Coastal Wetlands of Oristano, Sardinia, Italy. Photo: © MedWet/C. Amico

Island wetlands: 14,000 reasons for action

Since 2017, a coalition of conservation bodies – ‘MedIsWet’ – have been on a mission. It’s their aim to raise awareness of the particular importance of wetlands on Mediterranean islands, and drive regional efforts to save them.

So why are island wetlands special?

As MedIsWet point out, island wetlands provide invaluable services right across the basin. They store and purify the water island communities need to survive, and they produce fish, food, salt, reeds and other economic materials. They cool hot summer air. In terms of biodiversity, island wetlands provide unique habitats for endemic and endangered species, as well as hosting some of the most important sites for birds in the whole of the Mediterranean, both native and migratory. 

Even so, island wetlands are under even more strain than their mainland counterparts. Often only covering small areas – a pond here, a reedbed there, a stretch of saltmarsh – they’re particularly susceptible to an ever-growing range of pressures.

Invasive species can quickly overrun island wetland areas, ruining unique and complex habitats. Natural flows are disrupted by irrigation and drainage; while tourist development brings concrete and footfall to fragile and vulnerable wetland sites, threatening the future of the places that attracted the visitors in the first place. On some islands wetland areas have been forgotten completely, turned into dumps or parking lots, wasteland where you can burn rubbish or leave a caravan.

But on the islands of the Mediterranean, where water and resources are limited and the impacts of tourism and development are particularly heavy, we need healthy wetlands and their nature-based solutions more than ever.

Coastal Wetlands of Oristano, Sardinia, Italy. Photo: © MedWet/C. Amico

Island wetland restoration and conservation, on a basin-wide scale, is essential and overdue – and nobody expects the work to be easy. The first phase of the MedIsWet project was simply to find out the size of the job: a complete inventory of all the island wetlands in the Mediterranean revealed a total of more than 14,000 sites. Now, action is underway on the ground. MedIsWet is involved in a range of wetland projects on islands across the Mediterranean, driving the restoration of critical sites.

Coastal wetlands of Oristano (Sardinia). Photo: © MedWet/C.Amico

© Unica-CCB

In Sardinia, work has started in several sites located in the area of Cagliari. Good examples are the Santa Gila, Molentargius and the Lagoon of Nora, crucial for biodiversity and valuable economic resources, but currently threatened by invasive species, and several other human-related factors – scientists, students, fishers, environmental groups and authorities are all involved.


Ladys Mile. © Terra Cypria

Concerted efforts are being made in the Lady’s Mile area in Cyprus, to reduce the uncontrolled development currently causing severe and irreversible damage to sensitive sand dune and salt lake ecosystems, as well as threatening the thousands of migratory birds that use it every year.

Ladys Mile. © Terra Cypria

© E.Tankovic / Initiative PIM

In Corsica, work is underway at the famous Santa Giulia Lagoon to eradicate invasive species, remove waste and protect the area from encroaching development. A healthy wetland thriving with biodiversity will benefit tourists and locals alike.

© E.Tankovic / Initiative PIM

In Mallorca, the lagoon of Estany des Ponts underwent major transformation in the middle of the 20th century due to tourist development, but there is still great potential for enhancing its biodiversity and providing opportunities for a number of uses such as education, recreation, sports and ecotourism. The latter is important for the local economy since the site is very close to a large tourist area. Once restored, the area will form part of an ecological corridor between the two main protected wetlands in the north of the island. 

Estany des Ponts, Spain. © WWF Spain

Pollution and intense coastal urbanization are severely impacting Kerkennah (Tunisia) island’s landscape and wetlands. Currently, due to land conflicts, the only landfill in Kerkennah is closed and non-functional, and all municipal waste is deposited within the wetlands of the archipelago. MedIsWet are working for urgent change. 

In the Saline di Priolo, Sicily, the managing body LIPU has started the eradication of alien plant species. The area is surrounded by heavy industrial activities such as oil refining, but restoration efforts have been rewarded by the arrival of flamingos, making Saline di Priolo the only nesting site of the species in Sicily. 

Flamingos also feature in Turkey’s largest island wetland, Gökçeada Lagoon, where restoration efforts must strike a careful balance between ecological and economic sustainability – the popular camping and outdoor sport destination is also a feeding ground for 1,000 of the iconic birds.

In Croatia, the coastal lagoon of Malo Blato on the island of Pag is connected to the sea by a channel. Over the years, the channel was filled with rocks, sediment and organic deposits, which disrupted its function. Through MedIsWet, the channel has been restored to enhance its hydrodynamic functions, improving the ecological condition of the lagoon. The site is an important ornithological area, and is visited by many tourists.

Legal protection hasn’t prevented serious pressures and negative impacts on Maltese wetlands, which are particularly vulnerable due to their relatively small size. Nature Trust Malta has secured a management agreement to restore two sites, namely Il-Maghluq ta’ Marsaskala and Il-Ballut ta’ Marsaxlokk.  

MedIsWet is working elsewhere too, in all kinds of island wetlands from Greece to Sicily, getting stakeholders on side, building expert networks, sharing best practices, and raising public awareness of why wetlands matter and what we need to do to save them.

You can find out more about the work being done by MedIsWet on the PIM Initiative website.