Gland, Switzerland, 27th September 2018 – Wetlands are the most economically valuable and among the most biodiverse ecosystems in the world. However, they are disappearing three times faster than forests. That is with severe consequences for our future unless urgent action taken to ensure their survival. All warns a new report by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.

Approximately 35 per cent of the world’s wetlands were lost between 1970-2015 with annual rates of loss accelerating from 2000. That’s according to the first-ever Global Wetland Outlook ( of the Ramsar Convention. This convention is a global treaty ratified by 170 countries to protect wetlands and promote their wise use. The report shows every region affected.

ramsan, convention of wetlands

Losses driven by mega trends such as climate change, population increase, urbanization, particularly of coastal zones and river deltas, and changing consumption patterns that have all fueled changes to land and water use and to agriculture.

Wetlands, which include lakes, rivers, marshes and peatlands as well as coastal and marine areas such as estuaries, lagoons, mangroves and coral reefs. These are now estimated to cover more than 12.1 million km2. That’s an area greater than Greenland. Furthermore, between 13-18 per cent of them are on the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. Meaning “protected sites.”

Wetlands are critical to human and planet life. Directly or indirectly, they give almost all the world’s consumption of freshwater. More than one billion people depend on them for a living and 40 per cent of the world’s species live and breed in wetlands. They are a vital source for food, raw materials, genetic resources for medicines, and hydropower; they mitigate floods, protect coastlines and build community resilience to disasters, and they play an important role in transport, tourism and the cultural and spiritual well-being of people.

Studies show the economic value of services provided by wetlands far exceeds those of terrestrial ecosystems. Inland wetlands, such as, have a total economic value five times higher than tropical forests, the most valuable terrestrial habitat.

Wetlands are also essential to efforts to regulate the global climate. Peatlands store twice as much carbon as the world’s forests. This is despite accounting for just three per cent of the world’s land surface. Further, that includes salt marshes, sea grass beds and mangroves also carbon-dense ecosystems. However, wetlands produce 20-25 per cent of global methane emissions. More noteworthy rising temperatures from climate change are expected to increase greenhouse gases from wetlands. Hence, particularly in permafrost regions.

Despite this, wetlands remain dangerously undervalued by policy and decision-makers in national plans. An inexplicable omission given the pivotal role wetlands play in delivering global commitments on climate change, sustainable development, biodiversity and disaster risk reduction, with wetlands contributing to 75 indicators of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) alone.

The persistent and growing threat to the world’s remaining wetlands from water drainage, pollution, unsustainable use, invasive species, disrupted flows from dams and sediment dumping from deforestation and soil erosion upstream detailed in the GWO, released ahead of the 13th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP13) in Dubai, UAE.

In addition, water quality trends are worsening. With nearly all fresh water sources in the world compromised to some extent. Water pollution and nutrient loading from fertilizers are among the biggest challenges. Furthermore and according to the UN, more than 80 per cent of waste water released into wetlands. Mind you, without adequate treatment. That’s while fertilizer use in 2018 is likely to be 25 per cent higher than in 2008. Exacerbating excessive wetland plant growth and levels of decomposition resulting in oxygen starvation. Starvation for flora and fauna alike.

The biodiversity crisis is just as alarming. More than 25 per cent of all wetlands plants and animals are at risk of extinction. The IUCN’s Red List Index which assesses survival probability using available data has identified negative trends for wetland mammals, birds, amphibians and corals. These are an indication they are heading for extinction. Coral reefs are declining fastest due to rising sea temperatures, while amphibians have the lowest numbers and are the most threatened. Wetland fish, reptiles and large mammals are also vulnerable with every turtle species globally threatened and a third critically endangered.

The GWO emphasizes the necessity of developing effective wetland management plans and integrating wetlands into the planning and implementation of national plans on sustainable development, climate change and other key global commitments.

The report also stresses good governance and effective institutions. Institutions at local, national and regional levels as a crucial factor. Crucial in preventing, ending, and reversing trends in wetland loss and degradation. More accurate data on wetland extent and wetland inventories is needed. It’s to help countries identify priority sites for restoration. Indigenous and local knowledge as well as citizen scientists are already invaluable resources on the state of wetlands and can be used more.

As well, drawing on successful examples across the world, the report recommends using existing funding mechanisms. Using them to apply economic and financial incentives. Specifically for communities and business to protect wetlands through tax benefits. Perverse incentives for farmers and business. For example and most noteworthy, subsidies to agriculture that encourage wetland conversion or pollution should be ended.

Additional recommendations include identifying solutions for wise use of wetlands that draw upon all expertise. That is ranging from hard science to traditional knowledge. Which is to secure wide engagement on wetland protection. Also and wise use ensure sound decision-making. The GWO’s findings are expected to inform discussions and decisions at the Ramsar COP13 (21-29 Oct).

Rojas Urrego said that there is a “slow awakening to the value” of wetlands. Across the globe, legislative bodies must integrate wetlands into policy programs. They must make investments into their sustainability. We need to educate the world on the critical importance of this most rapidly disappearing ecosystem. Without the world’s wetlands, we all hang in the balance.




  1. Wetlands extent
• 93% of wetlands are inland systems, 7% are marine and coastal. p18
Regional figures (p18, p58)
Asia has 31.8% of the world’s wetlands, the most of any region.
North America has second highest area of wetlands in world at 27.1%
Latin America and Caribbean has third highest area of wetlands 15.8%.
Europe has 12.5% of the world’s wetlands.
Africa has 9.9 % of wetlands in the world.
Oceania has the smallest area of wetlands in the world at 2.9% of the global total.

2. Wetland loss

• Average annual rate of natural wetland loss estimated by Wetland Extent Trends (WET) Index is -0.78% a year. This is three times faster than the average annual rate of natural forest loss between 1990-2015 at 0.24% a year. p19

• Since 2000, rates of natural wetland loss have accelerated each year from 0.85% to 1.60%. p19

Regional figures p19-20

Latin America has seen highest rate of wetland loss – 59% – between 1970-2015. p19

Africa lost 42% of its wetlands in the same time frame.

Also, Europe has an overall loss of 35% its inland and coastal wetlands.

• The tracking of 400 sites in the Mediterranean region revealed a loss of 48% of natural wetlands from 1970-2013. As well, a figure far higher than Africa (42%), Asia (32%) and the overall regional figure for Europe.

Asia lost 32% of its wetlands.

North America lost 17% of its wetlands

Oceania has seen lowest rate of loss between 1970-2015 at 12%.

3 Water and pollution
• 82% of global population is exposed to a high level of threat to their fresh water supply upstream, according to a 2015 study. p43
• By 2050, one third of the global population will likely be exposed to water with excessive nitrogen and phosphorus. p31
• In nearly half of OECD countries, water in agricultural areas contains pesticides above national recommended limits. p5
• Agriculture accounts for 70% of global water withdrawals. p40

Regional figures

Latin America, Africa and Asia

• By 1990s, water pollution had worsened in almost all rivers there with deterioration expected to escalate. p31

• Severe pathogen pollution affects one third of rivers in these regions. p5

In Middle East, Central Asia, North Africa, 80-90% of water resources used is for irrigation. p40

• Asia withdraws 20% of global water resources (80% for irrigation). p40

• Europe

  • eutrophication affects about 30% of water bodies in 17 EU countries. p31
  • Region withdraws 6% of global water resources (29% for agriculture). p40

• Americas, Asia and Europe are biggest users of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides, with Americas topping list for insecticides and herbicides and Europe for fungicides. p48

  1. Economic impact of wetlands services

• Wetlands sustain 266 million jobs in wetland tourism and travel. p61

• Most noteworthy, coral reefs have the highest average Total Economic Value (TEV) of wetlands. That’s at $350,000 per hectare (ha) annually and based on 2007 value estimates. Also, coastal wetlands including mangroves are second at $190,000 per ha per year. p42
• In addition, between 1997-2011, estimated losses of ecosystem services from changes to areas of different biomes were US$11.9 trillion from coral reefs. US$7.2 trillion from tidal marshes and mangroves and US$2.7 trillion from swamps and floodplains. All which is also according to a 2014 study. p42
  1. Food and aquaculture

• Annual harvesting from inland fisheries rose from 2 million tonnes in 1950 to more than 11.6 million tonnes in 2012. Worst part, it is not including subsistence farming.

• Also, global aquaculture increased from less than one million tonnes in 1950 to 52.5 million tonnes in 2008. That’s comprising 45.7% of the world’s fish food production.

  1. Biodiversity

• In conclusion, a quarter (25%) of more than 18,000 inland wetland dependent species surveyed are globally threatened. Finally, with a similar level of threat (23%) among less than 1,500 coastal and near-shore marine species assessed.