Case Study: Protecting Wetlands Through International Cooperation

Wetlands: Unique Ecosystems

Wetlands are areas on land that are regularly saturated with ground water. Wetlands can be found along ocean coasts or far inland, usually near rivers or lakes. Though all wetlands share some similarities, each one is unique. Each wetland is a small ecosystem that provides habitats for various plants and animals. Some wetlands also help replenish groundwater or protect nearby land. Others are a source of natural resources or jobs for people, or they may have recreational value for activities like hunting or wildlife viewing. Wetlands are threatened by grazing animals, the growth of cities, and the possibility of drying out if their source of water is used for irrigation. Protecting such wetlands against these threats helps to sustain the biodiversity of regions where they are located.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service both offer additional information about wetlands as important wildlife habitats.

Wetlands around the World

The Convention on Wetlands, an intergovernmental treaty that was signed in Ramsar, Iran in 1971, recognized wetlands as important ecosystems and advocated planning for wise use and international cooperation to conserve and protect them. In accordance with the treaty, cooperating countries have been planning for the sustainable conservation of wetlands, identifying priority wetlands, establishing preserves to conserve them, and designating protected wetlands by including them on the List of Wetlands of International Importance. You can learn more about the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands by visiting their website at

New Ways to Study Wetlands

Wetland sites are commonly located in places that are hard to get to; scientists don't have the time or money to visit each site and collect data about it very frequently. Therefore, they are using satellite images to identify and monitor wetlands. NASA's Landsat program has been taking images of Earth's surface for over 25 years, and scientists have developed ways to monitor the long-term health of wetlands by examining them in these images. To see the range of studies that scientists are doing using satellite imagery, enter the terms "wetlands" and "Landsat" into an Internet search engine such as Google.

Selecting a Wetlands Site You want to Protect

As part of an Earth Day event, your environmental club decides that it might help protect a wetland site. To find an endangered wetland that everyone is interested in protecting, you'll use the Ramsar Wetlands Data Gateway, an online source of data about Wetlands of International Importance. The Gateway gives you the ability to identify wetland sites around the world based on a wide variety of characteristics, including the types of threats that endanger them. After you identify sites that meet the club's search criteria, you'll compare their characteristics and choose one site that you want to protect.