A coral reef at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, a Ramsar site. Credit: Jim Maragos / USFWS.

A coral reef at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife
Refuge, a Ramsar site.
Credit: Jim Maragos / USFWS.

What Wetlands are Included in the Convention?

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, also known as the Ramsar 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.

More 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.

Why Are Wetlands Important?

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.

A coral reef at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, a Ramsar site. Credit: Jim Maragos / USFWS.

Capt. Chris Ludford of Virginia Beach, Va., owns and operates
Pleasure House Oysters on the Lynnhaven River.
Credit: Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson / Chesapeake Bay Program.

Because of this connection, wetlands in the United States provide ideal public access to hunters, fishers, and other wildlife recreation enthusiasts. In 2011, the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation Survey estimated that Americans spent $145 billion on related gear, trips, licenses, land acquisition or leases, and other purchases, representing about one percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.

This annual spending creates thousands of jobs, supports countless local communities and provides vital funding for conservation. Convention sites in the United States such as Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, the Chesapeake Bay Estuarine Complex, and the Connecticut River Estuary and Tidal River Wetlands Complex, support active commercial and recreational fisheries and various tourist facilities and activities, including hunting and trapping represent considerable revenues to the state.

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.

At Kakagon and Bad River Sloughs, tribal members of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians frequent the area for subsistence trapping, hunting, and fishing, retaining culturally significant historic harvesting techniques.         

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/