The first ever comprehensive plan to preserve the unique and beautiful ecology of the Mediterranean Basin will be launched today at the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) in Paris.
The five-year plan, which will focus on delivering the biggest conservation impacts – including terrestrial impacts - by targeting resources carefully at the most threatened and biologically important areas, has been devised by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) - a partnership of the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), l'Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the Government of Japan, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Conservation International. The plan was also funded by the Mava Foundation and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. A first $10 million installment is available to support biodiversity conservation over the next 5 years.
With nearly half a billion people living around the Mediterranean Basin and more than 220 million tourists visiting the region each year, efforts to reduce pressures on the ecosystem are vital, and new approaches are needed to ensure that the region maintains the services and biodiversity that have supported civilization in the region for millennia.
Efforts to overcome unsustainable use of the region’s limited fresh water and to ensure that tourism brings economic benefits without “killing the goose that laid the golden egg” and destroying the ecosystems that made the Mediterranean such a magnet for vacations will be critical.
Gilles Kleitz, project manager at Agence Française de Développement (AFD) said: “The ecosystem of the Mediterranean Basin underpins the livelihoods of tens of millions of people in both the EU and outside, both directly through agriculture, tourism, fishing, forestry or any of the multitude of other industries that draw directly on the natural resources of the area, or indirectly by providing freshwater, pest control, pollination and other key services. Our legacy must be that this global biodiversity hotspot is maintained and restored so the people of the Mediterranean can continue to thrive.” The plan is built around a 251 page “ecosystem profile” which identifies key biodiversity areas, threats to them and identifies what is needed to solve them. It has been created with input from civil society groups in the areas where funding will be directed. CEPF will be issuing grants to organizations in these areas to undertake the actual work needed to deliver the conservation outcomes.
John Watkin, CEPF grant director who has overseen the project, said: “The Mediterranean Basin’s extraordinary place in human history and its role linking European, Middle Eastern and North African cultures has been made possible by its incredible ecology - from the abundance of its sea and the fertility of its lands to the rich variety of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates. This ecology is still crucial for the economic and social development of the Mediterranean, and CEPF has devised a plan to try to ensure that, for millennia to come, it continues to support human wellbeing.”
While the profile identifies more than 1567 Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) in both EU and non EU countries, funding will be directed toward non-EU countries which have less access to other sources of funding for biodiversity, and six specific areas have been defined as priorities where the greatest overall impact can be achieved with CEPF investment. Güven Eken of Doğa Derneği, the Turkish Nature Association, which led the development of the ecosystem profile for CEPF said: “It is hard to overstate the importance of the Mediterranean Basin from both an environmental and a social perspective. This biodiversity hotspot is the second largest and one of the most biodiverse in the world. But it is also hugely complicated to work in as it covers 34 countries with numerous different languages, alphabets, cultures and religions. It is also seriously threatened, with only five per cent of native habitat remaining, particularly damaging are coastal development for tourism and water extraction for agriculture. Much damage has already been done, but finally we have a strategy which transcends national boundaries and can protect this incredible place.”
The six priority areas identified by CEPF are:
- Cyrenaican Peninsula: (Egypt and Libya) 3,037,789 hectares (ha) of Mediterranean wetlands and desert, containing 11 Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), and home to more than 100 endemic plant species. It is also home to other important animals including the critically endangered Egyptian Tortoise Testudo kleinmanni. Key threats include: Unsustainable tourism development, conversion of coastal wetlands into housing areas, unsustainable traditional hunting practices, agricultural expansion, charcoal production to serve nearby urban areas, and road building.
- Mountains, Plateaus, and Wetlands of the Algerian Tell and Tunisia: (Algeria and Tunisia) This incredibly diverse area of 13,405,573ha contains 75 KBAs but less than 1 per cent is protected. It covers a wide range of gradients from the sea to cork oak forest to the mountains and is home to the last wild populations of Barbary macaque Macaca sylvanus – the Mediterranean’s only primate, the Barbary sheep Ammotragus lervia and the Serval Felis serval. Key threats are unsustainable tourism development and water pollution.
- The Atlas Mountains: (Morocco) This mountainous region of 12,812,888ha which contains 30KBAs is the source of the most important rivers in the Maghreb region. The vast array of unique species found here include 237 endemic flowering plants, the Atlas Cedar Cedrus atlantica, the Snub Nosed Viper (or Lataste’s Viper) Vipera latastei and the Critically Endangered Addax, or Screwhorn Antelope Addax nasomaculatus, which has been reintroduced to the region. It also contains one of only three remaining breeding colonies of the Bald Ibis Geronticus eremita. The biggest threats are overexploitation of plants – the area is particularly important for wild species of flowering bulbs, unsustainable water management, in particular damming for irrigation and water storage, agricultural intensification, and overgrazing causing soil erosion.
- The Orontes Valley and Lebanon Mountains: (Lebanon, Syria, Turkey) Covering 2,631,528ha and holding 40KBAs, this corridor hosts essential watersheds and habitats ranging from sea level up to snow-capped peaks of 3,000 meters. The corridor delivers nearly all of the water for the entire country of Lebanon and has significant inflows into neighboring Syria. It is home to 31 globally threatened species, and many endemic fish, lizards and snakes, including the Endangered Lebanon Viper Montivipera bornmuelleri. The Upper Akkar/Hermel region is distinct in its 21 percent forest cover of ancient trees and as the entry bottleneck for soaring bird migration from Europe. The main threats in this corridor are residential and urban development, illegal hunting, and agricultural intensification.
- The Southwest Balkans: (Albania, FYR Macedonia, Greece, Montenegro, Serbia) Over a region of 5,713,629 ha containing 42KBAs, the lakes, mountains and coastlines of the Southwest Balkans contain many of the last large undeveloped stretches of coastline in the European Mediterranean. This corridor hosts important freshwater systems, including Lake Ohrid – a world heritage site - and neighboring Lake Prespa. These sites contain an array of endemic species including the Endangered Albanian Water Frog Pelophylax shqipericus, Belvica Salmo ohridanus, the Ohrid Trout Salmo Letnica, and an array of endemic mollusks, crustacea and plants. However, hunting and overfishing and habitat destruction along the coast are taking a toll.
- The Taurus Mountains: (Turkey) This area, covering 11,724,896ha and 70KBAs contains examples of almost all of the Mediterranean’s varied habitats – from maquis and shrublands to forests, wetlands and alpine systems. The seas contain important seagrass meadows and populations of Mediterranean Monk Seal Monachus monachus and the mountains are home to the most intact remaining stands of Cedar of Lebanon Cedrus libani. Threats to this corridor include residential and commercial development for tourism, forests fires, dams, unsustainable water use, agriculture and aquaculture, and road building.