GIS Data of the World’s Wetlands

Caitlin Dempsey


The Ramsar Convention, known at the time as the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, especially as Waterfowl Habitat, was one of the first modern global agreements for conserving natural habitat.  Named after the town in Iran where the Convention was signed in 1971 with 21 countries initially signed the agreement.  The Convention now has 168 countries that are participants.  The international treaty was established for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands of international importance as well as recognizing the important ecological functions of wetlands as well as their value on an economic, cultural, scientific, and recreational level.  

What is a Wetland of International Importance?

The Ramsar Convention includes a number of natural and human-made habitat types as part of its definition of a wetland of international importance.  Swamps, marshes, billabongs, lakes, salt marshes, mudflats, mangroves, coral reefs, fens, peat bogs, as well as bodies of water – whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary are all considered wetlands under the Ramsar Convention.  Water within these wetlands can be static or flowing, freshwater, brackish, or saline.  Inland rivers and marine waters up to six meters at low tide as well as underground wetlands are also included. An example of a Ramsar Site is the Rud-e-Gaz and Rud-e-Hara Wetlands in Iran.  Wetland sites are designated as a Wetland of International Importance for those ares that contain representative, rare or unique wetlands, or wetlands that are important for conserving biological diversity (see the Ramsar Convention’s Criteria for Identifying Wetlands of International Importance). Wetlands of International Importance are also known as Ramsar Sites.

GIS Database of the World’s Wetlands

There are currently 2,185 sites worldwide that the Ramsar Convention considers to be wetlands of international importance representing over 208,597,750 hectares.  The United Kingdom has the highest number of Ramsar Sites with 170.  The country with the highest collective area of wetlands is Bolivia with  over 140,000 square kilometers (54,000 square miles).

The Ramsar site offers a the basic Ramsar List in Word and PDF formats.  This list has the name of each of these “Ramsar Sites”, its date of designation, geographical position in-country, surface area, and centre-point coordinates.  GIS Data for Ramsar sites is available from Wetlands International.  For centroid and boundary based geographic data for the Ramsar sites in both shapefile and KML/KMZ formats, visit the GIS & Maps page on Wetlands International for Ramsar data.  Also available are some interactive maps and graphs using StatPlanet, a flash based program.

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Map showing the location of the worlds 2,000+ wetlands of international importance. Source: Ramsar, 2014.
Map showing the location of the worlds 2,000+ wetlands of international importance. Source: Ramsar, 2014. Basemap: Esri et al.
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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.