Friends of Rietvlei
Member of the Wildlife & Environment Society of South Africa Western Cape Region
The Ramsar Convention
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 of wetlands and their resources. Ramsar logo
The 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".
Wetlands are among the world’s most productive environments. They are cradles of biological diversity, providing the water and primary productivity upon which countless species of plants and animals depend for survival. They support high concentrations of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrate species. Wetlands are also important storehouses of plant genetic material. Rice, for example, which is a common wetland plant, is the staple diet of more than half of humanity.
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.
How the Convention started.
Just after the Second World War scientists started expressing concern about the decline in habitats for migrating birds, not only at their destination points, but also along their flying routes. In the early 1960’s efforts to establish an international treaty between nations along these routes intensified, this eventually lead to a meeting of delegates from 18 nations held in the Caspian seaside resort of Ramsar in Iran in February 1971.
The delegates agreed on the text for a “Convention on Wetlands” on 2 February 1971 and signed by all delegates the following day. South Africa was represented by two officials from the then Department of Foreign Affairs.
The Convention entered into force on 21 December 1975, upon receipt by UNESCO, the Convention Depositary, of the seventh instrument of accession to or ratification of the Convention, which came from Greece. Australia was the first country to accede to the Convention, South Africa was fifth.
The original official name of the Convention was “Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat”, but as this is quite a mouthful it soon became known simply as the Ramsar Convention. After a revision of the criteria in the mid 1990’s, the formal name was shortened to “Convention on Wetlands of International Importance”.
The Convention today  (February 2013)
• Number of Contracting Parties: 164 countries
• Sites designated for the List of Wetlands of International Importance: 2,083 sites
• Total surface area of designated sites (hectares): 197,849,428 ha
The nation with the highest number of sites is the United Kingdom with 169; the nation with the greatest area of listed wetlands is Canada, with 13,086,771 ha. The world’s largest Ramsar site is the Queen Maud Gulf in Canada, total area 6,278,200 ha.
The Convention is managed by a standing committee, a scientific review panel, and a secretariat headed by a Secretary-general. The headquarters is located in Gland, Switzerland, shared with the IUCN. UNESCO is the depository of the articles of association of the Ramsar Convention, but plays no other role in the convention.
The mechanism for implementing the convention is the List of Wetlands of International Importance. Wetlands must be accepted by the contracting parties and must conform to the Criteria for Identifying Wetlands of International Importance. These wetlands must be managed so that the criteria conditions are maintained. The listed sites are commonly known as Ramsar sites.
The Montreux Record was established at the Conference of Parties in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1990 and is "a record of Ramsar sites where changes in ecological character have occurred, are occurring or are likely to occur" maintained by the Secretariat in consultation with the Contracting Party concerned. The purpose of the Montreux Record is to identify priority sites for national and international attention, including assistance through Ramsar. There are currently 51 sites listed in the Montreux Record.
Criteria for Identifying Wetlands of International Importance
This is a simple list of the Criteria themselves out of their explanatory settings. They should properly be used as part of the Strategic Framework and guidelines for the future development of the List of Wetlands of International Importance
Criterion for sites containing representative, rare or unique wetland types
Criterion 1: A wetland should be considered internationally important if it contains a representative, rare, or unique example of a natural or near-natural wetland type found within the appropriate biogeographic region.
Criteria based on species and ecological communities
Criterion 2: A wetland should be considered internationally important if it supports vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered species or threatened ecological communities.
Criterion 3: A wetland should be considered internationally important if it supports populations of plant and/or animal species important for maintaining the biological diversity of a particular biogeographic region.
Criterion 4: A wetland should be considered internationally important if it supports plant and/or animal species at a critical stage in their life cycles, or provides refuge during adverse conditions.
Specific criteria based on waterbirds
Criterion 5: A wetland should be considered internationally important if it regularly supports 20,000 or more waterbirds.
Criterion 6: A wetland should be considered internationally important if it regularly supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies of waterbird.
Specific criteria based on fish
Criterion 7: A wetland should be considered internationally important if it supports a significant proportion of indigenous fish subspecies, species or families, life-history stages, species interactions and/or populations that are representative of wetland benefits and/or values and thereby contributes to global biological diversity.
Criterion 8: A wetland should be considered internationally important if it is an important source of food for fishes, spawning ground, nursery and/or migration path on which fish stocks, either within the wetland or elsewhere, depend.
Specific criteria based on other taxa
Criterion 9: A wetland should be considered internationally important if it regularly supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies of wetland-dependent non-avian animal species.
Ramsar sites in South Africa
The Convention on Wetlands came into force for South Africa on 21 December 1975. South Africa presently has 20 sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance, with a total surface area of 553,178 hectares.
The first South African sites were De Hoop Vlei in the Western Cape and Barberspan in North West Province, both registered on 12 March 1975; the most recent one is the Ntsikeni Nature Reserve in Kwa-Zulu Natal registered on 2 February 2010.
Site Province Location Area (ha)
Barberspan North West NE of Vryburg 3 118
Blesbokspruit Gauteng Springs 1 858
De Hoop Vlei Western Cape Bredasdorp 750
De Mond Western Cape Bredasdorp 918
Kosi Bay KwaZulu-Natal Ndumo / Jozini 10 982
Lake Sibaya KwaZulu-Natal Jozini / Ubombo 7 750
Langebaan Western Cape Langebaan 6 000
Makuleke Wetlands Limpopo Northern Kruger NP 7 757
Natal Drakensberg Park KwaZulu-Natal SW & W of Estcourt 242 813
Ndumo Game Reserve KwaZulu-Natal Ndumo 10 117
Ntsikeni Nature Reserve KwaZulu-Natal N of Kokstad 9 200
Nylsvley Nature Reserve Limpopo Nylstroom/Naboomspruit 3 970
Orange River Mouth Northern Cape Alexander Bay 2 000
Prince Edward Islands Western Cape SE of Cape Town 37 500
St Lucia System KwaZulu-Natal St Lucia 155 500
Seekoeivlei Nature Reserve Free State Memel 4 754
Turtle Beaches/Coral Reefs of Tongoland KwaZulu-Natal Mocambique border south to Cape Vidal – 150km 39 500
Verloren Valei Nature Reserve Mpumalanga Dullstroom/Lydenburg 5 891
Verlorenvlei Western Cape Elandsbaai 1 500
Wilderness Lakes Western Cape George 1 300
Two sites, Blesbokspruit and Orange River Mouth, are currently on the Montreux Record; Blesbokspruit because of a threat from acid mine water, and Orange River Mouth because of diamond mining in the salt marshes.
» Click here to view the South African Ramsar sites.
Ramsar website
More information about the Ramsar Convention can be found on the Ramsar website; » click here.
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