An overview on the evolution of wetlands in the Mediterranean region

The Mediterranean basin is a global biodiversity hotspot, and wetlands are an important, specific element in maintaining this status. The Mediterranean region is famous for the prestigious delta wetlands such as Doñana in Spain, the Camargue in France, and the Nile delta in Egypt, as well as for its large inland salt lakes (chotts and sebkhas in North Africa), oases, temporary ponds, and marshes. These depend to a large extent on a variable climate, which leads to large inter-annual fluctuations in ecosystem extent and functions.


A Mediterranean wetland. Photo: © A. Satta / MedWet


Through its two regional reports (Mediterranean Wetlands Outlooks 1 and 2; MWO1 and MWO2 respectively), the Mediterranean Wetlands Observatory (MWO) assessed the status and trends of the Mediterranean wetlands since 2010. These reports made wetlands one of the very few ecosystems that have been assessed at this scale. Being placed under the aegis of the MedWet Initiative of the Ramsar Convention, the ongoing monitoring work of the Observatory is supported by all the countries in the Mediterranean region, which are all members of MedWet. The latest wetland regional assessment (MWO2: 2018) was recently summarized in the last chapter of the book “WATER RESOURCES IN THE MEDITERRANEAN REGION”, edited by Mehrez Zribi, Luca Brocca, Yves Tramblay, and Francois Molle, published by Elsevier (


The lights are red! Our Mediterranean wetlands are under threat

The MWO1 and MWO2 reports demonstrated a continued trend of loss and degradation of Mediterranean wetlands. The loss of natural wetlands since 1970 amounts to 48%. In addition, the abundance of wetland-dependent species has declined by 15% between 1990 and 2013, with contrasting trends between taxonomic groups. Overall, 36% of them are threatened with extinction. The abundance of globally threatened, wetland-dependent species even declined by 46%.

In a sample of wetlands, urbanization increased by almost 300% and cultivated land by 42% between 1975 and 2005. Conversely, many artificial wetland habitats were created, and nearly two-thirds of them replaced natural wetlands. But despite the constant loss of natural wetlands, the area of inland surface water increased by almost 13% in the Mediterranean Basin during the last 30 years, which is partly explained by the rapid rise in dam construction in the region.

The pressure on freshwater resources continues to increase. Water consumption went up significantly during the 20th century, especially for irrigation, which today accounts for two-thirds of the regional consumption. The total quantity of freshwater discharged by all rivers into the Mediterranean each year has declined by about 45% during the 20th century, due both to climate change and to water abstraction by people. Although water quality in Mediterranean wetlands continues to degrade, some improvements were noted in Europe with regard to BOD, nitrates, phosphates, and ammonium. In North Africa and the Middle East, the trend is clearly toward the degradation of water quality in most wetlands.

With the number, surface area, and quality of Mediterranean wetlands decreasing, their capacity to provide ecosystem services has been declining rapidly in recent years. For instance, the region lost about 20% of the capacity of wetlands to regulate floods.

However, countries continue to commit to the protection of wetlands, and the number of sites designated under the Ramsar Convention continues to increase – although only 44% of these Ramsar Sites have a management plan presently being implemented.

There remains therefore a pressing need to raise awareness at all levels in the society, from the general public to decision-makers, about the reasons why Mediterranean wetlands need to be protected and sustainably managed.


More information :

Learn more about the status of Mediterranean wetlands and the key messages for decision-makers in the two reports:



Christian Perennou, Tour du Valat