Conserving the planet’s most valuable natural places and promoting nature’s solutions to global challenges is the focus of the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 taking place from 12 to 19 November in Sydney, Australia. Most Mediterranean countries will be present with more than 100 participants from governmental and non-governmental organisations, international and scientific institutions, universities as well as park managers.
A list of more than 30 events will have Mediterranean experts who will share their experiences, discuss new approaches for conservation and development, and help to address the gaps in the conservation and sustainable development agenda.
The situation of protected areas in the Mediterranean is very uneven with some countries and habitats types better represented than others. It is estimated that together the European Mediterranean countries covered by Natura 2000 sites represents around 20% of the total land area in the European region (EU15: Spain, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta and Portugal). With the enlargement of the European Union, Slovenia and Croatia have joined the Natura 2000 with 29% and 37% of total territory of the country respectively. For non-European countries, Albania has doubled its percentage up to 12.5% and Turkey with very different habitats has 7.2% of its territory protected.
The network of protected areas in North Africa and the Middle East is characterised by enormous discrepancies between countries that have well developed protected area system plans. Algeria largely met the first global target for 2010. A vast network of protected areas is in place, covering 36.5% of the national territory, and representing most of the country’s ecosystems. In Morocco 154 sites of biological and ecological interest have been identified, covering approximately 2.5 million ha of terrestrial and coastal ecosystems and humid zones. 10 national parks have been established, 24 humid zones classified under the RAMSAR list, and 3 natural areas included in UNESCO’s international network of biosphere reserves. In Egypt, a network of protected areas, representing the principal ecosystem types of scientific importance, has been established and currently comprises up to 15% of the territory. Egypt intends to increase this figure to 20% by 2017. In Jordan a network of 18 protected areas was identified and proposed, targeting a 15% cover of Jordan’s total area by 2017.
After the Arab spring, some nations like Libya face the challenges of building modern institutions, repairing infrastructure and diversifying the economy. By 2009, seven national parks, five nature reserves and 24 other protected areas had been established, mostly along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Libya has committed under the SAP BIO project of the Mediterranean Action Plan to develop and implement the National Action Plan on Marine Protected Areas.
Skills are needed in these countries, in particular: involvement of local stakeholders, conflict resolution, planning and management of protected areas including marine protected areas, application of information arising from research and monitoring programmes to management, and development of environmental awareness programmes. The development of skills must embrace legal and socio-economic as well as ecological aspects of protected area management.
In general, coastal areas under pressure are often poorly represented in protected areas systems. The inventory of Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas (MAPAMED database, 2012) has helped to identify 677 Marine Protected Areas (MPA). Among these sites, 161 have a national status, 9 just an international status and 507 are Natura 2000 sea sites. The present MPA inventory covers a total surface area less than 5% of the Mediterranean.
- LEBANON.-Benefits derived from ecosystems are essential to the Lebanese economy. For example, the economic value of forest systems is estimated at USD 131.5 million, with approximately USD 23.5 million/year derived from the harvest of medicinal and aromatic plants from forests, and USD 8.58 million/year derived from the production of 22,000 tons/year of nuts (pine nut, walnut or almond).
- TUNISIA: Forestry generates significant employment (i.e. 36,000 primary jobs, and up to 39,500 jobs if supplemental employment is considered) and contributes 3% to the GDP.
- EGYPT: At least 378,000 people depend directly on activities related to inland fisheries and/or aquaculture, an activity that generated around USD 355.7 million in 2009. The high socio-economic value of freshwater species is clearly demonstrated: 46% of fish and 27% of plants utilised in NORTHERN AFRICA provide direct socio-economic benefits.
- SPAIN: In 2013, the Life Indemares project was completed with the identification of the marine Natura 2000 Network in Spain. In 2014, Spain approved the creation of 4 new marine protected areas and 39 Marine Important Bird Areas.
- ALBANIA: In 2008, a local organization called the Albanian Herpetofauna Society-H.A.S in collaboration with the Mediterranean Association to Save the Sea Turtles (MEDASSET) started a conservation project in the Drini Bay and Patoku lagoon which aimed to contribute to sea turtle and habitat conservation, population dynamics, migratory routes monitoring, and capacity building.
Awe and wonder
• In the marine environment, seagrass meadows play a significant role in carbon sequestration. Specifically, it is estimated that the Mediterranean root system of the meadows of Posidonia oceanica is retaining 89% of the total CO2 emitted by all Mediterranean countries since the Industrial Revolution, justifying therefore the protection of this species.
Into the unknown
• The Atlas of Mediterranean underwater topographic structures has identified 518 submarine canyons, and 242 seamounts or other structures emerging from the sea floor, that are important for biodiversity but also for fisheries.