The Ramsar Convention is a voluntary Treaty, committed to promoting the conservation and wise use of water-based ecosystems through international engagement and collaboration. The Treaty was signed in Ramsar, Iran; in 1971. Canada signed the Treaty in 1981, and has 37 Ramsar sites. The United States signed the Treaty in 1987, and has 36 Ramsar sites. There are 169 member countries that have designated more than 2,227 Ramsar Sites (215,000,000 ha) around the world.
In the early part of the 19th century, the Niagara River was considered to be the most degraded place in North America. In 1972, Canada and the United States signed the first Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement to clean-up environmental problems the Great Lakes, including the Niagara River. Major clean-up efforts in the Niagara River over the past 50 years have reduced discharges of pollution and toxic chemicals. To acknowledge this achievement of a cleaner, healthier river, a community group is leading the process to have the Niagara River designated as a Ramsar Wetland of Importance.
A Ramsar designation for the Niagara River will commit, under Treaty, Canada and the United States to continue to work together to ensure that environmental progress achieved over the past 5 decades does not backslide. It will ensure future programs and their administrators are aware of the history and work that has been completed on the river for decades to come.
A Ramsar designation will endorse the rivers ecological significance and its global importance. It will strengthen local economies through increased tourism, recreation and increased funding opportunities. It will heighten international awareness of the river’s global contribution to biodiversity and its role in building stronger, healthier and more resilient communities.
The Ramsar designation for the Niagara River is being led by the Ramsar Steering Committee consisting of agency representatives from Canada and the U.S., including representation from the Western New York Land Conservancy, the Niagara Parks Commission, the Regional Institute (SUNY Buffalo), the Environmental Sustainability Research Centre (Brock University), Niagara College, and the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, and a representative from the Niagara River Remedial Action Plan. The work is being supported by the University of Buffalo Environmental Law and Policy Clinic.
To qualify for Ramsar designation the site must meet at least one of the following nine criteria:
- Is representative, rare, or unique.
- Supports vulnerable, endangered or threatened species.
- Supports keystone or endemic species.
- Supports species at a critical stage in their life cycles (migration, breeding).
- Supports 20,000 or more waterbirds.
- Supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species of waterbird.
- Supports a significant proportion of indigenous fish species.
- An important food source, spawning area, nursery or migration path for fish.
- Supports 1% of the individuals in a population of one species or subspecies of wetland-dependent non-avian animal species. (Something that is not a bird).
The Niagara River meets all 9 criteria. Only 35 (1%) of all global Ramsar sites meet all nine criteria.
Although the Niagara River Ramsar Steering Committee is pursuing a transboundary Ramsar site designation, each country has different procedural requirements. The transboundary designation occurs once each country has met the procedural requirements for designation. It is possible to designate only one side (individual country) of the river. Dual designation is required for transboundary status.
If successful, the Niagara River would be the first bi-national / transboundary Ramsar site in North and South America (the Americas)!