I am in Paris today at the extremely chic offices of l’Agence Française de Développement (AFD), attending the launch of a pan-Mediterranean conservation strategy for the Mediterranean Basin. This launch is a celebration of almost two years of hard work pulling together over 90 organizations and thousands of data points on threatened species and the sites and landscapes that support them that surround the Mediterranean Sea and extend into the Atlantic. The result is the first ever comprehensive plan to preserve the remaining natural ecosystems that comprise the latest biodiversity hotspot to receive funds from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) .
The team that undertook this massive process reads like a “who’s who” of conservation in the region but was spearheaded by Doğa Derneği—the Turkish Nature Association—with eleven core organizations including Conservation International (CI), BirdLife International and regional partners.
Such a team was necessary to encompass the vast geography that stretches west to east from Portugal to Jordan and north to south from northern Italy to Cape Verde, covering more than 2 million square kilometers (770,000 square miles) and home to nearly half a billion people. The region’s 30,000 plant species represent 10 percent of the world’s flora, despite the fact that only 5 percent of their natural habitat remains. The natural wealth is matched only by the Mediterranean Basin’s extraordinary place in human history—linking European, Middle Eastern and North African cultures as a result of the abundance of its sea, the fertility of its lands and its rich variety of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates.
The combination of its rich cultural—and exceptional natural—beauty has made the Mediterranean the most visited region in the world, receiving over 220 million tourists a year, yet demand for luxury accommodations, cruise ships and fresh water for resorts, golf courses and other facilities has already placed a massive strain on the freshwater systems. However, tourism and associated industries may well hold the key to improving the current situation.
Through the efforts of CEPF—a joint initiative of AFD, CI, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the government of Japan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank—a team of local and international organizations is spearheading this effort to assess threats throughout the Mediterranean Basin and to develop a regional strategy to address them.
CEPF is unique among funding mechanisms in that it focuses on high-priority biological areas rather than political boundaries and examines conservation threats on a landscape scale. The development of this comprehensive profile of the region’s ecosystems and the CEPF investment strategy was made possible by extensive consultation with stakeholders, who helped to identify six priority areas within the region (see maps):
- Cyrenaican Peninsula (Egypt and Libya)
- Mountains, Plateaus, and Wetlands of the Algerian Tell and Tunisia (Algeria and Tunisia)
- The Atlas Mountains (Morocco)
- The Orontes Valley and Lebanon Mountains (Lebanon, Syria, Turkey)
- The Southwest Balkans (Albania, FYR Macedonia, Greece, Montenegro, Serbia)
- The Taurus Mountains (Turkey)
As we and our partner organizations begin to implement these proposed conservation strategies in the Mediterranean Basin, I know we are embarking on a critical step toward ensuring the future vitality of this natural treasure.
Still, as this is also Paris Fashion Week, I feel a little underdressed, even wearing a suit, which—for a former field biologist—is a sight as rare as rocking horse droppings. Go figure.
John Watkin is the grant director overseeing CEPF’s efforts in the Mediterranean Basin. Learn more about the project at CEPF.net.