International treaties and designations have greatly assisted conservation efforts (UNESCO conservation designations). One of the most important steps in promoting the conservation of aquatic habitats was the signing of the Ramsar Convention for the protection of wetlands. In Greece, there are eight sites in the examined basins (Evros Delta, Nestos Delta and associated lagoons, Kerkini Lake, Axios–Loudias–Aliakmon Deltas, Lake Small Prespa, the Amvrakikos Gulf including the Arachthos Delta and Mesolonghi lagoons at Acheloos Delta). In FYR Macedonia, there is one site at Lake Large Prespa. Lake Shkodra and River Buna are Ramsar sites in Albania and Montenegro. The Neretva Delta is also protected by the Ramsar Convention with two sites in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, respectively. European Union Directives have also promoted the designation and conservation of protected areas in the Balkan states.
In Greece, widespread identification and inventory of potential conservation areas officially begun in the early 1980s and was supported particularly by the Birds Directive (79/409) which uses bird populations and species’ vulnerability as criteria for the identification of sites of conservation importance. The Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) for the protection of species and habitats of community interest contributed to the designation of protected areas within the Natura 2000 conservation scheme. This is the umbrella EU legislation for nature conservation and drives changes in national legislations, which are currently under reform. Greece has proposed 359 sites to be included in the NATURA 2000 protection network