The Barcelona Convention provides the main legal and institutional support for UNEP MAP’s ongoing efforts to preserve Mediterranean biodiversity. But countries need to be obliged to meet the requirements of the convention, according to Cyprus-based marine biologist Andreas Demetropoulos. «The Barcelona Convention includes no mechanism committing nations to report on its level of fulfillment of provisions to reduce pollution,» Demetropoulos observed. However, ministers from more than 100 nations took a significant step forward last month in Kuala Lumpur, where they signed a statement of intent to integrate biodiversity into their social and economic development, to establish a network of protected areas during 2004, and to strengthen partnerships at all levels – including the private sector – in order to preserve ecosystems threatened by industrialization, overfishing, and other commercial activities. The ministers declared they were «alarmed that biological diversity is being lost at an unprecedented rate as a result of human activity.» Action Meanwhile, UNEP MAP continues to provide data and training seminars to regional nations enabling them to conduct inventories of species and sites, to map and monitor Mediterranean coastal and marine biodiversity and to conserve sensitive habitats, species and sites. UNEP MAP’s six regional centers are hubs for specialist research which provide advice to regional countries. Centers in Spain, Croatia and Tunisia deal with cleaner production, coastal zone management and biodiversity respectively. Two more in the south of France and one in Malta deal chiefly with marine pollution. But more work needs to be done by individual governments. «And it’s not just the least-developed countries in the region that are not doing their homework – Greece and Italy still have a long way to go,» Demetropoulos said. Meanwhile a series of ongoing action plans in the Mediterranean region aim to protect the Mediterranean monk seal, Mediterranean marine turtles, cetaceans (the whale and dolphin family) and marine vegetation (e.g. barrier reefs of Posidonia). On Cyprus, marine biologists have set up a turtle protection site on the Lara-Toxeftra beach, which is situated on the island’s northwestern Akamas peninsula. No driving is allowed on the beach, where special cages are set up over the summer to protect turtle eggs from preying foxes, according to Hadjichristoforou, who was involved in launching the program along with Demetropoulos. Many residents of the villages around the Akamas peninsula (especially those with land located near the turtle-nesting zones) originally objected to the management program but have since accepted it, according to Demetropoulos, who is a leading official of the protection committee. Cyprus Another national program is aimed at the protection of the Salt Lake near Larnaca where dozens of flamingos have died after consuming discarded pellets from a nearby shooting range, which has since been closed down. There is also a program for managing coastal erosion. «Protection programs are developing quickly in Cyprus – the point is whether they are developing quickly enough to counteract the destruction,» Demetropoulos said. And although awareness at the governmental level is increasing and new legislation has been introduced (e.g. the European habitat directive), «there’s a difference between introducing legislation and implementing it,» he added. There are several bodies in Cyprus which assess measures and the implementation of legislation, but problems arise due to a «fragmentation of responsibilities,» he continued. At the moment, all protection programs on Cyprus are restricted to the shoreline of southern Cyprus. «It is currently difficult to monitor the situation in the north. We cannot launch any programs there until we see the outcome of ongoing political negotiations to reunify the island,» Demetropoulos said. «Having said that, the north is fairly well protected at the moment because the locals don’t have the money to destroy it,» he quipped. «But with the money expected to come in with EU accession, there will be development,» he added.