What are wetlands?

Wetlands are highly variable and dynamic: they are water bodies but also include land. They are freshwater, brackish or saline, inland or coastal, seasonal or permanent, natural or man-made. Wetlands include mangroves, (peat) swamps and marshes, rivers, lakes, floodplains and flooded forests, rice-fields, and even coral reefs.

(Pick a type of wetland from the menu on the left for more information)

Wetlands are one of the world’s most important environmental assets, containing a disproportionately high number of plant and animal species compared to other areas of the world. Throughout history they have been integral to human survival and development.

Where can wetlands be found?

Wetlands exist in every country and in every climatic zone, from the polar regions to the tropics. They are distributed around the world and cover an area that is 33% larger than the USA.

Distribution of wetlands, US Dept. of Agriculture, NRCS

Access the Ramsar Site Information service for detailed info on specific wetlands.

Wetlands on the “front-line”

Wetlands are vulnerable to over-exploitation due to their abundance of fish, fuel and water. When they are viewed as unproductive or marginal lands, wetlands are targeted for drainage and conversion. In many different ways, wetlands are on the “front-line” as development pressures increase.

The rate of loss and deterioration of wetlands is accelerating in all regions of the world. The pressure on wetlands is likely to intensify in the coming decades due to increased global demand for land and water, as well as climate change. 

What is a wetland?

According to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands; “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."


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