sea and birds Significance of new wetlands policy

The 7th Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Ramsar Convention -The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat-, an international effort to conserve wetlands, was held in Costa Rica from May 10th to 18th.

The following were the three significant points from the Costa Rica conference (Click here to listen to Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention Bureau Mr. Delmar Blasco's opening remarks using RealPlayer.):

First, resolutions were adopted on strategy and guidelines for achieving the designation to the List of Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar List) of the largest possible number of wetland sites.

Secondly, recommendations were made to mobilize multilateral mutual cooperation on conservation of migratory species in the Asia-Pacific region.

Thirdly, resolutions were adopted for enhancing efforts to conserve intertidal wetlands such as tidelands.

Regarding the first point, in reviewing the Criteria for Identifying Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Criteria), the fact remains that the number of wetland sites designated for the Ramsar List has not grown in recent years as initially planned.

Judging by the trend after the last meeting in Brisbane, it is obvious that those contributing most to the increase are relatively recent contracting parties.

In countries which ratified the treaty earlier, including Japan, growth in the number of wetland sites designated for the List seems to have stagnated, in general, except for certain countries, such as Britain and Norway, in which it is still increasing even now, twenty some years after ratification.

Even more seriously, quite a few wetlands which have been registered on the List are now listed on the Montreux Record, a list of sites requiring priority conservation action.

In the case of seven countries, including Greece, all the wetlands registered on the List are now included in the special register requiring priority conservation action.

This implies that measures for making the designated wetlands actually function as strategic beds for ecosystem networks, rather than just achieving quantitative enlargement of wetland sites included in the List, are necessary.

To realize such measures, an organic affiliation among the Ramsar Convention and other treaties, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Bonn Convention (CMS or the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals), is required.

However each treaty has its own limits.

Regarding the Convention on Biological Diversity, as it is not equipped with an international list and selection of designated sites depends on the contracting parties, the shortcoming is the lack of tacit international constraints.

The weak point of the Bonn Convention is that there is a remarkable gap in ratification rates between regions.

Specifically, it is high in the Eurasia-Africa region, but it is low in the Asia-Oceania region.

The idea to review the Criteria came from the intention to improve the actual effectiveness of the international ecosystem network by supplementing the shortcomings of each related treaty centering around the Ramsar Convention in accordance with the ecological characters particular to the region.

Expansion of international ecological network

Furthermore, the core of the strategy for enlarging the number of designated wetland sites is the idea to expand the international ecosystem network.

Especially in Europe, there are efforts to build a cross-frontier network called "Natura 2000" by the year 2004.

For that, three targets have been set up:

  1. selection of special protected areas
  2. cooperation among habitats
  3. development of policies in order to enhance the ecological values of the network

An action plan currently underway is scheduled to achieve the target by the year 2004 through the following three phases:

Phase 1: By 1995, each country will submit a list of habitats and species to be conserved.

Phase 2: By 1998, divide the European Continent into six zones according to common ecological characters based on the lists submitted by each country and for each zone create a list of areas for which special protection is needed.

Phase 3: By 2004, complete the "Natura 2000" ecological network by creating a list of the Special Protection Areas based on lists submitted from all six zones.

The strategy for increasing the number of designated wetlands in the Ramsar List formulated at the Costa Rica meeting follows in the footsteps of the "Natura 2000" in many ways.

The intention is most apparent in terms of the attempt to designate biogeographically typical wetlands and the emphasis on the significance of including small-scale wetlands as a part of the sequence when building an ecosystem network.

As to the mobilization of multilateral cooperation on the conservation of migratory waterfowl in the Asia-Pacific, nomination and addition of wetland sites to complete the cross-frontier network established in the "Asia-Pacific Migratory Waterbird Conservation Strategy" was sought.

A regional agreement under the Bonn Convention has already been reached between Eurasia and Africa. (The African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement, AEWA signed in August 1996)

Although it is hoped that the same kind of regional agreement can be reached in Asia-Pacific as well, it is difficult to achieve as there are fewer contracting parties to the Bonn Convention in this region.

The aim of mobilizing multilateral cooperation on this matter in the Asia-Pacific region is to complete the Ramsar Convention-basis network.

As to the third point regarding conservation of intertidal wetlands such as tidelands (hereafter "tideland etc."), the following four resolutions were adopted:

1) to measure and record areas of tideland etc. which were destroyed in the past, and catalogue the conserved condition of existing tideland etc.

2) to provide information on the effects brought about by the disappearance of tideland etc. as well as alternative strategies for maintaining the ecosystem.

3) to review existing policies which have a bad influence on tideland etc. and introduce long-term conservation measures for tideland etc.

4) to enlarge the number of designated wetland sites for the List.

For this resolution, Britain underlined the need to pay attention to the number of waterfowl potentially depending on tidelands, while Belgium expressed the need to deepen recognition that, as well as the significance of intertidal wetlands of salt-water, the most rare and endangered intertidal wetlands are those of freshwater, by the next meeting of the 8th Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP8).

Necessity to reconsider national strategy on biological diversity
a Japanese skunk-cabbage
The existence of such resolutions tangibly tackling the conservation of intertidal wetlands such as tideland etc. would have substantial influence on Japan's development policy in the future.

These resolutions and recommendations adopted at the meeting throw a number of challenges at the environmental administration in Japan.

Especially in terms of organic cooperation between the Ramsar Convention and other treaties such as the CBD, the number of tasks we are facing is overwhelming.

The national strategy on biological diversity was actually formulated during the Murayama cabinet, although, in reality, the strategy lacks action plans and is scarcely working.

Having this opportunity, I would like to propose the revising of the national strategy including new action plans.

It is time for Japan to show leadership in building a cross-frontier "Asia-Pacific ecological network" to cover a wider range of species besides waterbirds, reflecting the idea of the EU's "Natura 2000".

When I visited the Anparu tidelandon Ishigaki Island in Okinawa, I found the ecosystem consisting of tideland and mangrove at the mouth of the Nagura River enchanting.

The Anparu taught me the exact truth that where there is mangrove, benthos are protected and where there are benthos there come flying waterbirds.

A superficial wetland policy looking at just the number of waterfowl flying in does not work any more.

What the number of waterfowl shows is the consequence of a healthy ecosystem and the number itself is not the objective.

What is expected now is a wetland policy which enables countless satellite habitats surrounding designated wetlands for the List to work as ecosystems.

I am hoping for future measures to be taken by the Environment Agency in Japan.

Back to the top