The Mediterranean Basin has a long history of land conservation. As early as 2,000 years ago, the Romans and Greeks set aside areas for the protection of natural resources. Nonetheless, today, protected areas still only cover 90,000 km² or 4.3 percent of the total land area, of which only 29,000 km² (1.4 percent) are in IUCN categories I to IV.
In recognition of the valuable, but extremely threatened, natural heritage of the Mediterranean Basin, most countries within the region are planning significant expansion of their protected area systems, especially in Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. However, widespread development and human land-use means that many of the new protected areas will be too small to adequately support animal populations. Many existing and proposed protected areas suffer from pollution and water shortages, problems that will only intensify as the human population increases in the Basin.
The establishment of biosphere reserves, which allow for the sustainable use of land and resources within reserve borders, has proved successful in areas where state authorities recognize their value. Achieving a balance between biodiversity conservation and human development is an important conservation strategy for the Mediterranean. Other important conservation efforts in the area include the European Union’s Habitats Directive (Natura 2000), which requires the Mediterranean countries of the European Union to identify the more important natural sites and to formulate conservation responses.
Regional cooperative programs are also an important factor for conservation in the Mediterranean Basin. One process that has established mechanisms for regional action on pollution control and conservation of the shared marine environment is the Mediterranean Action Plan, a cooperative effort established under the aegis of the United Nations in the mid-1970s, in response to the pollution-driven death of the Mediterranean Sea.
Future conservation efforts need to address population pressures on the land, especially in the coastal zone, issues of infrastructure impact and connectivity, and above all, how to maintain traditional rural livelihoods in a way that benefits biodiversity. This will require achieving sustainable levels of grazing, as well as forest and fire management.