© Andrea Bonetti / WWF Ελλάς

Wetlands are considered among the most important ecosystems, holding a significant share of the fauna, flora and habitats of the planet.  They are true oases of life, considering that 40% of the world’s species live and breed in wetlands! Nevertheless, wetlands are disappearing at alarming speed; more than 1/3 of the world’s wetlands have been lost since 1970 - three times the rate of forest loss. Estimates show that at least 64% of wetlands have been lost since 1900 and around 87% since 1700. In the Mediterranean Basin, wetlands decreased by 50% since the 70s! In parallel, during the last 50 years, wetland-dependent species populations have declined by 81%.

Greece’s diverse landscape and intense fragmentation make wetlands even more valuable and fragile,  especially the small ones that are scattered throughout the islands. These “oases” are  absolutely necessary for many flora and fauna species, some of which are endemic.

Wetlands are an extremely valuable natural asset of the islands and their people, as they act as a “water barrier” preventing the salinization of the aquifers, they  store and provide fresh water for irrigation and water supply, and protect the coastal area from erosion. Wetlands also offer protection against phenomena caused by climate change (floods, droughts), while they are a driver for sustainable growth.

And yet, both in Greece and in the Mediterranean, the importance of these ecological “diamonds” has been ignored  for years. Urban development, insufficiency of environmental protection mechanisms and ignorance of the competent authorities and citizens regarding the value of these ecosystems, have resulted in their degradation through land reclamation and filling, buildings and roads construction , and the restriction or deprivation of water that otherwise would have ended up to wetlands


For those reasons, WWF Greece has undertaken  the responsibility to document the state of Greece’s island wetlands and highlight their importance, thus promoting their legal protection. Through the research programme “Conservation of the Island Wetlands of Greece”, we discovered and documented more than 800 wetlands on 75 islands in the Aegean and the Ionian Archipelago. Moreover, we initiated a series of actions aiming at informing, educating, and raising awareness, preventing their degradation and promoting effective protection at national, regional and local level. Many of these actions were undertaken with the support of the Coca-Cola System in Greece (Coca-Cola Tria Epsilon and Coca-Cola Hellas), within the framework of the “Mission Water” environmental programme.

This systematic effort has been among the flagship projects of WWF Greece that lasted   for over a decade and was “embraced” by the MAVA Foundation, WWF Greece supporters and hundreds of volunteers. The result of the programme was the Presidential Decree signed in June 2012, which strictly protects 380 of our country’s small (<8 hectares) natural island wetlands.

This success has given us the inspiration and strength to step up and pursue a way to promote the protection of island wetlands throughout the Mediterranean! At first, a significant milestone was the resolution on the “Conservation of the island wetlands of the Mediterranean Basin” that was submitted by Greece and adopted unanimously in 2015 by the Member States of the Ramsar Convention. Following WWF Greece undertook to create and coordinate a network of 13 environmental organisations and research institutions in 9 Mediterranean. Having a big experience from the Greek island wetlands project, we visited Cyprus, Turkey, Croatia, Italy, France, Tunisia, Malta and Spain, sharing our vision and expertise. We work together to document all the island wetlands in the Mediterranean (>14,000), to create an inventory of the most important (>2,500) and to share all information through open databases, one per country.. Within this framework, dozens of actions have been implemented to raise awareness and promote the conservation of the Mediterranean island wetlands. In a time of crisis for the environment and the climate, in an area like the Mediterranean – which stands out globally for its rich biodiversity while also being among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change –  we are at the forefront of making a global vision come true: humanity living in harmony with nature.

© Δημήτρης Πουρσανίδης / WWF Ελλάς

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