The IUCN-World Conservation Union recently named Israel the nation with the highest percentage of preserved land in the Mediterranean region. According to the IUCN, Israel has set aside 16 percent of its land to protect nature. In contrast, Spain preserves 7.7 percent of its natural territory, France protects 11.7 percent and Lebanon - 0.5 percent.
Preserved land is defined as land in which there is no construction and is used as nature preserves, national parks, agricultural areas and forests. Israel's position as a front-runner on this list attests to its success in allocating significant portions of land to protect nature and the landscape.
The IUCN failed to mention, however, that a major portion of the Israeli open space which was included in the organization's survey is also used in military training exercises. Many nature preserves, and particularly those in the Negev, like the Holot Agur dunes, Tze'elim, Har Hanegev and the Eilat Mountains, are also used as Israel Defense Forces training areas. Military activity in these areas impacts nature, but most of the damage is minimal due to a unique agreement between the IDF and the Israel Nature & National Parks Protection Authority (INNPPA).
The IUCN survey paints a disturbing picture of the state of conservation in Mediterranean nations. The organization cites the accelerated pace of extinction of species, some of which only exist in this part of the world. Despite increased land allocation to nature preservation in the Mediterranean Basin in recent years, the general trend, in which animal and plant species in the region are becoming extinct, has not been halted. Moreover, two-thirds of marine mammal species, a fourth of amphibian species, nearly half of the shark species, more than half of the fresh-water fish species, and more than 10 percent of the reptile species, in the region, appear on the endangered list.
The compromised ecological state of the Mediterranean has international implications. The IUCN defined the Mediterranean Basin as one of the unique regions of the world, based on its rich biodiversity. The Mediterranean Basin is home to 25,000 plant species, half of them unique to the region. Most of these plants provide economic benefits in the form of food, medicine, herbs, and other products. Half of the reptile and 106 amphibian species are similarly unique to the Mediterranean region.
Two major problems threaten Israel's ecology: It is one of seven nations with a grave lack of water, and among the nations that emit the highest levels of greenhouse gases per person. The IUCN maintains that one of the most important factors that contribute to a nation's failure to preserve nature is a mistaken estimation of the economic benefits of conservation systems, and the cost of the potential uses of those systems in the free market that is developing in the region. The organization recommends the development of economic tools, including a variety of subsidies granted to members of the tourism industry agriculture and local authorities that preserve nature.
According to the IUCN, many nations still fail to manage protected areas correctly. This is seen in a lack of funding for conservation and sufficient involvement of communities in protection of nature. In addition, there is still limited recognition of the need to protect natural treasures located beyond the boundaries of nature preserves to create "ecologic corridors" to connect areas that have been granted preservation status.