Despite their considerable biological and economic value, Mediterranean wetlands were long considered as hostile to humans, and were therefore “cleansed”, drained, and filled in over the centuries.
Their area has continuously decreased and they have been profoundly degraded, especially during the second half of the 20th century when they were often converted into agricultural, urban or industrial lands, or replaced by artificial wetlands.
Even today, most Mediterranean wetlands are still endangered by the intensification of agriculture – which requires great quantities of water and land, and releases organic pollutants – and water management infrastructure, climate change, and the introduction of new species.
50% of Mediterranean wetlands disappeared during the 20th century, and those that remain are often degraded or artificialized.
To give just a few examples in the Mediterranean region:
- 50% of French wetlands disappeared between 1960 and 1990;
- 73% of the marshes in northern Greece have been drained since 1973;
- 60% of the initial area of Spanish wetlands have been lost;
- 84% of the wetlands of the Medjerda river basin in Tunisia disappeared during the 20th century.
We had to wait until a generalised decline in the natural functions of Mediterranean wetlands was observed before all their economic, social, cultural, and environmental values finally started to be appreciated.
The Tour du Valat, together with other organisations, has triggered many initiatives for the conservation of wetlands, including international agreements, the MedWet Initiative, support for national policies, the creation of protected areas, as well as management and restoration, training, education, and awareness-raising programmes.