Protecting the Mediterranean and Its Biodiversity

23 November 2017 - // Features
Peter Easton
Senior Advisor Water and Sustainability

What is MedPAN?

MedPAN is a network of managers of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Mediterranean, first created in 1990, and since 2010 run by the MedPAN Organisation, gathering over 100 institutions and NGOs that either have direct responsibility for managing MPAs or are involved in the development of MPAs in the Mediterranean.

Also under this umbrella are ‘Other effective area-based conservation measures’ (OECMs). The network incorporates over 100 MPAs, and over 1,200 protected areas when including OECMs.

Participating organisations originate from 18 countries around the sea: Albania, Algeria, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Malta, Morocco, Monaco, Montenegro, Slovenia, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey.

Key partner organisations and influencers include:

UN Environment Programme through the RAC/SPA (Regional Activity Centre for Special Protection Areas)


► The Conservatoire du Littoral (a coastal conservation organisation of France)

► IUCN Mediterranean

► The French Agency for Marine Protected Areas

► ACCOBAMS (Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea

► Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic area. Cetaceans are aquatic mammals such as whales, dolphins and porpoises)

► GFCM (General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean)

The MedPAN network: more than 80 MPAs in 18 countries in April 2013. Source : MAPAMED, the database of Marine Protected Areas in the Mediterranean, MedPAN, RAC/SPA, 2012. Note: only some Natura 2000 at sea sites are present on this map

The global importance of the Mediterranean Sea

The Mediterranean is a semi-enclosed sea whose waters lap the coasts of 21 countries of a region that has been the cradle of civilisations for centuries. Its geological and human history has given the region its richness in terms of biodiversity, but also in terms of social, cultural and political diversity.

As one of the planet’s key areas for marine biodiversity, the Mediterranean Sea hosts habitats, species and ecosystems of particular importance. Its richness and quality contribute to the well-being of its human populations and to the development of coastal areas.

Mediterranean marine ecosystems are under significant pressure. The risks are linked to the intrinsic value of ecosystems, but also to the loss of biodiversity and natural habitats, which play a major role in human health, lifestyle, food production and availability of natural resources for the economic development and the well-being of coastal populations.

The Mediterranean Sea is subjected to anthropogenic disturbances especially along the coasts and new potential or actual pressures are emerging in the open sea. It is also faced by a transformation of its environmental characteristics due to global changes, with climate change projected to have a negative impact on the region.

The impacts of coastal development (agricultural, industrial, transport, tourism, etc) and urbanisation are among its main threats and these have intensified over the last few years. 450 million people live in the Mediterranean basin, 40% of whom live along the coast. This coastal demographic growth contributes to degraded landscapes, soil erosion, increased waste discharges into the sea, loss and fragmentation of natural habitats as well as a deterioration of the state of vulnerable or endangered species. The development of activities in coastal areas has created economic opportunities, but can also have a negative impact on standards of living and well-being.

The Mediterranean region is one of the world’s most important tourism destinations, attracting about 30% of international tourism. While generating benefits to the countries’ economy, this popularity generates significant negative impacts on the marine environment through uncontrolled coastal zone development through the increased use of water resources and the production of solid wastes and sewage.

Maritime transport is another important economic activity for the region: it represents about 30% of the international shipping trade and 25% of maritime oil transport. The associated risks of accidental or deliberate pollution, transport of exotic species are still poorly controlled.

Fishing is also an important activity in the Mediterranean in terms of employment, income and food security. Recreational fishing is an important sector for certain territories. Its continual development is poorly controlled. The uncontrolled rise in fishing efforts registered over the last decades in a number of Mediterranean countries has led to the decline of many fish stocks. According to recent evaluations made within the framework of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), 90% of the assessedfishstockswereover-exploited.

Aquaculture puts a localised and relatively strong pressure depending on the site and its development, which is backed by many public policies, raises questions in terms of its impact especially on the environment, fisheries and the associated stocks of raw material required to feed the fish.

Ongoing changes in the availability of resources and the cost of energy has led to a growing variety of pressures and makes spatial planning more difficult for stakeholders interested in the area (desalination, wind/tidal turbines, etc) or in the deep-sea resources (aggregates, oil, gas, rare minerals, biotechnology). This reduces the surface area available for MPAs or traditional stakeholders (artisanal fishing) and affects the required connectivity or representativity of the network of MPAs.

The work of MedPAN

The MedPAN network has been guided by its 2013-2017 strategy, based on the Statutes of the MedPAN organisation, the expectations of its members and partners, as well as the challenges faced by Mediterranean MPAs. This strategy has been approved by the General Assembly of the MedPAN organisation in November 2012, but now due for renewal.

The 2013-2017 strategy is broken down into three big strategic components and the five major transversal interventions areas of the MedPAN network.

The three strategic components:

► 1. Be a network for knowledge, information, anticipation and synthesis

► 2. Develop the life of the network, the exchanges between its members and their capacity to effectively manage their MPAs in connection with the other players in their territories

► 3. Reinforce the sustainability, prominence, governance and resources of the MedPAN network

The five major transversal interventions:

► 1. Scientific strategy

► 1. Capacity building

► 3. Communications strategy

► 4. New funding mechanisms dynamic

► 5. Consolidation of the Secretariat and the governance of the MedPAN network

The programme organises regular workshops on management issues common to all marine protected areas, such as management planning, management of fisheries and tourism, habitat management or financing of marine protected areas. It also funds studies and the production of methodological tools and communication tools to assist managers in their daily work and to establish the first global database of marine protected areas in the Mediterranean. Known as MAPAMED, this database is a core component of the programme. The MedPAN website provides valuable links to reports and studies on ocean environments from around the world. For example, a stunning 300-page publication “The Ocean Revealed” (Euzen et al, 2017) on the health and sustainability of oceans around the world.

MedPAN also publishes its own reports on the status and progress of its work and the condition of the sea. Its most recent is “‘The 2016 Status of Marine Protected Areas in the Mediterranean” which provides a number of statistics and key findings:

► The total surface of the Mediterranean Sea is 2.5 million km2

► There are 7,231 protected areas, consisting of more than 100 MPAs, and the rest OECMS

► The total of protected areas is about 180,000 km2, equivalent to twice the size of Portugal

► But this represents just 7.1% of the sea area; the long-term target is to achieve at least 30% coverage

► The protected areas include ‘no-go’, ‘no-take’ and ‘no-fishing’ areas, although these currently represent only 0.04% of the sea area

► The Mediterranean Sea is globally

important for marine biodiversity, representing just 0.7% of world ocean area, but about 8% of marine biodiversity

► An important priority is to support the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”.

► The Mediterranean carries 1/3 of global marine traffic

► It is the world’s primary tourist destination, with 350 million visitors a year, contributing to the pressures on pollution and use of resources, including food and water

► 85% of fish stocks are over-fished

► The majority of protected areas are in the north, with 90% in territorial waters of the European Union

Regarding progress in achieving its aims, it recognises that progress is not as fast or effective as it really needs to be. MedPAN concludes that major limitations on effective management of protected areas are poor governance and insufficient funding and staffing. Thus, the pressure on governments to take greater responsibility for the critical health of the Mediterranean Sea needs to be kept up and the progress in nurturing closer cooperation between all interested parties and organisations needs to be maintained.

Peter Easton
Senior Advisor Water and Sustainability

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