2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of
International Importance, a treaty focused on the conservation and wise use of important wetlands. To
receive the honor of being designated a Ramsar wetland, candidate sites must fulfill at least one of nine
specific criteria. Of the 2,400 sites around the world, 41 are found in the U.S. and three are within the NOAA
family — each of which are major stopover points for migratory birds along the Pacific Flyway in California.
1. Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve
The Tijuana River National Estuarine
Research Reserve, designated as a Ramsar site in 2005, is unique because of its shared watershed between
the U.S. and Mexico, which poses both challenges and opportunities for management strategies. This estuary
boasts several sensitive habitats, including sand dunes, beaches, vernal pools, tidal channels, mudflats, and
coastal sage scrub. It provides critical habitat and nursery grounds for many nationally endangered species
and commercially important fish.
2. Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve
Further north along the California coast, Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research
Reserve, designated in 1979, protects the second largest salt marsh in California, as well as mudflats,
freshwater wetlands, coast live oak woodlands, and more. This estuary is part of Monterey Bay National Marine
Sanctuary and provides habitat for a huge diversity of wildlife species, including more than 340 species of
birds, including 20,000 waterbirds, 500 species of invertebrates, 100 species of fish, and the region’s
iconic southern sea otter.
3. Tomales Bay, Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary
Just north of San Francisco Bay one finds Tomales Bay,
which is part of Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Designated in 2002, Tomales Bay fulfills
eight of the nine criteria needed to be a Ramsar wetland. Because the watershed is lacking industrial activity
and has a low population density, this bay remains relatively pristine and provides habitat for many
endangered or threatened species of plants and birds.
The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance serves a critical role in conservation worldwide. NOAA is proud to play a part in this effort.
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