Lagoons in the heavily populated, semi-arid coastal zone of the Southern Mediterranean Region exemplify the conflict between human utilisation of water and related resources and aquatic ecosystems. Having recognised the requirement to improve understanding of the functioning of the region's coastal wetlands, the MELMARINA Project undertook integrated hydro-ecological monitoring and modelling within lagoons in Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt. This article highlights some key issues regarding environmental science and management of the region's coastal lagoons revealed during the course of the project. It stresses the importance of hydrology as a key control upon lagoon functioning and ecosystem dynamics. Hydrological modifications due to water resource management schemes are the cause of many recent changes experienced within lagoons. Linkages between water quality, water availability, human activities and biological characteristics of coastal lagoons are discussed with particular reference to the controls upon vegetation within the MELMARINA lagoons. A series of methodological advances are reviewed which have potential for wider application within coastal lagoons. It is suggested that the use of lagoon sediment for environmental reconstruction can be invaluable, especially when monitoring data are lacking. Recent advances in instrumentation technologies make long-term continuous monitoring more feasible although these approaches can be combined with more traditional site surveys to provide wider spatial coverage at the expense of temporal resolution. Wider spatial coverage can also be achieved through the use of space-borne or aerial remote sensing imagery whilst longer-term trends in site characteristics can be assessed through historical map analyses. Geographical Information Systems, which facilitate the storage and interrogation of large and varied datasets, have enormous potential. Similarly, coupled hydro-ecological models can inform understanding of lagoon functioning and can assess scenarios associated with environmental change or alternative management approaches. The application of integrated, basin-wide approaches to the management of water resources and aquatic ecosystems in the Southern Mediterranean Region is advocated. This includes the application of principles from the EU's Water Framework Directive. Finally, the need to place management in the context of climate change and associated sea level rise is stressed. Emphasis should be placed on the development of adaptation strategies designed to minimise the effects of these changes. © 2009 Springer Science+Business Media B.V.
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