Several decades before the Mediterranean Wetlands Observatory was launched, some monitoring had been implemented in many Mediterranean protected wetlands. Usually, only a few components were monitored, such as waterbirds or water quality. They were highly informative on the status of these components; however they rarely analysed the cause-effect relationships and were therefore of limited value for explaining the trends.
In some cases, local monitoring systems covering several themes were established or attempted in a few key Mediterranean wetlands. In general, one organisation (or a consortium) took upon itself the task to gather the results of various monitoring activities implemented by dispersed stakeholders, or even to coordinate them, so as to produce an overall picture of the evolution of a given wetland. These were sometimes called “wetlands observatories” (e.g. in the Camargue).
The development of such systems met mixed successes :
The Ichkeul Lake in Tunisia provides the most accomplished example to date in the Mediterranean of an effective monitoring system for a major wetland.
In the 1980s-90s, due to dam construction in its watershed and repeated drought periods, Ichkeul lost most of its former importance as a key wintering ground for waterbirds.
Following threats by UNESCO to cancel its World Heritage Site status, Tunisian authorities took some corrective management measures, including called upon IUCN-Mediterranean office and Tour du Valat to suggest a monitoring programme able to assess whether the ecosystem was on its way towards restoration.
A monitoring system was proposed by Tour du Valat and implemented efficiently by the Agence Nationale pour la Protection de l’Environnement (ANPE) from 2002-2003 onwards. Annual monitoring reports covering water levels and salinity, reedbeds, submerged macrophytes, wintering and breeding waterbirds, etc. have been produced since then, and can be found following this link.
The results of monitoring are regularly used for water management of the site, especially for water release from dams and for managing regulation with sea water through tinja gate. This monitoring programme clearly demonstrates that the restoration of the ecosystem is well under way, with many biological components back to its pre-1980s level. Since 2006, the site was removed from list of the World Heritage in Danger.
The Prespa lakes in Albania-Greece-FYR of Macedonia are a key biodiversity area in the Balkans. They host e.g. 8 endemic fish species, the largest world colony of Dalmatian Pelicans, endemic Balkan plants and invertebrates etc.
The Society for the Protection of Prespa (SPP), with the assistance of Tour du Valat, has been developing since 2007 a Trans-boundary Monitoring System (TMS) for the Prespa lakes.
The Camargue (Rhône delta, France) used to be a promising site for the development of an Observatory as a vital area for biodiversity and also one of the most intensively monitored natural area in France. However, data is often dispersed over hundreds of publications and not easily accessible.
Therefore, as early as 2001, a few key stakeholders in the Camargue gathered under the aegis of the “Parc régional naturel de Camargue” in order to create the Camargue Observatory. After a few initial promising years, the initiative is not making much progress due to a lack of long-term vision and leadership. However, it was recently decided that the Observatory will be coordinated and re-activated through the Man and Biosphere entity (MAB) with the participation of the “Syndicat mixte pour la gestion et la protection de la Camargue Gardoise” and of the “Parc régional naturel de Camargue”.
Tour du Valat was particularly involved in a compilation of a metadatabase (2006-2007). Almost 2 000 parameters/indicators were identified that are regularly monitored by over 40 organisations, covering themes such as socio-economic activities, pollutions, climate, fauna and flora…Tour du Valat summarized in 2006 all the monitoring programmes that can help show the recent evolution of the Camargue, for which data was accessible. The full results can be downloaded, in the form of 12 thematic reports, click here.
A shorter synthesis can also be downloaded here.
In 2000, the European Water Framework Directive introduced the notion of "good status of water bodies”, and therefore required EU member states to monitor their ecological status. Various physico-chemical and biological processes must be monitored, so as to measure the gradual achievement of these goals of quality, for each water body individually. These water bodies do include some wetlands in the Ramsar sense (eg. lakes, lagoons, tanks ...). But other associated wetlands, despite their being part of achieving good status of water bodies, are excluded from the scope of the European Directive: marshes, reedbeds, temporary pools, riparian woodlands etc..
This is why the River Basin Authority for Rhône-Méditerranée-Corse, which is the official authority in charge of integrated water management for the Rhone basin (i.e. roughly the south-east quarter of France) , has been reflecting since 2005 on how to monitor the status of these other wetlands. With the support of key wetland managers in the Rhone-Mediterranean Basin, including Tour du Valat, it launched in 2008 an initiative for the development of such a tool: “RhoMéO” (RHOne-MEditerranean Observatory).
After a feasibility study in 2009-2010, a project for 2011-2012 was developed in 2010. Funding is expected by late 2010. This first two-year phase will allow the development of homogenous working methodologies and tools, consistent throughout the Basin, in partnership with all stakeholders. Monitoring the actual status of wetlands of the Rhone-Mediterranean basin will then be implemented from 2013. For the Mediterranean Wetlands Observatory, this has the potential to become an interesting case-study, at the scale of a large river watershed.