The implementation of policies is guided by a series of legal instruments such as laws, guidelines, decrees, etc. On wetlands, a clear division exists between the frameworks that apply to sites with a certain level of protection (national parks, reserves, Ramsar sites, Man and Biosphere reserves, world heritage sites, Natura 2000, etc.) and sites without formalized protection.
Most wetland-related environmental/conservation instruments and efforts focus on protected areas. Overall, they cover between 7 and 22% of the territory of each Mediterranean country. A recent study showed that the legal framework is relatively well respected only in a few sites. Usually, they are sites recognized for their international importance and which benefit from several layers of protection such as the Camargue (France) and Donana (Spain). In developing countries, the wetlands legal framework is usually less comprehensive, and implementation is less strict and more flexible, so as to cope with the socio-economic realities and priorities.
In most of the territory, which does not have any specific environmental protection, general national policies and strategic frameworks usually apply. Fortunately, since the early 1990 and following the Rio Summit, countries have gradually been adapting their national policy frameworks towards sustainable development processes. Most countries have elaborated legal instruments to guide their national policies on biodiversity, implemented environmental impact assessments prior to major infrastructure projects, conducted periodical “State of the Environment” assessments to adjust their policies, etc. However, the reality shows that in most countries, economic development, employment issues and food security usually get the highest priority, at the cost of the environment, when both are in balance