French and Greek MedWet Junior Experts: Collaboration to protect small coastal wetlands on the island of Aegina

The environmental class of the College d’Ile Rousse, Corsica visited Greece along with their teacher and headmaster, Martine Philibert and Jacqueline Rode, representatives of the Direction Régionale de l’Environnement, de l’Aménagement et du Logement (DREAL Corse) and of the Conseil d’Architecture, d’Urbanisme et d’Environnement de la Haute Corse (CAUE), from the 4th to the 8th May 2011. The Corsican delegation arrived in Athens and visited the Acropolis, the Vravrona wetland located in Attica, where they received a guided tour by the Greek Ornithological Society and the Turtle Sanctuary which is run by Archelon– a care centre for injured sea turtles. For more details on the program and visit, please read the report written by our Corsican partners.

On the second day, they went to the island of Aegina, located in proximity to Athens to meet and collaborate with a class of Greek students on ways to conserve small coastal wetlands in the Mediterranean, which was the main objective of their visit. This theme was selected because small coastal wetlands are highly threatened by human activities like pollution and land use change and are often regarded as useless, fallow land. The visit aimed not only to promote intra-Mediterranean collaboration among young people but also to demonstrate in an experiential way the services small coastal wetlands provide to nature and to humans alike. Indeed, their functions are numerous and their degradation has adverse effects on biodiversity, freshwater availability, fish stocks, flooding, just to name a few.

The students visited three small, coastal wetlands in Marathonas, Vlyhada and Vagia, on the island of Aegina, where they listened to various stakeholders talking about the problems, opportunities, values and functions of these threatened ecosystems. Among f the local experts and stakeholders were an NGO promoting ecotourism activities, a geologist, an ichthyologist, a forester, a resident who lives on one of the wetlands and a bird-watcher. After taking notes on worksheets developed by the MedWet Secretariat, the students took part in a workshop which aimed at the better understanding of the functions of these ecosystems but also to allow them identifying the actions that can be taken to protect them. During the field visits the students had noted the groups of people that were directly or indirectly involved with the wetlands. Based on their input they were divided into three groups which clustered the main stakeholders into larger categories. These categories were the direct users of wetland resources like farmers and fishermen, indirect users like hotel and restaurant owners, contractors and other professionals in the service sector and the civil society. The groups had to collectively answer a set of questions from the point of view of the stakeholder group they belonged to. Their conclusions from the group work were then presented to all other participants. At the end of the workshop, the students were asked to collaborate one more time and present their experience, impressions and conclusions to a representative of the Local Authorities of Aegina.

The students actively collaborated to come up with some very interesting suggestions for the conservation and wise use of small coastal wetlands. The local students and their French guests made the following suggestions, both general and specific for the sites they had visited together:

  • To create citizen associations that will protect the wetlands by organizing cleaning sessions, public awareness activities and inform the relevant authorities of actions that negatively affect the ecosystem.
  • To put signs explaining the flora and fauna as well as the functions of the wetlands for locals and tourists alike on the value of the wetlands.
  • To introduce paths which can be used for leisure and to better channel the visitors.
  • To promote eco-tourism activities so that the protection of these ecosystems will be to the financial advantage of the locals.
  • To have the Local Authorities take precautionary measures like enforcing planning laws to avoid illegal construction
  • To fine the residents/entrepreneurs that dump their wastewater in the wetland and to keep the wetlands clean so that they don’t negatively affect the local residents with bad odours and mosquitoes.
  • To ask the Local Authorities to clean the wetlands and remove sediments and obstacles to allow the natural flows and ecological functions.

The visit of the College d’Ile Rousse to Greece is a continuation of a process that started in the 10th meeting of the Mediterranean Wetlands Committee (MedWet/Com10) in Bastia Corsica last June. During the meeting, the same class of students gave an inspiring presentation to the Committee members on the role-playing game they had played in their class. It was a simulation of a real life scenario around the management of the Etang of Biguglia and the students had to take the role of a stakeholder for example a fisherman, a Mayor etc. In the MedWet/Com10 they presented their experience and the understanding they gained through it on environmental issues. As a result, MedWet decided to involve young people in its activities and to target them for wetland education. An improved version of the pilot Role Playing Game will be played by other Mediterranean countries and the students involved will join the participants of the Mediterranean Wetlands Symposium which will take place in Agadir, Morocco in February 2012. In this context, the visit to Greece was a preparatory activity in which the French students got the opportunity to collaborate and transfer to their Greek counterparts, their experience of the multi-stakeholder approach of wetland conservation and sustainable development.