Dania Abdul Malak is Director of the European Topic Centre at the University of Malaga (ETC-UMA), Spain. She has over 15 years’ experience in environmental assessment and management. Her research focuses on setting transferable guidelines to apply ecosystem-based management to nature conservation and biodiversity protection at regional scales, including the Mediterranean and Europe.
She responds to questions from the Tour du Valat concerning how mapping can help to restore Mediterranean wetlands.
1. What are the main challenges and gaps to achieve a harmonized and comprehensive knowledge data platform on Mediterranean wetland ecosystems?
The establishment of a Pan-Mediterranean harmonised wetland ecosystem knowledge base is a critical step in building an adequate understanding on the spatial extent, distribution, and condition of wetlands at a regional scale. Such an harmonised knowledge base can be an excellent decision and management support tool to guide evidence-based actions to sustain healthy wetland ecosystems in the Mediterranean.
In spite of various efforts in the last decade to improve the situation, there are still numerous knowledge gaps about Mediterranean wetlands distribution, their spatial extent and the condition of the biodiversity they host.
To overcome such challenges, there is a need to find effective ways of collaboration to fill the gaps, improve current baseline, build, maintain and enrich an region-wide knowledge base over time. To do so, there are different realities and levels of challenges in the Mediterranean, where:
- The Southern and Eastern Mediterranean still lack ways and means to achieve consolidated local and national inventories that are regularly updated and need proper funding to maintain monitoring systems in place. Agreements on open data and sharing policies to support regional efforts in collating and harmonising data and knowledge at the regional / Mediterranean scale are also a shortfall.
- On the other hand, the EU side of the Mediterranean has a more accessible knowledge base, but gaps remain in terms of harmonising terminologies and refining the mapping and monitoring processes, so that the results can be more comparable at a regional scale.
2. How can we address these challenges?
Collaboration between scientists and researchers on agreeing and using a common basis for the delineation, definition, and categorisation of wetland habitats to improve and update a regional knowledge base is essential; only so it can become a reference to guide management actions and evidence-based decisions in the region to ensure their adequate conservation.
Agreements on data sharing policies are essential to make sure that the best available data are used to develop a common knowledge base of wetland ecosystems in the Mediterranean.
Regular review of existing and newly developed knowledge at local and regional level is also needed; often data are already available, developed within local initiatives, but are not harmonised, widely shared, and distributed.
More targeted investment for coordinating mechanisms to ensure the development and update of national wetland inventories across the whole basin is key. Such a functional mechanism would reduce the big gap in key data/ knowledge availability between the North and Southern shores of the basin.
Incentivisation of collaborative actions between wetland managers, researchers, and national reporting structures across the basin to agree on common standards for harmonising reporting regularly in a coherent manner could ensure feeding such a knowledge base through time.
The keyword is in the end “collaboration to a common goal”, which is essential to improve the knowledge base so to become a reference to guide management actions and evidence-based decisions in the region.
3. How do you think such a knowledge data platform could help us to improve the management and restoration of Mediterranean wetlands?
The wetland ecosystem mapping is complemented by the assessment of wetland biodiversity conditions that aims to highlight priority areas for potential conservation and restoration actions in the region, and to support the regional efforts in advocating for effective wetland management and Nature-based Solutions in the Mediterranean.
Such a comprehensive and reliable knowledge base can enable the identification of priority areas to be conserved. Namely, such a knowledge base will help locate hotspots of freshwater endemism under threat and so direct conservation efforts on the region, and guide development aspirations in ways that aim to minimise impacts on wetland-dependent species and their habitats throughout the region.
The different typologies of wetland habitats identified and differentiated in this knowledge base enable the inclusion of all wetland types, natural and artificial, as well as degraded wetlands that have lost their ecological function. This knowledge on these wetland habitats, their biological sensitivity as well as their condition and the pressures they are subjected to, will fill a major bottleneck and is a milestone, in terms of an evidence base, to be integrated in existing and upcoming targeted restoration policies and wetland conservation management plans.
Forward-looking management plans need to be adaptable and develop a more comprehensive approach, including this knowledge data platform, to promote Mediterranean wetland conservation and their wise-use, building on hydro-ecological sensitivity and an ecosystem-based approach, and ensuring their integrity in broader management (sectoral and environmental policies), conservation, and protection schemes (environmental policies).
4. After the publication of the report “Mapping and assessment of the state of wetland ecosystems: a Mediterranean perspective” in 2022, how can the scientific community contribute to raising awareness among decision makers, and society in general, of the importance of preserving wetland ecosystems and the biodiversity they host?
Wetland ecosystems are vital to the livelihood and economies of the Mediterranean. However, their importance is often largely underestimated by society as well as decision makers, and they are often considered as muddy areas filled with mosquitos.
The success of conservation planning to guarantee an improved condition of wetlands needs to be guided by evidence and steered by local knowledge and the advice of local communities on the choices to be taken towards the sustainability and long-term use of these incredible natural resources.
There is a need for raising awareness about their importance building on the evidence generated with this recently published report that has been done collaboratively with key regional institutions and experts on wetlands including Tour du Valat.
The scientific community needs to consolidate bonds with local communities who know most about the importance of wetlands and seek their involvement in raising awareness about the need to conserve and sustainably use these areas.
Raising awareness to change this view, convincing, and promoting the sustainable use and management of wetlands is crucial for their future. Awareness raising among children and youth is often neglected but should be established at a large scale to increase acknowledgement of the importance of freshwater species, their habitat conservation, and their threats to reach the aim of stopping the degradation of Mediterranean ecosystems.
Finally, raising communities’ concerns about excessive resource extraction for an increasing population, the need for water in general in quantity and quality as vital ingredients for life and specifically the role of wetlands as weapon to fight climate change as carbon sinks does need lots of educational work at all levels, especially in the Mediterranean.