The Convention on Wetlands and Wetlands of International Importance

The Convention on Wetlands (often referred to as the "Ramsar Convention") is the oldest of the modern global intergovernmental environmental agreements. The treaty was negotiated through the 1960s by countries and non-governmental organizations concerned about the increasing loss and degradation of wetland habitat for migratory waterbirds. It was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971 and came into force in 1975. 

The Mission of the Convention 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." Countries can designate "Wetlands of International Importance," or “Ramsar Sites," which are recognized and protected for their rarity, uniqueness, or their importance for conserving biological diversity. Over the last 50 years, over 2,400 sites across the world have been designated as Ramsar Sites. You can explore these Wetlands of International Importance using the Convention's Site Information Service.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's (USFWS) International Affairs program is responsible for designating Ramsar Sites within the United States. We work with federal, state, tribal, and local partners to identify and nominate wetlands for designation as Ramsar Sites. Once a site is designated, we collaborate across the USFWS and with relevant stakeholders to conserve the wetland’s important ecological character. USFWS staff will then research and monitor Ramsar Sites in the U.S. to ensure conservation measures are effective. We also do educational outreach to help the public, landowners, and decision-makers better understand the significance of Ramsar Sites and wetland ecosystems for environmental, animal, and human health and wellbeing. 

To date, there are 41 Ramsar Sites totaling over 4.6 million acres in the United States. A few of these sites are highlighted below, but visit our interactive StoryMap to explore all 41!

Delaware Bay Estuary

The Delaware Bay is one of the four most important shorebird migration sites in the world, boasting the second-highest concentration of shorebirds in North America. The Bay also provides wintering and migratory habitat to many species of songbirds, waterfowl and raptors. The lower Delaware Bay complex is used as a staging area by more than 90% of the North American populations of five species of migratory shorebirds. More than one million individual shorebirds use the region, making it one of the two most important staging areas on the Atlantic coast of North America.It is also home to the world's largest horseshoe crab population, which are a major source of food for migrating birds. These birds gain up to 50% of their body weight in fat by feasting on horseshoe crab eggs and submerged vegetation. The bay’s 1.1 million acres of wetlands provide critical habitat for 35% of the region's threatened and endangered species, including the endangered roseate tern and the threatened bald eagle and piping plover.

Horicon Marsh 

Horicon Marsh is a shallow, peat-filled lake bed scoured out of limestone by the Green Bay lobe of the massive Wisconsin glacier. It is one of the largest intact freshwater wetlands in the USA and also one of the largest cattail marshes in the world. It is an important staging area for numerous species of migratory birds, especially for Canada geese and mallards. Other species, some of them endangered, use the area as a staging, nesting or feeding site. Among these are the bald eagle, the whooping crane, and the yellow-throated warbler. The marsh also provides critical habitat for muskrats, red foxes, turtles, frogs, bats, dragonflies, fish, and more. 

Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge 

Pelican Island holds the distinction of being our nation’s first national wildlife Refuge. It lies in the Indian River Lagoon, an estuarine system that extends for over 200 km along the east coast of central Florida. Its unique conditions are suitable for a large number of species, including 140 bird species that use the refuge as a nesting, roosting, and feeding, as well as 18 species of mammals, 27 of reptiles and amphibians, over 300 of plants. It also serves as a nursery for species of threatened and endangered sea turtles such as the Kemp's ridley hawksbill green and loggerhead turtles. 

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A large reddish wading bird with a long curved bill prowls a wetland, with tall grasses showing behind it.
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