"Wetlands provide many ecological, economic, and social benefits, such as habitat for fish, wildlife, and a variety of plants. They serve as nurseries for saltwater and freshwater fishes and shellfish of commercial and recreational importance… We should all be concerned about the substantial loss of this diminishing resource, which helps ensure good water quality for local communities and provides vital habitat for a diversity of important wildlife species.

Wetlands are at a tipping point.  While we have made great strides in conserving and restoring wetlands since the 1950s when we were losing an area equal to half the size of Rhode Island each year, we remain on a downward trend that is alarming.

Ken Salazar-Secretary of the Interior

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, known as  the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use (defined as the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and their resources, for the benefit of humankind) of wetlands and their resources.

The Ramsar Convention is the only global environmental treaty that deals with a particular ecosystem. The treaty was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and the Convention's 168 member countries cover all geographic regions of the planet.

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

The Convention uses a broad definition of the types of wetlands covered in its mission, including lakes and rivers, swamps and marshes, wet grasslands and peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas and tidal flats, near-shore marine areas, mangroves and coral reefs, and human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs, and salt pans.

There were an estimated 110.1 million acres (44.6 million ha) of wetlands in the Conterminous U.S. in 2009. Wetlands composed 5.5 percent of the surface area of the U. S. An estimated 95 percent of all wetlands were freshwater and five percent were in the marine or estuarine (saltwater) systems. There were an estimated 104.3 million acres (42.2 million ha) of freshwater wetland and 5.8 million acres (2.4 million ha) of intertidal (saltwater) wetlands.

Local Restoration Project in the Bay of Jistoril

Credit: USFWS

Wetlands provide a multitude of ecological, economic and social benefits. They provide habitat for fish, wildlife and a variety of plants. Wetlands are nurseries for many saltwater and freshwater fishes and shellfish of commercial and recreational importance. Wetlands are also important landscape features because they hold and slowly release flood water and snow melt, recharge groundwater, act as filters to cleanse water of impurities, recycle nutrients, and provide recreation and wildlife viewing opportunities for millions of people.

Generally, wetlands are lands where saturation with water is the dominant factor determining the nature of soil development and the types of plant and animal communities living in the soil and on its surface (Cowardin, December 1979). Wetlands vary widely because of regional and local differences in soils, topography, climate, hydrology, water chemistry, vegetation, and other factors, including human disturbance. Indeed, wetlands are found from the tundra to the tropics and on every continent except Antarctica.

The United States joined the Ramsar Convention on the 18th of April 1987 and to date has successfully nominated and received the Ramsar designation for 35 sites.  Across the globe there are more than 2,000 Ramsar sites covering some 477 million acres.

World Wetlands Day is celebrated on February 2 around the globe.

For more information on the Ramsar conference and a comprehensive list of all wetland sites, please visit www.Ramsar.org

Wetland maps and information:  http://www.fws.gov/wetlands/

United States of America (36 Ramsar Sites, 4,522,764.85 Acres)

Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge

18/12/86

Nevada

9,509 ha

 

36º25’N 116º20’W

Bolinas Lagoon

01/09/98

California

 

445 ha

37º55’N 122º41’W

Cache-Lower White Rivers

21/11/89

  

Arkansas

81,376   ha 

 

34º40’N 091º11’W

Cache River-Cypress Creek Wetlands

01/11/94

Illinois

24,281 ha

37º13’N 089º08’W

Caddo Lake

23/10/93

Texas

7,977 ha

32º45’N 094º08’W

Catahoula Lake

18/06/91

Louisiana

12,150 ha

31º30’N 092º06’W

Chesapeake Bay Estuarine Complex

04/06/87

 

Virginia

45,000 ha

38º00’N 076º20’W

Cheyenne Bottoms

19/10/88

Kansas

10,978 ha

38º29’N 098º40’W

Congaree National Park

02/02/12

South Carolina

10,539 ha

33°47’22'N 080°45’34”W

Connecticut River Estuary & Tidal Wetlands Complex 

14/10/94 

 

Connecticut

6,484 ha

41º15’N 072º18’W

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

23/03/09  

Florida

5,261 ha

26°24’N 081°31’W

Delaware Bay Estuary

20/05/92

Delaware, New Jersey

51,252 ha

 

39º11’N 075º14’W

Edwin B Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge

18/12/86

New Jersey

13,080 ha

39º36’N 074º17’W

Everglades National Park

04/06/87

Florida

610,497   ha 

 

25º33’N 080º55’W

Francis Beidler Forest

30/05/08

South Carolina

6,438 ha

 

33°15’N 080°22’W

Grassland Ecological Area

02/02/05 

California

65,000 ha

 

37°10’N 120°50’W

Horicon Marsh

04/12/90

Wisconsin

12,912   ha

43º30’N 088º38’W

Humbug Marsh

20/01/10

Michigan

188   ha

42°06’N 083°11’W

Izembek Lagoon National Wildlife Refuge

18/12/86

Alaska

168,433   ha 

55º45’N 162º41’W

Kakagon and Bad River Sloughs  

02/02/12 

Wisconsin 

4,355   ha

46°39’N 090°41’W

Kawainui and Hamakua Marsh Complex

02/02/05

Hawaii

414   ha

 

21°24’N 157°45’W

Laguna de Santa Rosa Wetland Complex

16/04/10  

California

1576   ha

38°24’N 122°47’W

Missisquoi Delta and Bay Wetlands

20/11/2013  

Vermont

3,102 ha

44°57’19” N 73°10’9”W

Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge

18/12/86

Georgia, Florida

162,635   ha   

30º48’N 082º20’W

Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge

01/04/11

Hawaii

204,127   ha   

05°52’N 162°06’W

Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge

14/03/93

Florida

1,908   ha 

27º48’N 080º25’W

Quivira National Wildlife Refuge

12/02/02

Kansas

8,958 ha

38°05’N

Roswell Artesian Wetlands

07/09/10  

New Mexico

917   ha 

33°27’N 104°23’W

Sand Lake National Wildlife Refuge

03/08/98

South Dakota

8,700 ha

45º45’N 098º15’W

San Francisco Bay/Estuary

02/02/13

California

158,711 ha

37°52’N 122°23’W

Sue and Wes Dixon Waterfowl Refuge at Hennepin &
Hopper Lakes

02/02/12

Illinois

1,117   ha 

41°13’20'N 089°20’17”W

The Emiquon Complex

02/02/12

Illinois

5,729   ha

 

40°21’22'N 090°03’10”W

Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve

02/02/05  

California

1,021 ha

32°33’N 117°07’W

Tomales Bay

30/09/02

California

2,850 ha

38°09’N 123°23’W

Upper Mississippi River Floodplain Wetlands

05/01/10

Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois

122,357 ha

43°03’N 091°10’W

Wilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research
Park

18/04/08

Ohio

21 ha

40°01’N 083°01’W