Together to protect Wetlands: The Mediterranean Alliance for Wetlands
Mediterranean wetlands and their inhabitants are facing major challenges due to climate change and the excessive use of resources. They are home to many unique species, especially plants (⅓ of the world’s diversity), and can protect people’s livelihoods from the risks posed by climate change, such as floods. Civil society organisations are more aware than ever of the important role that wetlands play and are seeking to gain prominence as key actors in ensuring their protection and proper management. For this reason, many NGOs alongside research organisations in the Mediterranean have organised and taken action together to protect wetlands.
The Mediterranean Alliance for Wetlands is a coalition of 32 civil societies (non-governmental) and scientific organisations from across the Mediterranean, operating under a cooperation agreement since 2017. Its main objective is to contribute to the effective protection of Mediterranean wetlands and the wise use of their resources, values and services.
The Mediterranean Alliance for Wetlands, initiated and supported by the Tour du Valat, has its own management system and retains its autonomy. The uniqueness of this alliance is that it establishes links between research institutions, international experts and local actors throughout the entire region to work and advocate for wetlands based on scientific research and the ground practices developed by the members.
In addition to supporting knowledge transfer in the form of capacity building programmes and the implementation of conservation projects through various initiatives, the Alliance has its own advocacy mechanism to protect wetlands under threat called “the Red Alert System”.
The Red Alert System
The Red Alert System is a protocol created to collectively listen and work with an NGO that needs the support of the international community to protect a Mediterranean wetland at risk. Unsustainable development (urban, tourism, agricultural and commercial) is the most common threat in the Mediterranean. Such projects usually have high economic importance, which makes it difficult for local NGOs to ask decision-makers to stop them.
Therefore, the actions pursued together with the Alliance and its internationally recognised members such as WWF, Birdlife partners, Wetlands International, Tour du Valat, and EuroNatur, among others, can positively influence the choices of decision makers and save these precious areas.
Protecting Divjaka-Karavasta National Park in Albania
A large and unsustainable tourism development project in Albania, known as “Divjakë Resort Albania”, was halted in the spring of 2020 (read the article on this subject). It would have allowed the construction of a tourism resort in the core area of Divjaka-Karavasta National Park, aiming to exploit 12 kilometres of coastline and bring up to 18,000 visitors per day.
Divjaka-Karavasta Lagoon is very rich in biodiversity and, since 1995, is proclaimed as a Wetland of International Importance according to the Ramsar labellisation. It is home to many waterbirds and harbours the only coastal breeding site of Dalmatian Pelicans (Pelecanus crispus). Their loss would be catastrophic for Mediterranean society.
At the end of 2019, the Mediterranean Wetlands Alliance sent a letter to the Government of Albania expressing its concerns about the reassessment of the country’s legislation in terms of the protection of national natural areas. Based on the information provided by the local NGO, the Albanian Ornithological Society, the Red Alert contributed to stop the tourism development and to continuing the respect of the protection status of the area.
Save Erimitis in Greece
Together with Erimitis Plous, a local Greek NGO, the Alliance mobilised its members to support the campaign “Save Erimitis” to protect the pristine wetlands of Corfu from a massive tourism development, through a Red Alert.
Within this coalition, a working team built by scientific experts, naturalists and managers gathered scientific information and built a strategy to share messages to warn the Greek Prime Minister and the different European environmental directives, Ramsar focal points, and local authorities of the importance of these wetlands.
According to the Mediterranean Alliance for Wetlands, “the construction of the Kassiopi Project would destroy one of the few unspoilt natural environments in Corfu, where there are three valuable wetlands protected by a Greek presidential decree, namely in Erimitis”.
The letter sent to Prime Minister Mitsotakis stresses that the protection of wetlands such as those in Erimitis requires the implementation of sustainable tourism and conservation management measures and Nature-based Solutions to reduce the effects of climate change, ensure clean water, food and human well-being, and to protect the environment.
According to the letter, “preliminary deforestation and land clearing has already begun at the site and heavy machinery has crossed the boundaries of Vromolimni, a protected wetland, to build a road along its shore”.
The Alliance therefore urges the Prime Minister to “urgently reconsider the project and implement appropriate conservation measures”, including designation of the area as a protected area, with permits only for activities that do not alter the ecological properties of the wetlands, such as hiking and nature observation.
Other threatened Wetlands
There are many other wetlands under threat in the Mediterranean, thus, the Alliance is trying to collect information on them in its new website. This platform is intended to help listen to the voices of Mediterranean citizens who want to signal potentially threatened wetlands. Do you know a wetland under threat that needs the support of the international community? If yes, do not hesitate to contact the Mediterranean Alliance for Wetlands: [email protected]