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Mediterranean tourism takes its toll
Increasing tourism along the Mediterranean coast is taking its toll on the area's fragile ecosystem, according to a report published by the European Environment Agency.
The open waters of the Mediterranean Sea are generally in good condition and most of the diverse ecosystems appear to be healthy, according to the report. The Mediterranean is home to a great diversity of marine species and is recognized as one of the world's richest biomes, supporting about 8 to 9 percent of all sea species.
However, population growth and tourism along the Mediteranean coast is putting more pressure on the riparian ecosystem, and only a small percentage of the coastline is in good condition. An even smaller part is adequately protected, according to the report, State and pressures of the marine and coastal Mediterranean environment, compiled by the EEA in cooperation with the Mediterranean Action Plan.
The population of Mediterranean countries continues to grow, from 450 million people in 1997 to a projected 520 to 570 million by 2030. Tourism and population create strong competition between man and nature for space, territory and resources.
The Mediterranean has attracted tourists for hundreds of years. Tourism in the area flourished in the 1930s and especially after World War II.
Today, the area is the world's leading holiday destination, accounting for 30 percent of the world's tourism. In 1990 alone, 135 million vacationers flocked to the Mediterranean coast. By 2025, the annual crowd will soar to anywhere from 235 to 350 million tourists, according to the EEA.
The impact of tourism on the Mediterranean environment includes land degradation, water shortages, pollution and waste. Coastal tourism reduces natural sites and open space, substantially alters the landscape and promotes conflicts over the use of land, water and other resources, the report notes.
Tourism could contribute to the protection, management and best use of the very sites it exploits, the report suggests. Solutions to the exploitation include eco-tourism implemented by individual countries; taxes for environmental causes; reinvestment of tourists' dollars in ecological initiatives; and penalties for noncompliance with environmental regulations.
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