Conservationists say increase in Mediterranean tourism threatens to degrade region.

As the world’s largest travel fair was underway promoting the region, WWF warned that a predicted increase from 220 million to 350 million tourists in 20 years time could lead to uncontrolled development of the entire Mediterranean basin.

The WWF issued its warning on 1 March, the same day as the ITB, the world’s biggest travel trade fair, kicked of in Berlin. The organisation says that the projected increase in tourism will degrade the unique natural and cultural wealth of the region and said that a new form of tourism must be introduced in the Mediterranean to ensure that the decline of nature is halted and reversed.

It urges the tourism industry, from tour operators to local decision-makers, to commit to responsible tourism development in the region, which at a minimum, means adequate protection of the 13 key areas which it identifies as very important for biodiversity, with no development in the most critical places within these areas and beneficial development to local communities. According to WWF, many of the 13 areas could lose species by 2020.

The NGO says that in 2005 France, Italy and Spain will see a continued increase in tourism pressure while countries such as Morocco, Tunisia, Greece, Turkey and Croatia will experience a massive surge of new tourism development. Currently, mass tourism is one of the main drivers of coastal and marine degradation in the Mediterranean. It leads to soil erosion, increased pollution discharges into the sea, natural habitat loss, increased pressure on endangered species and heightened vulnerability to forest fires, as well as putting a strain on water resources, an already thorny issue in the Mediterranean (for instance, an average Spanish dweller uses 250 litres of water per day while the average tourist uses up to 880 litres). It also often leads to cultural disruption and deterioration of attractive landscapes,

through inappropriate development practices, which has damaged some once pristine locations have been damaged, sometimes beyond repair.

“The tourism industry has to reduce its impact on nature, if we want to save the Mediterranean’s unique heritage,” said Peter DeBrine, Tourism Officer at WWF’s Mediterranean Programme Office. “By wrecking the valuable environment on which it depends, the tourism industry will be the ultimate loser. The Mediterranean is the leading tourist destination in the world, it is also one of the most important regions for its outstanding biodiversity and cultural features. Trends shown in WWF’s analysis suggest that the impacts will be devastating and irreversible.

The 13 key marine and coastal areas identified by WWF as very important to biodiversity are: Alboran sea (Spain, Morocco, Algeria); Balearic Islands (Spain); Liguro-Provençal coast (France, Italy, Monaco); Corso-Sardinian coast (France, Italy); Southern Tyrrhenian coast (Italy); Dalmatian coast (Croatia); Eastern Ionian coast and islands (Albania, Greece); Aegean sea (Greece, Turkey) and South Western Anatolian coast (Turkey); Cilician coast (Turkey) and Cyprus coast; Cyrenaica (Libya); Gulf of Sirte (Libya); Gulf of Gabes (Tunisia) and the Algero-Tunisian coast (Algeria, Tunisia).

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