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Culture and Wetlands

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Despite their natural and cultural significance, Mediterranean wetlands continue to be degraded and destroyed. Since its founding in 2003, the Mediterranean Institute for Nature and Anthropos (MedINA) has emphasised the essential role that culture plays in an integrated approach to sustainable wetland management and preservation. As cultural values help define the character and identity of any given region, they have the potential to re-connect people to particular places and ecosystems, and to strengthen the links between wetlands and their conservation.

Working within the framework of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and its MedWet regional initiative, MedINA strives to incorporate cultural values in the management of wetlands throughout its work. Until now this has been achieved primarily through two projects funded by the MAVA Foundation. As the organisation’s director is the coordinator of the Ramsar Culture Working Group, MedINA has also contributed to the publication ‘Culture and wetlands: A Ramsar guidance document.’

PROJECT: Re-launching the MedWet Culture Network (ongoing)

In 2015 the Mediterranean Wetlands Initiative (MedWet) tasked MedINA to re-launch the MedWet Culture Network. The objectives of the network, as agreed by the MedWet Steering Group in 2009 are to spread awareness of the cultural values of Mediterranean wetlands among   managers, decision makers, experts and the public,  to monitor developments relating to culture and wetlands around the Mediterranean, to provide a means for sharing information, to give advice and provide guidance and to assist in the implementation of Ramsar Guidance on Culture and Wetlands and other initiatives related to culture in order to encourage cooperation among relevant institutions, wetland sites and experts.

In order to achieve these objectives, MedINA is responsible for re-launching the MedWet Culture Network and servicing its members with information, monitoring the developments related to culture and wetlands across the Mediterranean region and developing a draft action plan on the cultural dimensions of wetland management. In April 2016 the MedWet Culture Network website, created and managed by MedINA, was launched and the inscription of new members into the Network began. The enrichment of the website with new case studies and relevant information as well as promoting Mediterranean wide membership into the Network is an ongoing task that will be enhanced through the dissemination of newsletters and other awareness raising tasks. For more information on culture and wetlands in the Mediterranean as well as the MedWet Culture Network please visit the website.


Project ‘Culture and wetlands in the Mediterranean: using cultural values for wetland restoration’ (2011-2013)

REPORT: CONTRIBUTION OF CULTURAL SERVICES TO WETLAND RESTORATION

Launched in 2011, this project aims to strengthen restoration efforts in specific wetlands - one each from the south, east and north Mediterranean - by focusing on local cultural values, along with applying and refining the relevant parts of the Ramsar guidance on culture and wetlands to the sites. 

Three major, yet degraded, Mediterranean wetlands were selected for the project - Lake Karla in central Greece, Larnaka Salt Lakes in Cyprus and Lake Tunis in Tunisia - to demonstrate how cultural values can contribute directly to the effectiveness of nature conservation. The work on these sites, including the establishment of partnerships in each of the areas to harness cultural traditions in the restoration of the respective wetlands, is being carried out in collaboration with the MedWet Initiative and local stakeholders. Through having local partners, the sites will continue to be monitored after the completion of the project, thereby contributing to their future sustainability. 

Work in the pilot sites

Lake Karla

Until it was destroyed in the 1960s, Lake Karla was one of Greece’s most important wetlands. The lake’s rich biodiversity and vibrant fishing culture was lost, however, when the water was drained for agricultural land. While restoration work is currently under way, it has so far not delivered the hoped for results. To help improve the situation this MedINA project takes an integrated approach, through activities which include carrying out an inventory of the area’s natural and cultural heritage, making this knowledge widely available through a website and a printed walking guide, and by introducing the cultural aspects of the Lake Karla region to the international SIGMA management project, guaranteeing their incorporation in the project’s final proposals. These various activities aim to ensure the involvement and participation of local stakeholders while at the same time raising awareness and attracting visitors to the area, thereby stimulating the local economy. Watch video from Lake Karla. 

Larnaka Salt Lakes

The Larnaka Salt Lakes were once an important ancient port and a significant Mediterranean salina during the Middle Ages, while on the shore of the wetland stands the Hala Sultan Tekke, one of the world’s holiest Muslim sites. The project aims to make use of the Larnaka marina and the international airport which was unfortunately built in the wetland to encourage visitors to experience the rich cultural and natural heritage of this Ramsar and Nature 2000 site where pink flamingos and thousands of migratory birds spend part of each year, thereby creating a stronger motive for the conservation of both. Included among the many ways in which the project intends to stimulate visitor interest are exhibitions, walking tours and educational activities, as well as creating the incentive for the construction of a major visitor centre. Working together with local partners such as the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, the Ministry of the Environment and Larnaka Municipality, MedINA is coordinating activities aimed at preserving this historic and important wetland. Watch video from the Larnaka Salt Lakes.

Lake Tunis

An important sanctuary for many bird species, Lake Tunis became a largely devastated wetland a few decades ago, its rich natural and cultural heritage lost because of urban pressures and severe pollution. While the pollution has been controlled within the framework of a greater urban regeneration project, the site is nonetheless still under considerable threat, particularly as the city of Tunis is built on its shores and the site is a major tourism destination. Plans had been in place to use the Fort of Chikly, a restored national heritage monument, as an ecological and cultural interpretation centre, but they have recently been postponed. Nevertheless, Med-INA is preparing a study of the carrying capacity of the area around the natural reserve of the isle of Chikly in an attempt to evaluate the number of visitors the site can receive which can act as a guideline for the management of visitors throughout the lagoon. Additionally, MedINA is organising a workshop in the city of Tunis, where experience gained from all three sites will be exchanged alongside the evaluation of the role tourism plays in relation to wetland restoration activities. Watch video from Lake Tunis.


Future steps

The proposed activities are innovative steps towards an integrated approach to wetland management that fulfil the project requirements in terms of research, stakeholders’ participation and the introduction of new “players” onto the scene. In the long term, such activities may contribute directly or indirectly to developing opportunities for quality tourism, an enrichment of the area's biodiversity and landscapes, environmental education programmes, and the strengthening of the region’s values and image, along with encouraging investment and local economic activity.


Project ‘Cultural aspects of Mediterranean wetlands’ (2007-2011)

Running from 2007-2011, the project analysed 21 Mediterranean sites, with the aim of understanding and documenting the cultural practices and values of each region, and strengthening the links between residents and visitors to those areas. The project’s intended objectives included the widespread sharing of information and knowledge regarding cultural activities in the wetland sites, monitoring the development of these practices and the integration of both natural and cultural values in conservation management plans.

To achieve the project’s objectives, Med-INA planned the following:
a. To make the knowledge of cultural practices documented at the various sites widely available.
b. To follow up and analyse further developments in the selected wetlands.
c. To organise a Pan-Mediterranean workshop concerning the incorporation of cultural aspects into the management of wetlands and the editing of its proceedings.
d. To establish an interactive website on Mediterranean wetlands and their cultural values.

As well as resulting in a number of important publications, including Action for Culture in Mediterranean Wetlands and Un patrimoine à préserver, les zones humides méditerranéennes in book and CD-ROM form, and the book Culture and wetlands in the Mediterranean: an evolving story, the project has successfully achieved the following:

- The on-going cooperation of scientists and organisations – including Ramsar, IUCN, MedWet and the Society for the Protection of Prespa, amongst others - through a network established during the project and maintained after its completion.
- The increased awareness of cultural values as being integral to Mediterranean wetlands through the publication of a CD-ROM and three books, which stemmed directly from work being carried out at specific sites and the lessons learned through it.
- Transboundary collaboration and cooperation between Mediterranean countries on cultural issues related to wetland management.
- Contributing to the implementation at major Mediterranean sites of Resolutions VII.19 and VIII.21 of the Ramsar Convention which concern the inclusion of cultural values in the management of wetlands.


More specifically, the progress of the project included the following:

1. Publication of the book ‘Action for culture in Mediterranean wetlands’

During the first few months, the main activity of the project has been the publication of the book entitled Action for culture in Mediterranean wetlands. read more

2. Research and monitoring activities

Besides an update on recent developments in selected sites, which concern not only conservation matters but also cultural aspects, this phase of the project focused on the nature of cultural activities identified in each site and their contribution to the sustainable management of wetlands. read more

3. Pan-Mediterranean Workshop

The workshop with the theme Towards an integrated approach to wetland cultural and natural aspects was held in the Greek side of Prespa on 23-27 September 2009. It was organised by Med-INA, with the participation of the MedWet Culture Network and the support of the Prespa Centre for Nature and Anthropos (SPP/PCNA). read more

CD-RΟΜ publication

After the Prespa Workshop, MedINA produced an interactive CD-ROM, disseminated in the beginning of 2010 which includes:

-   an introduction on the drivers of change and on the project itself;

-   a brief update on the pilot sites, extracted from the workshop contributions (abstracts and PowerPoint presentations);

-   a photographic gallery, from selected sites.

4. Final publication

MedINA has viewed the activities of the project as an educational and sensitisation process. This has been a key consideration in the preparation of the three publications of the project. This publication has been a training exercise for people involved with wetlands, and more particularly in the implementation of the Ramsar guidance on Culture and Wetlands. read more

5. Other related activities

Other related activities included the following:

-   Ramsar COP10. Med-INA has participated in Ramsar COP10, including contributions to two side events on the cultural aspects of wetlands, i.e. Wetlands International – Japan: Cultural aspects of Asian wetlands and Ramsar Culture Working Group: Culture and wetlands.

-   MedWet Culture Working Group. Med-INA played a key role in re-establishing the MedWet Culture Working Group in the form of a Culture Network. read more


Mediterranean wetland sites



01. Albufera de Valencia – Spain

02. Burullus Lake – Egypt

03. Butrint – Albania

04. Camargue – France

05. Castro Marim – Portugal

06. Doñana National Park – Marismas de Doñana, Spain

07. Evros / Meriç / Maritsa Delta – Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey

08. Ghar el Melh Lake - Bohayrit Al Milih, Tunisia

09. Hutovo Blato – Bosnia and Herzegovina

10. Kizoren Obrugu – Turkey

11. Kune-Vain Lagoon – Albania

12. Kus Golu Lake – Turkey

13. Narta Lagoon – Albania

14. Neretva Delta – Croatia

15. Orbetello Lagoon – Italy

16. Prespa Lakes - Albania, FYROM, Greece

17. Santo André Lagoon – Lagoa de Santo André, Portugal

18. Secovlije soline – Slovenia

19. Skocjan Jame – Skocjian Caves, Slovenia

20. Tamentit and Sid Ahmed Timmi Oases – Algeria

21. Zaranik protected area – Egypt