Wise use of wetlands

What is wise use?

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands defines the wise use as: 

“The maintenance of their ecological character, achieved through the implementation of ecosystem approaches, within the context of sustainable development”

In turn, “ecological character” is defined by the Convention as:

“Ecological character is the combination of the ecosystem components, processes and benefits/services that characterise the wetland at a given point in time”

Wise use can thus be seen as the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands and all the services they provide, for the benefit of people and nature.

Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention commit themselves to work towards the wise use of all the wetlands and water resources in their territory, through national plans, policies and legislation, management actions and public education.

Wetland values and their wise use

The wise use of all wetlands requires that Parties to the Ramsar Convention ensure that they are addressing wetlands beyond those currently included in the Ramsar Site network. This work will necessarily occur at the national, subnational, regional, and transboundary levels, including at basin level. Mainstreaming recognition of ecosystem services and benefits into a wide range of sectors and with a broad array of actors will help ensure the success of this effort.

According to the Ramsar Convention, recognizing and assessing the full range of wetland values is essential to their wise use and to making informed decisions on them.

Here some policy recommendations by the Ramsar Convention:

– To achieve wise use, and for wetlands to contribute fully to sustainable development, policy-makers and practitioners (such as site managers) should recognize the multiple values of wetlands, and reflect them in their decisions, policies and actions.

– Assessments of the multiple values of wetlands must include a recognition and consideration of a range of different value systems.

– Multiple wetland values need to inform collaborative, cross-sectoral efforts. The different sectors engaged in wetland governance should communicate and collaborate to ensure that these multiple wetland values are recognized.

– Assessments of the multiple values of wetlands should follow credible, legitimate and relevant processes if they are to be accepted and have an impact on policy.

More information on how to assess multiple values can be found here.

Challenges to the wise use

The Ramsar Secretariat identified a set of urgent challenges to the wise use of wetlands within the scope of the Ramsar Strategic Plan 2016 – 2024:

– Linkages with and inclusion of wetlands within national sustainable development strategies, plans, and investments are lacking.

– More effective planning and management of wetlands needed.

– Ramsar Sites and other wetlands lack management plans and where management plans exist, implementation is weak.

– Diverse and inclusive stakeholder participation in wetland planning and management is limited.

– Information on wetland inventories and extent is lacking.

– Wetlands loss is not being mitigated by restoration.

– Policy and legal frameworks are not resulting in effective wetland conservation and use.

Importance of wetland management

Healthy wetlands provide beneficial services that contribute to the protection of natural balance and ensure human well-being. They protect against extreme weather events, including floods, hurricanes, droughts, etc, and guarantee the livelihoods of millions of people living around them. They also enable educational/recreational activities and provide opportunities for aesthetic appreciation.

On one hand, managing wetlands properly makes them allies to biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation and adaptation. On the other hand, destroying them, converting them for other uses, polluting them, and filling in them for building purpose, will disrupt their ecological character and prevent them from fully performing their important functions.


The “wise use” of wetlands
Integrating multiple wetland values into decision-making
Urgent challenges to the wise use of wetlands to receive enhanced attention
Ramsar COP10 Resolution X.15