Conserving biodiversity: Government initiatives aim to limit the impact of economic growth on the environment

Home to an abundance of wildlife, Morocco has in recent years introduced legislation to protect its environment and reduce the impact of human activity on the country’s biological landscape.


One of the most ecologically diverse countries in the Mediterranean area, the kingdom hosts around 40 distinct ecosystems, almost three-quarters of which are forest-based. Sheltering 4000 vascular plants, 550 species of vertebrates and nearly 8000 listed marine species, these ecosystems have been incrementally affected by an increase in economic activity and population growth. This has entailed the proliferation of intensive farming, industrial pollution, mass tourism and urban sprawl. Furthermore, deforestation has led to the loss of 31,000 ha of forested land per year, and while the kingdom remains one of Africa’s largest fish exporters, as well as the largest sardine producer in the world due to regular upwelling, overfishing has resulted in reduced fish stocks. Other external factors have also played a role. Global warming, for example, has contributed to changing local conditions, with a 4% reduction in rainfall reported between 2000 and 2009.

International Agreements

To help tackle these issues the government participates in international pledges and commitments related to ecological conservation. Since the 1990s, Morocco has signed a handful of such agreements, including the UN Convention on Biological Diversity; the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety; the Nagoya Protocol on Biodiversity; the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora; the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands; and the Bern Convention on Wild Fauna and Flora.

The authorities have also been recently tightening their cooperation with international organisations such as the International Union for the Conversation of Nature, with whom they signed a set of agreements between 2013 and 2015 for the sustainable management of biodiversity, and with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for the protection of wetlands. The country has also collaborated with the WWF since 2008 on the MedPan South Project, which is aimed at reinforcing protected marine areas in the Mediterranean.

Protected Areas

To help execute the country’s commitments, Morocco set out a National Strategy for Protected Areas in 1996, whereby authorities identified a total of 145 sites of biological and ecological interest that required extra protective measures. In 2010 authorities updated the legislation to establish a new formal system of national parks based on community management. In total, nine national parks – extending over a total surface of 606,000 ha – have been set up in the areas of Toubkal, Tazekka, Souss Massa, Iriki, Talassemtane, Irane, the High Atlas Oriental, Al Hoceima and Khenifiss, Morocco’s only Saharan park.

Given the importance of agriculture to the kingdom, with the sector contributing 14% to GDP and providing 35-40% of the nation’s jobs, the government has established four biosphere reserves, including the Arganeraie Biosphere Reserve, the Southern Oasis Biosphere Reserve, the Mediterranean Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve and the Atlas Cedar Biosphere Reserve in the Middle Atlas region. The designated areas allow for continued agricultural activities and set protective restrictions on the land use of the surrounding areas.

Lastly, in 2015 a series of new laws were passed related to coastal protection, and the production of plastic bags was banned in July 2016. The state has also been looking at introducing a 1% tax on oil products and to set up a bureau of central coordination with the aim of restructuring biodiversity management, which has thus far fallen within the remit of several ministries and public institutions.