Happy World Wetlands Day!

While most people know February 2nd as Groundhog Day, few people realize that it is also World Wetlands Day. World Wetlands Day originated in the Iranian city of Ramsar on February 2, 1971 with the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, an international treaty that promotes the conservation of wetlands and their resources. The first modern treaty designed to protect natural resources, 2,083 sites comprising 488 million acres of land have been designated as wetlands of international significance under the Ramsar Convention.

The Convention’s mission is “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”. “Wetlands” is a term that is defined broadly by the treaty, and includes lakes, rivers, swamps, marshes, wet grasslands, peatlands, oases, estuaries, deltas, tidal flats, near-shore marine areas, mangroves and coral reefs, as well as human-made sites such as fish ponds, rice paddies, reservoirs, and salt pans.

Mer Bleue
Designated as a Ramsar Convention Site on September 26, 1995

The theme of this year’s World Wetlands Day is “wetlands take care of water”. Wetlands are necessary to process and purify water, and rather than being seen as competitors for water, they should be viewed as essential elements of water infrastructure within water management. Nevertheless, wetlands continue to be among the world’s most threatened ecosystems due to ongoing drainage, conversion, pollution, and over-exploitation of their resources. Ramsar states that there is an urgent need to improve water governance and how wetlands are considered within integrated water management strategies.

Point Pelee
Designated as a Ramsar Convention Site on May 27, 1987

Canada presently has 37 sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance, with a surface area of 13,086,771 hectares. Some well-known sites in Ontario include:

Point Pelee (1,564 ha). Ramsar site no. 368. A spit resulting from erosion and deposition, bordered by forested, coastal dunes and beach ridges, and a 850ha peat marsh overlain by sand. The marsh occupies a closed drainage system and includes small lakes and ponds. Due to their southerly location, the marshes are unique in Canada, supporting four major vegetation communities. Several species of waterfowl and other waterbirds breed in the marshes, but the nearshore waters of Lake Erie support spectacular concentrations of staging ducks, notably Red-breasted and Common Mergansers. Point Pelee is an internationally important resting area for the migratory Monarch butterfly.

American Coot
Point Pelee

Mer Bleue Conservation Area (3,447 ha). Ramsar site no. 755. Fifty per cent of Mer Bleue is a raised boreal peat dome – Sphagnum bog, a system typically occurring further north. Hydrological features are unusual with saline groundwater sources and six meter thick peat deposits. The borders of the bog form a typical environment, much of which has been transformed into pond and marsh by beaver. Three vegetation types are present: black spruce forest, low-lying bog vegetation (includes numerous species of orchids) and heath type. Due to the undisturbed and unique habitat numerous significant or rare fauna are found here, including 22 species of mammal. The site’s area was extended by 243 ha in May 2001.

Four-spotted Skimmer
Mer Bleue

Long Point (13,730 ha). Ramsar site no. 237. A sandy spit, of marshes, wet meadows, wooded swamps, beaches and dunes. The microclimate has led to the development of unusual plant associations. Many plant species occur at the extreme northern limit of their range and include 3 endemic and 42 species rare in Ontario. A major resting and feeding area for migratory waterbirds. Up to 30,000 Tundra Swans pass through in spring, and more than 10% of the world populations of Canvasback and Redhead congregate in spring and fall. An important stop-over point for migratory land birds, bats and the Monarch butterfly. 26 species of reptiles and amphibians occur in the area, including several threatened species. A research facility exists and there is managed duck hunting.

Barn Swallows
Point Pelee

Polar Bear Provincial Park (2,408,700 ha). Ramsar site no. 360. A vast wetland complex (Canada’s second largest Ramsar site), embracing a series of beach ridges interspersed with ponds, bogs, fens and marshes subject to salt water inundation that includes the world’s most southerly example of tundra ecosystem. The area regularly supports hundreds of thousands of important populations of waterfowl, a breeding colony of more than 50,000, and during migration more than one million Snow Geese. During migration the lowlands support a substantial proportion of the central Arctic breeding population of Red Knot and the entire breeding population of Marbled Godwit. Numerous species of large mammals are present.

Mink Frog

Mink Frog

St. Clair National Wildlife Area (244 ha). Ramsar site no. 319. Extensive system of marshes and dune ridges along Lake St. Clair. One of southern Canada’s most important resting, feeding and breeding areas for migratory waterbirds. Peak numbers in spring reach 360,000 individuals, with up to 150,000 in the fall. Almost 25% of the North American population of Tundra Swan passes through the area in spring. Fall migrants include over 200,000 Canada Geese, more than 18% of the world population of Canvasback, and large numbers of other ducks. The area supports a number of rare or threatened amphibians and reptiles.



Most of my time outdoors is spent in and around wetlands, especially in the warmer months when the marshes and ponds and rivers are teeming with life. Although our almost all of our wetlands are frozen here in Ottawa, today I am thinking of all of the insects and amphibians, mammals and birds, and fish and reptiles that call our wetlands home. Wetlands take care of water…indeed, they take care of us all.

World Wetlands Day


3 thoughts on “Happy World Wetlands Day!

    • Thanks Suzanne! The photo of the Barn Swallows was taken in 2008 on my first trip to Point Pelee. I found them while looking for a photo of the marsh and thought it would be fun to post them again. I think the Coot was from 2009.

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