One of the smallest Ramsar sites, Somerset
Long Bay Pond, Bermuda, United Kingdom
Image by Lucy Hollis - Click to enlarge

Update to
“Wetland Wonders of the World”
by Jorge Monteverde
Buenos Aires, Argentina
© 2009, all rights reserved

Translated from Spanish by Fernando Molina
Spanish | English


Two years ago I wrote in the WGI Online Journal (Vol.2, No.3, August 2007) the first article on the most important wetlands in the world protected or preserved by the Ramsar International Convention, to which the world’s signatory countries voluntarily incorporate the sites which they consider have particular or significant features that deserve protection. Now again I dwell on the subject, prey to the curiosity of finding out how much progress has been made in safeguarding nature’s sites or landscapes which are meaningful not just to me but to all those of us who group together in this field.

Let us review the general data at that time and then consider the present-day situation in order to have a statistical idea of magnitudes, adding some finer points of detailed analysis.

Back then the 155 countries which signed the agreements had inscribed 1,634 sites with a total area to be protected of 146 million hectares (146 Mha). Only 25 countries (16%) contributed with 82% of the total (i.e., 120 Mha), Canada leading with more than 13 Mha and closely followed by the Russian Federation, Chad, Sudan and Australia, to name the five major contributors.


During the past couple of years, three additional countries (Iraq, Turkmenistan and United Arab Emirates) have joined the Ramsar Convention, which now has total membership of 158 signatory countries, while an additional 34.5 Mha in 213 new sites have been incorporated, so now we have a total of 1,847 sites and a total area to be protected of 181 Mha, an increase of 23% since the last report. In this review, Congo contributes the most with 8 Mha in six sites, followed by the Democratic Republic of Congo with 6.5 Mha in one site, and Mexico with 2.85 Mha distributed in 47 new sites.

Using only common sense and minimal informational capabilities which are easily available, we can observe these data under various lights so that we may derive some information which might not be altogether obvious from a quick glance at the basic list. Thus we are able to extract some curiosities such as those shown below in order to assess the contributions of some small countries which give a lot, or be surprised by some “generous” country offering territory which does not belong to it – possibly speculating with future territorial claims -- and also by some big countries which are not very magnanimous: of the five largest countries in territory, the least generous in contributing protected sites are the United States, India and China. Here are some of the highlights.

For those who are not familiar with the metric system unit of hectares (ha) used by the Ramsar Convention, below are some area conversion factors:

1 ha = 2. 471 acres

1 acre = 0.4047 ha

1,000 ha = 2,471 acres

1 Mha = 2,471,000 acres = 10,000 km2 = 3,861 sq.miles

100 ha = 1km2 = .3861 sq. mile

1 sq. mile = 2.59 km2 = 640 acres

181,000,000 ha = 1,810,000 km2 = 698,841 sq. miles

- The smallest site: Hosnie’s Spring, Christmas Island, Australia, with 0.33 ha.

- Other small sites: three sites with 1 ha each, contributed by Guinea, Korea and United Kingdom.

- Largest sites:

Ngiri-Tumba-Maindombe, Congo Democratic Republic, over 6.5 Mha.
Queen Maud Gula, Canada, over 6.2 Mha.
Grands Affluents, Congo, over 5.9 Mha.
Okavango Delta System, Botswana, over 5.5 Mha.
Plaines d’inondation des Bahr Aouk et Salamat, Chad, over 4.9 Mha.
Delta intérieur du Niger, Mali, over 4.1 Mha.
Pantanal Boliviano, Bolivia, over 3.1 Mha.
Plaines d’inondation du Logone et les dépressions Toupouri, Chad, over 2.9 Mha.
Reentrancias Maranhenses, Brazil, over 2.6 Mha.
Plaine de Massenya, Chad, over 2.5 Mha.
Gueltas et Oasis de l’Aïr, Niger, 2.4 Mha.
Polar Bear Provincial Park, Canada, over 2.4 Mha.
Réserve Naturelle Nationale des Terres Australes Françaises, Antarctica, site proposed by France, with over de 2.2 Mha.

- Countries contributing the largest area to Ramsar total:

Canada, 13 Mha.
Chad, over 12 Mha.
Russia, over 10 Mha.
Sudan, 9.2 Mha.
Congo, 8.45 Mha.
Mexico, 8.1 Mha.
Australia and Democratic Republic of Congo, each with over 7 Mha.
Botswana, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and Guinea, each with over 6 Mha.

- How much area does each of the 10 largest countries contribute and what percentage of their total territory does it represent?

1) Russia: 10,324,000 ha. 0.60% of its territory
2) Canada: 13,067,000 ha. 1.31% of its territory
3) USA: 1,313,000 ha. 0.13% of its territory
4) China: 3,168,000 ha. 0.33% of its territory
5) Brazil: 6,434,000 ha. 0.75% of its territory
6) Australia: 7,510,000 ha. 0.97% of its territory
7) India: 670,000 ha. 0.20% of its territory
8) Argentina: 3,705,000 ha. 1.34% of its territory
9) Kazakhstan: 465,000 ha. 0.17% of its territory
10) Sudan: 9,189,600 ha. 3.66% of its territory

- Most curious contribution:

France contributes Antarctic lands, which under the Antarctic Treaty is under special jurisdiction and environmental protection is already intrinsic, thereby not requiring additional protection.

- Country that contributes the least: Monaco, with 10 ha.

- Countries that contribute the most in relation to their total area:

Congo, with over 8 Mha., contributing over 24 % of its territory.
Botswana, with over 6 Mha, contributing over 11% of its territory.
Chad, with over 12 Mha, contributing almost 10% of its territory.
These are followed in decreasing order by France (with the curious anomaly mentioned above), Bolivia and Peru with almost 6% of their territories, Mexico, UK, Mali and Congo R.D. with approximately 4%, and Argentina, Germany, Australia and Canada with between 2% and 1% of their territories.

- Trans-border sites:

As with landscapes and ecological regions, there are sites included in the Ramsar Convention that cannot be divided and constitute ecological units beyond political circumstances and are therefore shared by more than one country in international border areas. Presently there are 12 such sites and, even though they are mentioned in the general list as individual sites, in fact these natural resources are shared by various countries along international borders: Hungary-Slovakia in three sites, Belgium-Luxemburg, Austria-Czech Republic-Slovakia, Czech Republic-Poland, Estonia-Latvia, Hungary-Slovakia, Belarus-Ukraine, Austria-Germany, France-Germany, and Gambia-Senegal.

2009 List of RAMSAR Sites

WGI ONLINE Journal Table of Contents

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