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International Programs and Conventions

Convention on Wetlands of International Importance

Wetlands are among the most productive ecosystems in the world, covering about 4% of the planet. They provide tremendous economic, ecological, and social benefits to people worldwide. However, wetlands are also among the most threatened habitats in the world, due mainly to pollution, drainage for land reclamation and overuse by competing land uses such as agriculture and urban development.

In recognizing the importance of wetlands, Canada became a Contracting Party to the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, also known as the Ramsar Convention, in 1981. The Ramsar Convention was named after the city in Iran where the text was first adopted in 1971 through the cooperation of 18 nations. Currently, 138 nation states comprise the Contracting Parties to the Convention worldwide. The Convention's objective is to lessen the loss of wetlands and to ensure their conservation and sustainable wise use for future generations.

To date, Canada has designated 37 Ramsar sites, 17 of which are National Wildlife Areas or Migratory Bird Sanctuaries. Ramsar sites are located in all provinces and territories and account for over 13 million hectares of protected wetlands. They are owned and managed by a range of agencies reflecting the different partners responsible for wetland conservation in the nation. Most of the Ramsar sites are situated on federal lands (78%) and are managed by federal agencies such as Environment Canada, Parks Canada, the National Capital Commission, and Indian and Northern Affairs Canada.

Over 90% of Canada's total designated Ramsar areas lie within National Parks, National Wildlife Areas, Migratory Bird Sanctuaries, and provincial parks and wildlife management areas. About 10% of Canada's Ramsar areas lie on sites secured for conservation by non-government, Aboriginal, or other agencies.

United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity

Protected areas are also part of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. The objectives of the Convention are the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.

In February 2004, the 7th Conference of the Parties adopted a program of work to establish and maintain national and regional systems of protected areas that collectively contribute to achieving the three objectives of the Convention and to reducing significantly the current rate of biodiversity loss. The deadline is 2010 for terrestrial areas and 2012 for marine areas.

The UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve Program

The UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve Program aims to conserve biodiversity while taking human development into account. Four of the 12 biosphere reserves in CanadaLac Saint-Pierre and Mont Saint-Hilaire in Quebec, Long Point in Ontario, and Redberry Lake in Saskatchewan are part of the Environment Canada Protected Areas Network.

The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network

The Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network links sites in different countries of North, Central, and South America that are essential to large numbers of shorebirds as they complete their yearly migrations of thousands of kilometres. Of the five sites in Canada, three include NWAs and MBSs.

The Important Bird Areas

The Important Bird Areas (IBA) Program is a global effort of BirdLife International to identify and protect the most critical habitats for the world's birds. Of the 597 IBAs that have been identified in Canada as being of worldwide, continental, or national significance, 80 are located partially or wholly in NWAs or MBSs.