Ramsar sites (Wetlands)

Ana Paula Prates (PhD in Ecology and Manager, Aquatic and Marine Biodiversity Unit, Ministry of the Environment, Brazil)

The concept of wetlands adopted by the Ramsar Convention is broad and comprises both natural humid ecosystems and non-natural areas, such as reservoirs, lakes and weirs. The inclusion of such non-natural areas derives from the fact that the original objective of the Convention was to protect areas used by migratory species of waterfowl.

PARNA Pantanal Matogrossense (MT) 1994  / ROBERTO LINSKER/www.terravirgem.com.br

For the purpose of the Convention wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres.

The designation by Contracting Parties of suitable wetlands for inclusion in the List of Wetlands of International Importance can include riparian and coastal zones adjacent to the wetlands, and islands or bodies of marine water deeper than six metres at low tide lying within the wetlands, especially where these have importance as waterfowl habitat.


What is the Ramsar Convention??

The Convention on Wetlands, better known as the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that establishes a framework for national action and for cooperation between countries for the purposes of promoting the conservation and wise use of the world’s wetlands. Such action is based on the recognition by Contracting Parties to the Convention of the ecological importance and the social, economic, cultural, scientific and recreational values of these areas.

APA Reentrências Maranhenses (MA) - Catador de Carangueijo 2001  / ROBERTO LINSKER/www.terravirgem.com.br

Adopted in February 1971 in the Iranian city of Ramsar, the Ramsar Convention entered into force on 21 December 1975 for an unlimited period. In the language of the Convention, member countries are known as “Contracting Parties”; in December 2010 the Convention had 160 Parties.

Brazil – which as a consequence of its size contains a large variety of important wetlands – signed the Ramsar Convention in September 1973 and deposited its ratification three years later. This enabled the country to gain access to benefits such as technical cooperation and financial assistance for promoting the sustainable use of the natural resources of wetlands and allowing the establishment in these areas of development models that result in increased quality of life for their inhabitants.

To become a Party to the treaty, each country deposits its instrument of ratification with UNESCO, the organization that acts as the depositary of the Convention, and at the same time designates at least one wetland within its national territory to be recognised as a Ramsar Site and included on the List of Wetlands of International Importance, better known as the Ramsar List.

The Ramsar List – Ramsar Sites

The Ramsar List is the main instrument adopted by the Convention for achieving its objectives. It is made up by areas classified as important wetland ecosystems, chosen by the countries and approved by an expert technical body of the Convention. Once accepted, such areas are given the title of ‘Ramsar Site’.

Ilha do Bananal 1994  / ROBERTO LINSKER/www.terravirgem.com.br

Once granted this status, such wetland areas become the object of commitments to be met by the country and, at the same time, eligible to access the benefits associated with the status. Such benefits can involve financial and/or technical assistance with the development of actions aimed at their protection. At the same time, the title of Ramsar Site provides wetlands with priority status in the implementation of government policies and brings public recognition, at both national and international levels, thus contributing to increasing the levels of protection.

The Ministry of the Environment is the focal point for the Convention in Brazil, responsible for the formulation of strategies, identification of resources and ensuring the means for implementing the commitments entered into. The eleven wetlands in Brazil currently included in the Ramsar List correspond to conservation areas (UCs) protected under the SNUC and totalling 6,568,359 hectares. As shown in the table below, five areas are located in the coastal and marine zone and six in the Amazon region. As well as their international recognition, these sites enjoy facilitated access to specific donated funds.


Ramsar Sites in Brazil
State Date Listed
Reentrâncias Maranhenses Environmental Protection Area MA Nov/1993
Araguaia National Park  TO 
Lagoa do Peixe National Park
Pantanal Mato-Grossense National Park 
MT May/1993
Mamirauá Development Reserve AM Oct/1993
Baixada Maranhense Environmental protection Area
MA Feb/2000
Parcel de Manuel Luiz State Marine Park
MA Feb/2000
SESC Pantanal Private Natural Heritage Reserve
MT Dec/2002
Fazenda Rio Negro Private Natural Heritage Reserve
MS May/2009
Abrolhos Marine Park
BA Feb/2010
Rio Doce State Park
MG Feb/2010
Cabo Orange State Park
AP Feb/2013
Atol das Rocas Biological Reserve RN Dec/2015


Find out more

Ramsar Sites Information Service

Ramsar Convention page on the Ministry of the Environment site (in Portuguese)

Ministry of the Environment 2009. Executive Order Nº 47 of 30/01/2009. Designates the members and alternate members of the National Committee on Wetlands (in Portuguese).

A Avaliação dos valores líquidos de Ramsar, publicação comemorativa dos 40 anos da Convenção