International Symposium on Water and Wetlands in the Mediterranean: A successful exchange of ideas and expertise with a wide and multidisciplinary participation

Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Hasnaa, President of the Mohammed VI Foundation for Environmental Protection, opened the Symposium with a brilliant speech which set the stage for the rest of the event. Under the high patronage of His Majesty King Mohammed VI and the aegis of the Ramsar Convention, the International Symposium on Water and Wetlands in the Mediterranean ‘From Grado to Agadir: The next twenty years’ was held in Agadir, Morocco from 6 to 8 February 2012 with the participation of 263 participants from 29 Mediterranean countries and beyond. A large number of the participants came from Morocco, making this event important both at the local and international levels. The participants represented a wide range of disciplines and positions, from forestry to tourism experts to biodiversity specialists and from Ministries to wetland centers to international and national NGO’s, which contributed to the diversity of voices and ideas that made this Symposium special.

During the first day plenaries participants had the opportunity to watch a short video on the Mediterranean Wetlands Observatory, a presentation on Moroccan wetlands- by the High Commissariat for Water, Forests and Desertification Control of Morocco and an interactive historical review of the MedWet Initiative in its twenty year presence through a short review of its past, present and future- by a set of key MedWet figures, as well as a reference to current trends and perspectives for the future. A selection of students from Morocco and France presented their views on the future of Mediterranean wetlands, which introduced a short video on their involvement in the work of MedWet.

The Union for the Mediterranean gave an interesting presentation of the state of water resources in the region, Birdlife made a short presentation on the MedWet Inventory System and finally the Mediterranean Wetlands Observatory (MWO) launched its first technical report on the status and trends of Mediterranean wetlands . The MWO’s analysis focuses on twenty-five indicators relating to wetlands biodiversity, the ecological services they provide and the pressures they face. Based on these, the MWO produced a two-volume report: the first one is more technical and addressed to the scientific community, whereas the second aims to provide strategic and operational recommendations and prospects for action to decision makers and civil society stakeholders. Both were presented by the MWO coordinator Laurent Chazee and disseminated to the audience. The reports can be downloaded here.

The three day Symposium was divided into plenary sessions and thematic workshops which gave it an interesting and flexible flow. This combination allowed participants not only to listen and learn but also to express their opinions in smaller, more targeted groups. The thematic sessions were designed to touch on key aspects, threats of Mediterranean water-related ecosystems as well as challenges and perspectives of cooperation in the field of- water resource management, human pressures and wetland services, adaptation to climate change, values of wetland cultural services, sustainable use of wetland resources and wetland ecosystems biodiversity and its values-. They were framed by a keynote paper produced by the facilitating organisations and given flesh through the presentations of related hands-on projects both of which led to discussion between the diverse groups of participants. The smaller size of the workshops and the expertise of the facilitating organisations, particularly selected for their knowledge and involvement, led to interesting conclusions and a strategic approach to each theme.

Participants also had the opportunity to visit the Souss-Massa National Park, a Ramsar Site where they were warmly welcomed by the Park’s Authorities and local cooperatives that produce local honey, argan tree extracts and mussels. This National Park is also a Ramsar site of international importance for the conservation of many species including the threatened Northern Bald Ibis.

The last day of the Symposium included the presentation of the conclusions of the six thematic sessions. The output of the youth workshop, which was held in parallel with the Symposium was also presented along with a short video by the Moroccan students which elicited the enthusiasm of the participants.. A jury composed of the MedWet focal points from Algeria, Spain and Turkey awarded posters in three categories among the 37 contributors who provided an interesting source of information on hands-on projects. There was also a presentation of the Agadir Commitments, a set of projects and initiatives included for their added value towards the protection of water related ecosystems, to be monitored by the MedWet Initiative and the Agadir Guidelines which will form the concrete outputs of the Symposium.

The closing statements were given by Anada Tiega, Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention, Mohammed Endichi, Director of Nature Protection at the High Commissariat for Water, Forests and Desertification Control and Thymio Papayannis, President of the International Organising Committee. Together with the closing statement by Hayet Mesbah they provided a forward looking and inspiring message to all participants.