contaminants. They determine the development of many nature use activities and industries, provide research and recreational opportunities, and are part of the traditional lifestyles of indigenous peoples. For these reasons, wetland conservation currently ranks among the highest global and national conservation priorities. The Ramsar Convention, which now has 160 Contracting Parties in all parts of the world, provides the framework for international cooperation for wetland conservation.
By joining the Convention, Contracting Parties make a commitment to:
- designate suitable wetlands for the List of Wetlands of International Importance (“Ramsar List”) and ensure their effective management;
- work towards the wise use of all their wetlands through national land-use planning, appropriate policies and legislation, and public education;
- consult with other Parties about implementation of the Convention, especially in regard to transboundary wetlands, shared water systems, and shared species.
The Ramsar List is the “flagship” of the Convention ¡V presently, the Parties have designated for this List 2,005 wetlands for special protection as “Ramsar sites”, covering 193 million hectares (1.93 million square kilometers). Originally, particular emphasis was placed on designating wetland sites that provide habitat for water birds. Over the years, however, 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 the conservation of biodiversity at the species, ecosystem and landscape levels, for the maintenance of the water cycle, regulation of climate, and for the well-being of human communities.
The Russian Federation, as the legal successor of the former USSR, has been a Ramsar Contracting Party since 1975. The agency charged by the Russian Federal Government with implementation of the Ramsar Convention in the country is the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of the Russian Federation. Russia has designated 35 wetlands for the Ramsar List; the total area of these sites is over 11 million hectares. Wetland conservation in Russia is not confined to the protection of Ramsar sites. Large wetland areas are conserved as parts of protected nature areas established by the federal and local governments. Nine million hectares of wetlands are protected within the system of strict nature reserves (zapovedniki). All national parks and many federal and local-level sanctuaries (zakazniki) include wetland areas. Some protected areas have been established specifically for the protection of wetland ecosystems.
The Russian network of Ramsar sites supports a great variety of wetland types found in the arctic and temperate climate zones. Eight out of 35 sites are primarily represented by marine wetlands, and the rest are inland natural wetland complexes with a high proportion of floodplain and deltaic riverine complexes and peatlands. These sites support large populations of water birds, up to an estimated total of 10 million birds at the end of the breeding season. Protected nature areas of various types cover approximately 60% of the total area of Ramsar sites. The Russian Ramsar sites, therefore, are large areas for which a multiple-use zoning approach has been applied to protect water birds and their habitats during all stages of their life cycles, as well as to maintain natural functions of wetland ecosystems and their socio-economic benefits.