Conserving important wetlands

Wetlands are generally valuable, but there are differences between them. Some have attributes that make them especially important, such as a stopover site for migratory waterbirds, very high carbon stock or the ability to store and regulate the release of freshwater. Wetlands International works to save the most important wetland areas.


Unlike some conservation organisations, we do not buy or manage wetland areas ourselves. We believe that wetlands conservation should originate through local authorities and communities, who acknowledge the importance of conserving wetlands. (Bio-rights is one approach we use to finance wetland conservation). Without this local support, conservation efforts often do not succeed.

Showcasing wetland values to promote conservation

A first step in conserving important wetland areas is identifying them. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands has formulated criteria for identifying wetlands of international importance. These criteria have a strong focus on conserving the rich functions of wetlands. Our waterbird monitoring work helps us identity critical wetlands. Wetlands that meet the Ramsar Convention criteria are eligible for the international status of a Ramsar site. Once an area achieves this recognition, it often leads to protection measures at the national level.

We identify carbon-rich peatlands in order to conserve and restore them in light of climate change. Through our peat-atlases we show the global occurrence of peatland carbon per country – this product led to the establishment of policies to prevent conversion of deep peat for palm oil in Indonesia. We hope to create financial and political support for saving peatlands under climate change policies. A possible outcome is incentives for investment in peat swamp forest concessions, not for logging but to preserve their carbon and (indirectly) natural values, benefitting local people.

We illustrate the importance of wetlands for people in the regions we work in order to support their conservation. We do this by showing the regional value of storing rainwater and preventing floods, or the local value of providing fertile lands and fish. An example is our work to show the value of the Inner Niger Delta in Mali for the one million people who depend on the area. This information led to an adjustment of plans for a dam upstream.

Highlighting wetland loss

Many precious wetland areas are being lost at an alarming rate. We work to focus global attention on the loss and degradation of wetlands of international importance. Examples are the attention we brought to Lake Natron in Tanzania and the peat swamp forests of Sarawak in Malaysia. In our experience, highlighting the loss of globally important wetlands, backed by scientific information on their values, can make a huge impact.