Message from Martha Rojas Urrego, Secretary-General of Ramsar Convention Secretariat

For the first time the World Wildlife Day is focusing on wildlife below water to highlight the critical issues and values of marine wildlife.

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, to which 170 States are now Parties, provides the global legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of all wetlands. These wetlands include marine and coastal ecosystems such as mangroves, lagoons, tidal flats, coral reefs and sea grass meadows in addition to inland freshwater wetlands.

Few people realize that wetlands are the most biologically diverse ecosystems on Earth. Coastal and marine wetlands are important nursery and feeding areas for species such as fish, dugongs, and marine turtles.

Wetland-dependent species are in serious decline as a result of the loss of 87% of the global wetlands since 1700. Wetland loss has affected 36% of coastal and marine species.

A key obligation of Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention is the designation of wetlands of exceptional value as ‘Wetlands of International Importance’ also called ’Ramsar Sites’. By doing so, Parties commit to the long-term conservation and sustainable use of these Sites. Currently there are 2,270 Ramsar Sites worldwide, 974 of them are coastal or marine areas, covering over 73 million hectares. These coastal wetlands are protected because they support populations of wildlife species critical for maintaining global biological diversity. These wetlands are also a critical source of food for fish, provide spawning grounds and are essential for fish migration.

Key steps in conserving and protecting oceans to ensure healthy wildlife populations is to ensure that coastal and marine wetlands are conserved and wisely used. This means we need to enhance the management of existing network of Ramsar Sites and designate more Sites. Further, we need to integrate wetlands into national development plans and the post-2015 development agenda and to use the platform provided by the Ramsar Convention to achieve SDG14 and its targets - to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.