Handbook for Coastal Wetlands Governance

Pilot areas
Coastal wetlands managers, local authorities, Marine Protected Area (MPA) managers, public authorities, wetland managers
Adaptive governance, environmental contract, management, Marine Protected Area, MPA, MPA managemen, Ramsar


Despite national and international efforts, wetlands’ loss and degradation are increasing at a rapid rate and their biodiversity is highly threatened. This is particularly true for the Mediterranean where there is an increased demand for land and waters, and where climate change impacts on human well-being and future generations are already evident. Good, effective and equitable governance must be in place to support the protection and sustainable use of wetlands ecosystems. However, user-friendly tools to help deliver better site governance are missing, and the political, economic, cultural and natural environment climate constantly changes.

Aim of the tool

This Handbook aims to improve coastal wetland governance in the Mediterranean, irrespective of their status: i.e. whether they are formally protected as Ramsar sites, designated under national or local legislation, or lacking any formal protection.

Main objectives

The specific objective of this practical handbook is to provide clear guidance on how to achieve the elusive common vision for sustainable coastal wetlands, as well as how to move forward effectively in partnerships.


Technological infrastructure

Generally, no particular technological requirements are required to design and implement the governance models presented.


During the creation of the preliminary plan to establish governance models, the time and training required by partners, staff, and key stakeholders can be identified in a participatory manner.


Governance models need to secure adequate core funding to support the long-term implementation of planned activities. International donors have proved to be fundamental to ‘kick start’ transboundary cooperation, but its continuation beyond the initial funding period depends on the robustness of the institutions created, the long-term resources and political commitment.

A preliminary identification of key potential funding sources for subsequent implementation is essential. The identification of potential major funding sources will help create favourable preconditions for the delivery of a plan or programme for the wetland by linking them with the results of the scenarios and vision.



This Handbook proposes a simple, universally applicable roadmap, which allows to measure, shape, and report progress over time in a creative and innovative way. The process described can be used to test and review existing arrangements or to design new ones. The Handbook can be used as a quick, self-assessment tool by a site management team for training or reporting, or by anyone tasked with the care and management of these vital sites, whether on the ground or at government level. It is best used therefore as part of a wider process involving stakeholders looking to achieve effective, fit-for-purpose governance of Mediterranean coastal wetlands for which they have an important duty of care.

The Handbook proposes a three-stage process designed to build effective and robust governance arrangements, which can include:

  • Self- assessment, prioritising and planning, through linked excel files,
  • Training of partners, staff and key stakeholders,
  • Reporting on progress,
  • Building a shared vision,
  • Compare alternative ways forward,
  • Developing best practice.

An innovative ‘Vitality and Adaptivity Scorecard’ is also provided for those seeking to address and measure more challenging dimensions of governance. Practical tips to make governance effective are provided based on the real-world experiences, helping users design the way forward for the governance of their wetlands.

Pilot areas

The four Mediterranean wetlands that have provided valuable insights and reflections for the preparation of this Handbook are the Oristano Gulf (Italy), Char El Melh Lagoon (Tunisia), Delta of the Buna Bojana (Albania & Montenegro), and Prespa Lakes (Albania, Greece & North Macedonia).

Recommended timeline of implementation

This Handbook provides a self-build governance process comprising of 3-stages:

  1. Preparation – Identification of the broad foundations of a governance body for coastal wetlands in the Mediterranean.
  2. Mapping and planning – Tools based on the common methodology of self-assessment traffic lights to assess progress.
  3. Towards excellence – A scorecard to measure that elusive adaptive and vital governance, which responds to evolving conditions in the ecosystems of the site and its wider cultural context.

While the duration of stage one may vary depending on local conditions, stages two and three at their simplest, can be substantially completed in one to two days, or slightly longer if wider consultation is undertaken. Subsequent repeat exercises may be a little quicker.


The preparation stage is arguably the most difficult unless national legislation or precedents are available for an off-the-shelf solution. Political and community soundings will be required to establish the limits of the possible – and the ‘I wouldn’t start from here’ response is to be expected. In particular, the challenge is to design a governance body whose size allows it to operate efficiently yet encompasses all those with a legitimate interest in the governance of the area.

For example, the application of the Wetlands Contract to transboundary areas may be challenging as these typically involve and affect many parties. Often there are multiple legal systems at play, which may confer different sets of rights and obligations upon institutions and individuals.

Governance structures should be as robust as possible and should not be abolished or lose their mandates by eventual changes in government, in partners’ participation, or through leadership replacement.


Quantitative results

Regardless of the model used, it is expected that each structure creates, as a minimum, a foundation document that may be referred to as a locally appropriate ‘Constitution’ or ‘Terms of Reference. ’ It should set out a vision, goals and objectives; establish the decision‐making process; confirm the commitment of partners and define their responsibilities; and detail functional aspects of the model (e.g. frequency of meetings).

It is expected that the governance models contribute towards meeting international and national legal obligations and responsibilities for the protection of wetlands, which is to ensure that there is a shared, common vision at all levels of society, along with a mechanism to secure the future sustainability and resilience of coastal wetlands.

Key deliverables

Knowledge and know-how

Transfer potential

This Handbook is designed for use across the whole Mediterranean. Adaptation to local circumstances may be necessary by adding to or qualifying relevant questions. Its application is particularly important and necessary for wetlands that are not currently protected by international conventions or national legal systems.

Moreover, although primarily targeted at wetlands in the Mediterranean, the methodology set out in the Handbook transcends this habitat and is transferable to the governance of other important natural sites around the world.

Pilot areas

Char El Melh Lagoon (Tunisia), Delta of the Buna Bojana (Albania & Montenegro), Oristano Gulf (Italy), Prespa Lakes (Albania, Greece & North Macedonia)


  • The Mediterranean region has been identified as one of the 34 world hotspots for biological diversity. Mediterranean wetlands have a disproportionate importance for biodiversity: 30% of vertebrate species in the Mediterranean are supported by wetlands. At the same time, 51% of wetland habitats may have been lost between 1970 and 2013.


  • Mediterranean wetlands, particularly coastal wetlands, are important for helping to mitigate climate change as they help to manage extreme weather events through buffering floods and coastal storm-surges and providing water in droughts.

For further information

The Handbook has been developed as part of the overarching initiative of the MAVA Foundation ‘Coastal Wetland Action Plan’. Its preparation was initiated by the Priority Actions Programme Regional Activity Centre (PAP/RAC), coordinated and published under its leadership. It was supported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the MAVA Foundation for Nature.

For further information PAP/RAC

Links of interest

Downloadable Handbook

MARISTANIS Wetland Contract