Private / public partnership at Ramsar site in Morocco

Private / public partnership at Ramsar site in Morocco

11 October 2006

Lagoons of Essaouira, Morocco

This report concerns a venture being undertaken by the city and province of Essaouira, with support from the national and provincial departments of water and forests, to try and rehabilitate the Ramsar site known as Archipel et dunes d'Essawira (or Essaouira). These bodies are supported in their efforts by funding from the Fondation d'Enterprise Total pour la biodiversité et la Mer and by Total Maroc. The Secretary General visited the site in early September 2006, along with representatives from Total Maroc and the Fondation Total. During the visit they met with the Governor of Essaouira as well as representatives from national, provincial and local government, and in the presence of the Conseilleur to the King of Morocco, to discuss the progress of the project.

At the dawn of the 20th century, the town of Essaouira on the central Morocco coast was situated on a small promontory, with a large open lagoon in the hinterland. That lagoon has progressively been emptied and has filled with drifting sands, so now it is a mass of many small inter-dunal lakes or lagoons, surrounded by dunes which are variously wooded. In addition, the rapid pace of the development of the town in the past few decades has seen considerable urban encroachment on the edge of the system, and much increased pressure from city dwellers on the resources as a place for peace and relaxation - as well as, alas, thoughtless littering near the urban fringe.

In 2005 the Foundation Total and Total Maroc gave the French Conservatoire du Littoral the task to develop a vision for improving the situation and to rehabilitate the lagoon system. Their initial overview suggested that remediation was needed, but would be possible. They also suggested many ways to proceed, especially attempting to involve the local population through schools and stabilising the outward spread of the town. To do this there is a proposal for a boulevard demarcating the edge of the town and the beginning of the lagoon system. They also proposed the development of an ecologically friendly path running through the lagoon system and linked centrally to the main pathway. This pathway will have a series of about 4-5 small interpretation centres along the way, highlighting the dune systems, lagoons, historic city and general landscape.

The plan also includes an understanding of the areas that are highly sensitive and need protection from the start, and identifying which areas need rehabilitation. For the project to have long-term success, genuine local ownership by the government of the Town, and importantly its people, will be crucial. This project, linking all levels of government with local people, supported by funding from the private sector, has a great chance of success, and is a model of how these activities should occur in future in many other locations. It is also a striking example of the key role of wetlands in urban systems, and of how their ecological infrastructure can support and supplement the urban infrastructure.

-- Peter Bridgewater, Secretary General

Lagoon close to the edge of Essauoira

Almost dry lagoon in the reserve

Halophytic plants at the dry edge of a lagoon - when wet these plants would be in or even submerged by water.

Halophytes at the lagoon edge, dune slope with red juniper, a native shrub on the dunes.

Left to right, Youssef Malal, Total Maroc; Bernard Tramier, Director, Foundation Total; Dimitri Xylinas, head Total Maroc

Peter Bridgewater and Bernard Tramier, in dry lagoon bed

Halophytes on dry bed of lagoon, slopes with alien acacia and eucalyptus groves