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Mediterranean nations pledge restraints on coastal development

Signatories to the Barcelona Convention, an international agreement to protect the sea, agree to ban development within 100 meters of the coastline.

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José Fernández Pérez attended last week's meeting of signatories to the Barcelona Convention – an international agreement to protect the Mediterranean – with a single demand. Warning that "old models of managing the coastline were exhausted," the director of coasts for Spain's Environmental Ministry implored fellow officials from Mediterranean countries for "radical change."

On paper, at least, he got it.

Ever since its 21 signatory nations agreed in 1976 to a set of protocols designed to reduce pollution in the Mediterranean, the Barcelona Convention, which holds biennial meetings, has spearheaded a variety of important environmental initiatives. But this year's reunion in Almería, Spain, the group's 15th, has gone further than most. Participants, including environment ministers from Italy, Tunisia, Israel, Croatia, and Montenegro, agreed that along all 29,000 miles of Mediterranean shore, no construction would be permitted on the 100 meters (about 328 feet) of land nearest the water.

The new protocol, Mr. Fernández Pérez told a press conference, would require administrations to create "a new way of looking at the sea." His boss is similarly pleased with the agreement. "This is a historic protocol," says Cristina Narbona, Spain's environment minister, "and it gives us a very powerful structure with which to combat the negative effects of overdevelopment."

The agreement, which was formally signed on Monday in Madrid, was not the meeting's only significant outcome. Participants also issued the Almería Declaration, which requires all member states to develop a list of threatened marine species by 2011, to establish a "broad and coherent network" of protected coastal areas by 2012, and to promote renewable energies in the region.

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