Quebec 2000: address on the MedWet Initiative


quebec.gif (5458 bytes)Presentation to Millennium Wetland Event, Quebec, 10 August 2000

INTECOL Symposium 28: Wetlands and International Migratory Bird Programs at the Millennium

MedWet 2000: The Mediterranean Wetlands Initiative at the dawn of the 21st century

Dr Nick Davidson

Deputy Secretary General, Ramsar Convention Bureau, Rue Mauverney 28, 1196 Gland, Switzerland (e-mail:

This paper first summarises the development and progress of the Mediterranean Wetlands Initiative (MedWet) since its inception in 1971. It then briefly outlines the main flyway-scale intergovernmental agreement on waterbird conservation in the region, the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), and finally looks at the potential for synergy between the two initiatives in furthering wetland and waterbird conservation in the Mediterranean region.

The MedWet Initiative

MedWet is a coordination mechanism for wetland activities in the Mediterranean, designed to involve all major stakeholders. In 1999 it became a formal inter-regional structure for the implementation of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands (Resolution VII.20 of Ramsar’s COP7). The goal of MedWet is "to stop and reverse the loss and degradation of Mediterranean wetlands, as a contribution to the conservation of biodiversity and to sustainable development in the region."

MedWet owes its origins to an international conference organised by the International Waterfowl & Wetlands Research Bureau (IWRB) in Grado, Italy in February 1991 on the theme of "Managing Mediterranean Wetlands and their Birds for the Year 2000 and Beyond". An initial Strategy was prepared by the Grado conference and included the development of a hitherto lacking framework network, the MedWet Initiative, to take forwards the MedWet goal

Implementation has been largely through a series of national and multinational projects within this framework. MedWet1 (1992-1996), funded by the European Union and involving the five EU member states in the Mediterranean (France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain), began building the collaborative MedWet network and developed regional methods and tools in five key sectors – wetland inventories and monitoring; wetland management; training; public awareness; and use of scientific knowledge. As part of MedWet1 the Mediterranean Wetlands Strategy was developed by the eleven participating partners (Ramsar Convention, the EC, 5 EU-member states and 4 NGOs) after wide consultation in the region. MedWet1 culminated in a major Conference on Mediterranean wetlands (Venice, June 1996), at which the Mediterranean Wetland Strategy, based on the approaches of the first global Strategic Plan of the Ramsar Convention, was endorsed.

The eight general objectives of the Strategy address: achieving wide acceptance and implementation of Strategy; achieving wise use of Mediterranean wetlands; improving knowledge and awareness of wetland values and functions; reinforcing the capacity of institutions and organisations; ensuring effective management of all Mediterranean wetlands; conferring legal protection on major wetland sites; strengthening international co-operation and increased financial assistance; and strengthening collaboration among all involved, governmental and non-governmental, public and private sectors.

In the same year (1996), the Ramsar Convention, under whose guidance the MedWet Initiative was developed, established the Mediterranean Wetlands Committee (MedWet/Com). MedWet/Com meets annually and guides the strategic direction and implementation of the Initiative. Particularly significant is the achievement of Basin-wide political support for MedWet through comprehensive membership of the Committee, which includes representatives of 25 Mediterranean governments, the Palestinian Authority, the European Commission, intergovernmental conventions and UN agencies (Barcelona/UNEP; Council of Europe/Bern; Ramsar; UNDP), non-governmental organisations (BirdLife International, IUCN, Wetlands International, WWF International) and wetland centres: the Greek Biotope/Wetland Centre (EKBY), the Station Biologique de la Tour du Valat in France, and Sede para el Estudio de los Humedales Mediterraneos (SEHUMED) in Spain.

To facilitate implementation of the Initiative and its Strategy, a MedWet Team has also been established under the Ramsar Convention Bureau (the Convention’s secretariat). The Team comprises the MedWet Co-ordinator (a member of the Ramsar Bureau) and three MedWet units (EKBY, SEHUMED, and Tour du Valat), each in an existing research and conservation institute:. Discussion is underway concerning the establishment of a fourth MedWet unit in North Africa. Each unit has the responsibility for leading on behalf of MedWet on specific topics, and the key overall responsibility of the Team is in the development of new projects and activities for the implementation of the Strategy.

Further major multinational projects have followed, and others, ranging from local to multinational in scope, are under development. MedWet2 (1995-1998), like MedWet1 funded by the EU, extended the MedWet approach to five non-EU countries (Albania, Algeria, Croatia, Morocco, Tunisia) and introduced a new element to MedWet’s portfolio: the socio-economic aspects of wetlands and their impacts on management.

MedWetCoast (1999-2004) is addressing the conservation of wetlands and management of coastal zone sites in Albania, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and the Palestinian Authority, with $13.5 million funding from the Global Environment Facility and its French counterpart, FFEM. MedWet4 (1998-2000) has developed twinning of Mediterranean deltas in Egypt, France, Greece, Italy, Spain and Turkey.

Other projects in progress include MedWet5/Slovenia on salinas management, development and dissemination of the MWDatabase 2000 (see below) and further work on the MWDatabase as monitoring and cartographic tool.

As part of its role in providing assistance to Mediterranean countries in their wise use of wetlands, MedWet has developed a wide range of ‘tools’ and guidance, much of which has considerable broader relevance outside the Mediterranean region. This ‘toolkit’ covers: an inventory system including database and mapping protocols, wetland management, participation of local people, training and capacity building, information and public awareness, use of research results, application of a socio-economic approach. A handbook series Conservation of Mediterranean Wetlands, published by Tour du Valat for MedWet, now covers 10 topics: Characteristics of Mediterranean Wetlands, Functions and Values of Mediterranean Wetlands, Aquaculture in Lagoons & Marine Environments, Colonial Waterbird Nest Site Management, Wetlands and Water Resources, Aquatic Emergent Vegetation – Ecology and Management, Freshwater Fish Conservation, Temporary Marsh Vegetation - Ecology and Management, Salinas and Nature Conservation, and Wetlands and Hydrology.

A further important tool developed by the Initiative is the MedWet Inventory System. This includes five manuals, covering the inventory process, a habitat description system, mapping conventions, a database users’ guide and inventory datasheets. This work has also involved development, led by the Portuguese Institute for Nature Conservation (ICN), of the MedWet Inventory Database, a Windows-based version of which (MWD2000) has recently been released. Important features of the inventory system are its hierarchical structure (catchments, sites and habitats), which permits users to select data entry at different levels of scale and detail, its availability in multiple languages, and its flexible reporting routines that permit output of standard datasheets e.g. for Ramsar site designation or, for European Union countries, Natura 2000 sites. The methodology and database is becoming widely used both in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, and has been recognised by the Ramsar Convention as a model for use in national wetland inventories throughout the world.

Overall the MedWet Initiative has been recognised by the Ramsar Convention as providing a valuable model for regional implementation networks for wetland conservation and wise use, has achieved a great deal in its nine-year history to bring together the many countries and players in wetlands throughout the Mediterranean Basin – one of its strengths being that it is an inclusive initiative to which all can contribute. Part of its success lies in its initial priority of developing high-quality tools that could subsequently be applied widely.

There remain, however, many challenges if MedWet is to attain its goal. Future priorities for the MedWet Initiative include the strengthening of the MedWet collaboration network, establishing MedWet networks of regions, sites and national NGOs, increasing the active involvement of all countries in the region, increasing assistance funds for Mediterranean wetlands, addressing climate change, water and sustainable development issues, and increasing the involvement of local communities and stakeholders.

MedWet and the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA)

A further area of developing activity for which the MedWet Initiative is well-placed to contribute is flyway-scale migratory waterbird conservation action – not least because one of the MedWet Units, Tour du Valat, has long-term and widely recognised international expertise in waterbird conservation. The Ramsar Convention has a long-standing role in waterbird conservation, notably though the designation and management of many wetlands of international importance for waterbirds in the Mediterranean region as elsewhere in the world. In December 1999 an important new instrument for migratory waterbird conservation came into force under the aegis of the Bonn Convention on Migratory Species. This is the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA).

Amongst the 19 range states that have ratified the Agreement so far are seven (Jordan, Spain, Greece, France, Monaco, Egypt, Morocco) in the Mediterranean Basin, and all countries in the MedWet network lie within the Agreement area. The Mediterranean region straddles the middle of the waterbird flyways covered by the Agreement and many wetlands in the region are important breeding, wintering and migration staging sites for migratory waterbirds. A major implementation project, funded by UNEP-GEF on "Enhancing conservation of the critical network of wetlands required by migratory waterbirds on the African/Eurasian flyways", has begun. This is intended to provide demonstration of different aspects of AEWA implementation through site-based projects throughout the Agreement area, and in the Mediterranean region includes a Turkish demonstration project at Burdur Golu, focussing on local community participatory management.

The AEWA provides a comprehensive Action Plan and a range of Conservation Guidelines much of which is relevant for implementation of wetland wise use in the Mediterranean region. Guidelines currently cover single species Action Plans, tackling emergency situations, site inventories for migratory waterbirds, management of key sites for migratory waterbirds, sustainable harvest of migratory waterbirds, regulating trade in migratory waterbirds, development of ecotourism at wetlands, reducing crop damage, damage to fisheries, bird strikes and other forms of conflict between waterbirds and human activities, and a waterbird monitoring protocol.

Under a 1997 Memorandum of Understanding between the Ramsar and Bonn Conventions, both are working towards identification, designation and management of flyway-scale site networks for waterbirds. As part of this Memorandum, the Conventions have agreed to:

a) ensure that the networks of reserves for migratory species to be established under Bonn Convention Agreements include existing Ramsar sites; and

b) identify key wetlands of significance for migratory species which might be designated for the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance by Ramsar Contracting Parties.

To assist in this, waterbird flyway atlases are being prepared by Wetlands International for the AEWA. An Anatidae (ducks, geese and swans) atlas was published in 1997, and a wader atlas is nearing completion. Each identifies the range and distribution of each relevant biogeographic population, and identifies all known key sites for each population, many of which, including numerous wetlands in the Mediterranean region, appear to qualify for designation under Criterion 6 of Ramsar’s Strategic Framework and Guidelines for the future development of the List of Wetlands of International Importance, and some of which have already been designated by Ramsar Contracting Parties in the region. Such wetlands in the Mediterranean play a key role in the migration systems of many migratory waterbirds in the AEWA region.

The extensive MedWet toolkit, including the wetland inventory system, can be of considerable value to those responsible for implementing the Waterbird Agreement both in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. The development of within-country synergies and information exchange between those responsible for implementing each of these two initiatives within the Mediterranean region would assist all those working towards the MedWet goal of stopping and reversing the loss and degradation of Mediterranean wetlands.

 For further information about MedWet visit or see its regular newsletters. The book Mediterranean wetlands at the dawn of the 21st century was published in 1999 as a contribution to Ramsar’s 7th Conference of Contracting Parties and reviews MedWet’s first eight years of activities. The MedWet Inventory System manuals are available electronically on The MedWet Co-ordinator can be contacted on e-mail: . For further information about the African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement, visit The Agreement has recently established a permanent Secretariat in Bonn, Germany (e-mail: ).

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