The number of parties to the Ramsar Convention has increased to 93 with the accession of three new states: Albania, Côte d'Ivoire, and Zambia. In addition, Gambia, Israel, and Malawi deposited their instruments of accession late in the year and were to become contracting parties in early 1997, bringing the total number of parties to 96. By the end of 1996, there were 858 listed Ramsar sites, covering an area of over 54.5 million hectares. Sixty-two of these sites were listed in the "Record of Ramsar Sites where Changes in Ecological Character have Occurred, are Occurring, or are Likely to Occur" (also called the Montreux Record).
The sixth session of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention was held in Brisbane, Australia, 19-27 March. The most important decision of the Conference was the adoption of the Ramsar Strategic Plan for the 1997-2002 period. The Plan specifies that "the Convention's mission is the conservation and wise use of wetlands by national action and international cooperation as a means to achieving sustainable development throughout the world." It lays down a number of general and operational objectives and a large number of action lines translating the very general goals embodied in the treaty into practical targets, the achievement of which is in each case assigned to the parties, the Convention bodies, or nongovernmental organizations ( NGOs), as appropriate. The Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, at its third session in Buenos Aires, noted the Strategic Plan and invited the Ramsar Convention to cooperate as a lead partner in the implementation of wetland related activities under the Biodiversity Convention.
There are now 147 parties to the Convention. Estonia, Iceland, and Belgium became parties in 1996. The number of sites on the World Heritage List has reached 506, of which 350 are cultural, 107 natural, and 19 both cultural and natural. Thirty new cultural sites, five natural ones, and two mixed sites were listed in 1996. The five natural areas are the reserve network of the barrier reef