Culture and wetlands in the Mediterranean: Using cultural values for wetland restoration

MedWet and the Ramsar Culture Working Group continue to advocate for the contribution of cultural values in the wise use of wetlands. A new project currently implemented by Med-INA intends to test the potential of using cultural values in strengthening wetland restoration and management efforts in three pilot sites in Greece, Cyprus and Tunisia.

MedWet and the Ramsar Culture Working Group continue to advocate for the growing contribution of cultural values of wetland in the wise use of wetland resources, in the Mediterranean and beyond. A new project on “Culture in Mediterranean wetlands” implemented by The Mediterranean Institute for Nature and Anthropos (Med-INA) and funded by the MAVA Foundation, intends to test the potential of using cultural values in strengthening wetland restoration and management efforts. This innovative project, launched in early 2011, has selected three challenging, pilot sites in different regions of the Mediterranean to examine whether their cultural values can be enhanced and used to catalyse conservation initiatives. In addition, this project aims to apply the Ramsar guidance on culture and wetlands on these sites to evaluate its effectiveness and draw lessons.

The three selected sites, in Greece, Cyprus and Tunisia, present different issues and challenges as well as opportunities for demonstrating the significance of cultural values in wetland restoration and management. The Karla Lake, once an iconic wetland in central Greece, was drained in the 1960’s to gain land for agriculture, unfortunately with devastating results. A few years ago, the government tried to re-flood parts of the lake in an attempt to bring back the once rich biodiversity and vibrant culture, especially in the local fisheries. The project aims to enhance this restoration effort by emphasizing the cultural aspects of the site in order to catalyse conservation activities which will lead to the restoration of both the natural and the cultural values of the lake.

The Lacarna Salt Lakes in Cyprus, a Ramsar and Natura 2000 site, has been divided by the runways of the Cyprus Airport and has hence had its cultural and natural values compromised. The existence of the sacred Muslim site, the Umm Harram Tekke, on its shores demonstrates the important cultural value of this wetland. Establishing an exhibition at the airport terminal to raise awareness and attract visitors to the site, including the Tekke, has the potential to contribute to improving the conditions of the wetland and making its restoration viable.

Similarly, the Tunis Lakes in Tunisia, divided into North and South Lakes by a navigation canal built by the French in 1881, with the historic Fort Chikly situated on the isle of Chikly in the North Lake, requires an integrated approach to fully restore and preserve both the natural environment and the national monument. The once degraded and polluted lakes have been restored with proper drainage and the abandoned and deteriorated fort has also been renovated. The fort is ideally located to serve as an interpretation centre to promote the natural and cultural values of the site but the carrying capacity has to be assessed to protect this natural sanctuary for egrets, flamingos and other birds as well as the fragile isle of Chikly and the fort within.

During the recent missions by the Med-INA staff to the three selected sites, contacts with local stakeholders were developed to analyse the situation further and build up potential partnerships. Stefanos Dodouras and Irini Lyratzaki visited the Karla Lake and the Lacarna Lakes to assess the sites, while Nejib Benessaiah, the MedWet Coordinator and Thymio Papayannis, visited the Tunis Lakes and participated in several meetings of a working group set up to initiate a dialogue in order to establish an environmental and cultural Interpretation Centre at the Fort Chikly. The outcomes of these missions will be discussed further and on the basis of the information collected, a first draft of potential activities will be proposed for using culture to catalyse conservation action in each site.