The Atlas Mountains in Morocco are among six 'priority areas' recently identified in the Mediterranean region. Photo: FrenchSelfCatering.com/Creative Commons
Home to forests, shrublands, wetlands, and alpine landscapes, the Taurus Mountains (Toros Dağları) in southern Turkey contain examples of almost all of the varied habitats found around the Mediterranean -- making the area a natural pick for a new plan designating six "priority areas" to protect in order to preserve the region's beauty and rich biodiversity.Last week, a group of conservationists and international donors united under the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund "unveiled a map of six areas on the Mediterranean rim aimed at guiding policy for preserving precious habitats and threatened species," Agence France-Presse reported. This first-ever international plan to save the Mediterranean Basin's biodiversity is, it added, "being supported by what is described as a first installment of $10 million to help biodiversity conservation over the next five years."
Places at Risk from Morocco to Syria
In addition to the Taurus Mountains, the list comprises the Atlas Mountains in Morocco; the Tell Atlas in Algeria and Tunisia; the Orontes Valley and Lebanon Mountains in Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey; the Cyrenaican Peninsula in Egypt and Libya; and lakes, mountains, and coastlines in the Southwest Balkans. Between them, the six areas cover millions of hectares of wetlands, desert, and mountains and are home to hundreds of endemic species, including Mediterranean monk seals, the critically endangered Egyptian tortoise, the last wild populations of Barbary macaque, and one of just three remaining breeding colonies of the bald ibis.
"The Mediterranean Basin's extraordinary place in human history and its role linking European, Middle Eastern, and North African cultures has been made possible by its incredible ecology -- from the abundance of its sea and the fertility of its lands to the rich variety of plants, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. This ecology is still crucial for the economic and social development of the Mediterranean," said CEPF grant director John Watkin.
Threats from Dams, Roads, and Tourism
But in a region home to nearly half a billion people and visited by more than 220 million tourists each year, these biological riches are endangered. The variety of threats they face include unsustainable tourism development, hunting and overfishing, agricultural expansion and overgrazing, dam construction, overexploitation of plants, road building, and unsustainable use of the region's limited fresh water resources.
The challenges are compounded by the Mediterranean region's complexity, according to Güven Eken of Turkey's Doğa Derneği (Nature Association), which led the work. "It covers 34 countries with numerous languages, alphabets, cultures, and religions," Eken said in a press release. "It is also seriously threatened, with only 5 percent of native habitat remaining.... Much damage has already been done, but finally we have a strategy that transcends national boundaries and can protect this incredible place."
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