Wetlands, tourism and community development

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For millennia, people have come together around wetlands - rivers, lakes and coastal areas. Wetlands provide clean water for drinking and irrigation and food such as fish and rice. They facilitate transportation, and protect against floods and storms.

But wetlands are also among the most beautiful places on earth, and their beauty and spectacular array of wildlife have inspired artists, travellers, poets, and photographers for generations. People seek out water for their holidays, relaxation and sport - it is no surprise that wetlands are prime tourist destinations.

The continuing rapid growth of tourism puts enormous pressure on wetlands, one of the most fragile ecosystems. Excessive development of infrastructure, uncontrolled access to sensitive habitats, and inappropriate tourist behaviour can all have negative impacts on wetlands and their ability to provide water, food and other essential goods and services to the local communities.

Philippines – Tubbataha Reef. ©Yvette Lee 2009

The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands aims at protecting wetlands and promoting their wise, or sustainable, use. At the latest meeting of the Convention’s 168 Contracting Parties, held in Romania in 2012, countries formally recognized the importance of developing tourism strategies that protect and maintain wetlands in collaboration with local communities.

“There are many examples of successful tourism initiatives that protect wetlands and wildlife, while benefitting the local community and promoting local culture,” said Christopher Briggs, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. “World Tourism Day is the perfect occasion to showcase the good examples and encourage countries and communities to further develop sustainable wetland tourism.”

The Ramsar Secretariat developed a brochure on “Wetlands and tourism” and a series of 14 case studies highlighting successful wetland tourism management around the world. All materials are available at: ramsar.rgis.ch/tourism

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