Culture and Wetlands in the Mediterranean: an Evolving Story

This newly-published book is the result of a four-year research project (2007-2011) carried out by Med-INA, the Mediterranean Institute on Nature and Anthropos with the financial support of the MAVA Foundation.

The project concerned mainly the implementation in the Mediterranean Region of the Ramsar Guidance on Culture and Wetlands, disseminated in late 2008. Analysing various sectors of human activities and more than 20 wetland sites, the book investigates the benefits that can result from following the objectives and actions proposed by the Ramsar Guidance. In addition, it identifies areas in which the guidance provided needs to be strengthened or others that are not yet covered. These would be taken into ac-count in the updating of the Ramsar Guidance planned for 2012-2013.

Although this is a multi-author book, it follows a clear structure that echoes the Ramsar Guidance. Thus, the Introduction and Chapter 1 set the background of efforts to incorporate culture in wetland management and provide general guidance. Chapter 2 deals with human habitation related to wetlands, and more specifically archaeological sites and historic buildings, as well as cultural landscapes. Chapter 3 examines the primary uses of wetland resources and in particular agriculture and stockbreeding, fishing and aquaculture, hunting, salt extraction and the use of water. The secondary uses of wetland resources are dealt in Chapter 4 and concern food processing, craftsmanship, traditional building construction, tourism, leisure and sports as well as festivals, celebrations and events. Chapter 5 examines knowledge, belief systems and social practices and specifically scientific research and education, traditional knowledge, spirituality and belief systems in the North and South of the Basin, and aesthetics and artistic expression. Finally, Chapter 6 includes the lessons learned and the perspectives for the use of new knowledge and international support for a more integrated future.

Each chapter and section of the book is introduced by the two editors, maintaining the continuity and clarity of the publication. Thymio Papayannis, director of Med-INA, is coordinator of the Ramsar Culture Working Group, and author of two other related publications. Dave Pritchard was recipient of the Ramsar Award in 2008. Both have been responsible for the preparation of the Ramsar Guidance.

The 32 authors from 16 countries that have contributed to the book have not been selected mainly on their expertise on cultural matters. Most are wetland experts from very many disciplines that through meetings and intense collaboration in the context of the Med-INA project have been sensitised to the integrated approach to heritage, both natural and cultural, and have been willing to introduce this new concept of culture in their wetland work. Thus, the writing and editing of the book has been an educational experience that may contribute to a holistic approach to wetland management and to the wise use of wetland values and services

In parallel with the completion of the book, Med-INA has started a new project in 2010 –also supported by the MAVA Foundation and MedWet– on the potential use of cultural values in catalysing and strengthening wetland restoration efforts, through better pub-lic sensitisation and attraction of visitors. Three major, but degraded, Mediterranean sites have been selected on which this innovative approach is being tested. They include Karla Lake, in Central Greece, drained in the 1960s for agricultural production; Larnaca Lagoon in Cyprus, bisected by an international airport but adjacent to Hala Sultan Tekke, a major Moslem religious site; and the Bay of Tunis, a large wetland being choked by the expansion of the city with a great restoration potential.

The longer term goal of all these efforts is the development of an integrated methodology that will ensure not only the conservation of wetlands but the sustainable use of their resources and the preservation of their services and values to humanity in a sensitive region.

Papayannis, T. and Pritchard, D. (eds) 2011, Culture and Wetlands in the Mediterranean: an Evolving Story, Athens: Med-INA (438 pages)