Mediterranean wetlands

The richest and the most threatened ecosystem1

Lakes, ponds, marshes, lagoons, estuaries… All these names sound familiar but few people know exactly that they are called «wetlands»,  transitional space between land and water.

Wetlands are everywhere, under all climates and in every country (except in Antarctic). In the Mediterranean region, there are a diversity of wetlands, including the most common like temporary marshes, lakes, reservoirs, rivers, deltas and lagoons.  

Amongst the richest ecosystems in the world, wetlands have an exceptional value. In the Mediterranean, they support high concentrations of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrate species, many of which are endemic to the region, that is to say we cannot find them anywhere else in the world(2)! Furthermore their ecosystems assure directly – and for free! – the needs of millions of people. So people benefit not only from the direct resources of wetlands but also the multiple functions and services they offer daily. 

Unfortunately, and in spite of important progress made in recent decades - particularly in terms of protection measures  - wetlands are still considered to be « lost space » or « unhealthy places » instead of rich and essential areas for human survival. Wetlands continue to be among the world’s most threatened ecosystems, owing mainly to human activities.

However, some success stories demonstrate that it is possible to reverse the trends at the local level. For example, in Camargue thousands of hectares of wetlands were restored over the 20 last years. Also the development of artificial wetlands (like dams, reservoirs, oasis or paddy fields...), even if they have no equivalent functional value compared with natural wetlands, they permit in certain cases the return of biodiversity, productivity, recreational activities and cultural services.

Some key figures about Mediterranean wetlands

  • The UNEP-World Conservation Monitoring Centre has estimated that wetland cover approximately 570,000,000 hectares – roughly 6% of the Earth’s land surface
  • Medwet Initiative: 27 countries, 343 Ramsar Mediterranean sites, around 6 000 000 hectares classified (over an estimation of 13 000 000 hectares).
  • The Mediterranean region risks losing 56% of endemic freshwater fish, 36% of freshwater crabs and crayfish, 29% of amphibians, 19% of dragonflies during the next decades. 17% of mammals, 13% of reptiles, 42% skate and shark species face a high risk of extinction in the Basin (source UICN).
  • By 2025, 95 million new inhabitants are expected in the Mediterranean Basin; 390 million international tourists will visit the Mediterranean Sea; 330 km3 of freshwater will be mobilized every year for the human activities (source Plan Bleu).
  • Some regions in the Mediterranean lost 60 % of their natural wetlands during the 20th century:
    • Italy: of the 3 million hectares of wetlands existing at the time of the Romans, only 190 000 hectares remain today
    • Tunisia lost 28 % of their wetlands during the last 100 years
    • Spain lost 60 % of its natural wetland surface areas principally the last four decades

 

(1) Cf. Millenium Ecosystem Assessment : Ecosystems and human well-being : wetlands and water (synthesis)
(2) Cf. http://www.biodiversityhotspots.org/xp/hotspots/mediterranean/Pages/biodiversity.aspx