Protecting 30% of the Mediterranean Sea will boost fish stocks and biodiversity - WWF report

Posted on February, 25 2021

By protecting key areas of our seas and coasts, we can trigger a domino effect of positive results.
Protecting 30% of the Mediterranean Sea could give a massive boost to declining fish species and marine biodiversity, research reveals [1]. Today, only 9.68% of the Mediterranean Sea has been designated for protection, with only 1.27% effectively protected. Last year the EU pledged to protect 30% of land and sea areas by 2030.  

Fish stocks will continue to decline if unsustainable fishing and other industrial activities continue, the analysis - developed by scientists for WWF - shows [2]. However, effective protection covering 30% of the Mediterranean Sea in specific areas [3] and sustainably managed activities in the rest of the basin would see these same commercial fish stocks increase, while supporting the recovery of the wider marine ecosystem . 
In the Western Mediterranean, for example, the analysis shows the biomass [4] of predator species like sharks could increase by up to 45%, that of commercial species like groupers by 50% and that of European hake could double. Even the bluefin tuna, the most iconic and commercially valuable population of the Mediterranean, would potentially recover its biomass to a record-high increase of up to 140%.

Odran Corcoran, Marine Policy Officer at the WWF European Policy Office said, “By protecting key areas of our seas and coasts, we can trigger a domino effect of positive results. Rolling out this protection across the EU is vital to realising the objectives of not only the European Green Deal, but of the Biodiversity and Farm To Fork Strategies. The recovery and protection of the biodiversity that hundreds of millions of Europeans depend on cannot be delayed.” 

In 2020, the EU launched a Biodiversity Strategy. The Strategy states that at least 30% of EU seas must be legally protected and properly managed and monitored by 2030. For WWF, this commitment is laudable. However, it must be matched with concrete actions to reverse negative trends in the Meditteranean such as declining fish stocks due to unsustainable fishing. It is also crucial to tackle the impacts of climate change, which put the livelihoods of millions who depend on the sea basin’s health at risk.

In late 2021, world leaders are expected to adopt a new Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework to halt and reverse the loss of nature and more than 50 countries are already calling for a commitment to protect 30% of the planet by 2030.

The study was conducted by WWF in collaboration with scientists from the French CNRS-CRIOBE, the Ecopath International Initiative, and the Spanish ICM–CSIC. 

Notes to editors: 

[1] WWF and others are calling for a network of effective marine protected areas (MPAs) and other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs) covering 30% of the Mediterranean Sea by 2030. The difference between protected areas and OECMs is that the primary objective of protected areas is conservation, whereas OECMs deliver effective in situ conservation of biodiversity but this is not a primary objective, regardless of their objectives (IUCN-WCPA, 2019). For example, a commercial fishing closure established through a long-term management plan and delivering positive biodiversity outcomes might be reported as an OECM, contributing to both the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets. The European Commission has stated that OECMs should be counted towards the 30% target of EU seas being protected, as outlined in the Biodiversity Strategy, but only if they comply with a minimum set of criteria which is currently being discussed. 

WWF’s position on OECMs that may contribute to the 30% is that they should comply with the definition agreed in the CBD context, give primacy to nature if there is a conflict, clearly contribute to effective and long-term protection and the establishment of a representative and ecologically coherent network of protected areas, and comply with the IUCN criteria 2 on OECMs, in order to be counted towards the protected area target

[2] 75% of Mediterranean assessed fish stocks remain overfished and sea temperatures are increasing 20% faster than the global average. The Covid-19 pandemic has reduced fishing activities, due to lockdowns and the decreased demand for seafood as local seafood markets and restaurants have closed. This has heavily affected the fisheries sector globally and in the Mediterranean (see the WWF MMI’s Covid-19 regional map).
WWF calculated that, if well protected, the marine resources of the Mediterranean Sea could deliver assets valued at US$450 billion per year.

[3] The Mediterranean spatial areas that are predicted to provide the greatest conservation benefits are: Alboran Sea, north-western Mediterranean, Sicily Channel, Adriatic Sea, Hellenic Trench, Aegean Sea and Levantine Sea.

[4] WWF calls on countries to:
  1. Expand the coverage of effectively managed MPAs and OECMs to cover 30% of the Mediterranean Sea.
  2. Protect hotspots of marine biodiversity to increase future fishing catches in the overfished areas of the Mediterranena Sea and secure seafood and livelihoods for future generations.
  3. Work with other sectors to establish OECMs. Steps towards OECMs should include setting new: Locally managed no-take zones; Fishery Restricted Areas; Ecological corridor; and Extended deep-water and coastal trawling bans.
  4. Integrate the MPA and OECM network into wider ecosystem-based ocean management to sustainably manage all activities across the Mediterranean.
  5. Urgently increase the level of protection of existing and future MPAs and OECMs by combining fully and highly protected areas that allow ecosystem restoration and deliver the greatest benefits.
  6. Ensure all MPAs and OECMs are effectively managed, with zoning and management plans and sufficient resources to implement and monitor them.
  7. Employ just and fair financial instruments to move from business as usual to effective conservation and sustainable blue economy. Lower-income countries require financial support to fund research, marine spatial planning and conservation measures.
  8. Involve local stakeholders at every stage of the process through co-management and participatory processes.

[4] Fish biomass refers to the total number of fish counted in a specific area of water multiplied by the average weight of fish sampled, which can be used to predict daily intake demand to avoid underfeeding or overfeeding.


Stefania Campogianni
WWF Mediterranean Marine Initiative Communications Manager
+39 346 3873237

Larissa Milo-Dale
WWF European Policy Office Senior Communications Officer (Marine) 
+32 483 26 20 86
Protecting 30% of the Mediterranean Sea would help recover biodiversity and fisheries
© Damsea/ Shutterstock/WWF