The World Wildlife Fund warned of major ecological threats in several Mediterranean countries and called on the European Union to help avert an environmental crisis in the region.
The fund held a news conference last week, a few days before a meeting of EU foreign ministers to debate the MEDA II programs, the financial tool of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership.
The fund says the EU should tie its MEDA II programs to the respect for environmental norms.
It identified nine Mediterranean zones that could face major environmental hazards if measures are not taken.
The Mediterranean natural resources are under great pressures, said the WWF, which called on the EU foreign minister to make sustainable development a clear objective of MEDA II.
Morocco, the WWF said, is among the countries facing ecological risks as its Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts are sustaining excessive fishing, its water resources are suffering over-exploitation and its soil is facing degradation.
In July, the organization released results of a study highlighting the 13 most important areas in need of protection in the Mediterranean sea, and urged governments to commit to the protection and sustainable management of at least 10% of the surface of marine and coastal areas in the region over the next 10 years.
According to the WWF study, "Mediterranean Marine Gap Analysis," the three major threats to the Mediterranean sea as a whole, and in particular these 13 sites, are uncontrolled coastal construction, pollution from industries and intensive agriculture and oil spills, and over-fishing.
The 13 areas identified for urgent protection are: Alboran sea (Spain, Morocco, Algeria); Balearic Islands (Spain); Liguro-Provencal 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 Anatolya coast (Turkey); Cilician coast (Turkey) and Cyprus Island coast; Cyrenaica (Libya); Gulf of Sirte (Libya); Gulf of Gabes (Tunisia); Algerian-Tunisian coast (Algeria, Tunisia).
Within these areas, WWF has selected smaller sites for focusing its conservation efforts. Those sites are located in Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Monaco, Morocco, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey.
The organization urged governments to ensure the protection and efficient management of these sites and recommended the ban of coastal trawling from 0 to 50 meters in depth (where 80 percent of marine biodiversity is found) throughout the Mediterranean. It called for a ban on coastal construction in any of these 13 areas.
It also urged the enforcement of international pollution legislation across the board in the Mediterranean.
"The Mediterranean, the oldest cradle of European civilization, is also the region with the highest number of endemic species in the world, after tropical regions. These 13 areas should be absolutely protected if we want to save the Mediterranean's unique heritage," said Paolo Guglielmi, Marine Officer, WWF Mediterranean Program Office.
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