Mediterranean marine protection failing as 2020 deadline looms

Posted on 29 November 2019

Mediterranean countries are failing on their global commitment to protect at least 10% of marine and coastal areas
A new WWF report shows that Mediterranean countries are failing on their global commitment to protect at least 10% of marine and coastal areas, and to stop ongoing biodiversity loss in the region. Today, only 2.48% of the Mediterranean Sea is protected under Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) with management plans.This is a far cry from the minimum target of 10% by 2020 set in both UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 [1] and Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi target 11 [2], let alone the 30% that WWF is calling for. The Mediterranean result is on par with the EU marine area as a whole, only 1.8% of which is covered by management plans for protection, as a WWF report revealed earlier this year.

The latest WWF assessment shows that in the last decade, nearly all Mediterranean countries have gravely underperformed in their legal duty to create an adequate network of marine protected areas (MPAs) by 2020. Evidence shows that such a network would strongly contribute to restoring marine assets currently estimated to generate USD $5.6 trillion [3] for the region each year, mainly through fisheries, aquaculture and tourism. The findings align with the recent WWF assessment of all EU marine protected areas, which found 19 of 23 marine EU Member States falling behind on developing management plans for their MPAs.

Recurring delays and failures by almost all Mediterranean countries to move from ‘Paper Parks’ - that is, areas protected in name but with little real management - to well-managed protected areas at sea are highlighted. For instance, Croatia, Italy, Greece, Slovenia, and Spain have designated a considerable amount of their marine areas for protection, but management measures are still limited to a few small areas or are inadequate to protect biodiversity. 

Janica Borg, Marine Protection and Spatial Planning Policy Coordinator at the WWF European Policy Office said: “The recurring inaction from governments to restore and protect marine biodiversity is critically undermining our ocean’s capacity to mitigate the impact of the climate crisis and to support a sustainable blue economy. Mediterranean Member States must stand by their commitments and make effective marine biodiversity protection a top political priority. The areas intended for protection must urgently have management plans put in place, and EU leaders must agree to effectively protect at least 30% of all European marine and coastal areas by 2030.”

In addition to SDG 14 and the CBD, the Barcelona Convention, in place since 1976, aims to prevent and manage the risks of pollution and to protect the valuable marine biodiversity in the Mediterranean Sea. Four decades later, WWF’s report shows that the Convention and its Contracting Parties - which includes EU governments - are failing their mandate and leaving the Mediterranean not only largely unprotected, but overexploited by industries such as oil and gas, which remain on a trajectory for continued growth.

Next week, Mediterranean governments, as Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention, will meet in Naples, Italy, to discuss their progress and agree on new post-2020 actions to halt and revert the loss of biodiversity. WWF calls on these leaders to strongly increase investments and resources to restore the Mediterannean’s unique marine habitats and species threatened by human overexploitation and climate change. Leadership in one of the world’s most polluted seas [4] can spark the whole EU to stand up for marine ecosystems and biodiversity, steering the course to commit to achieving at least 30% effective protection for marine and coastal areas by 2030. 

Notes to editors:
Further highlights from the WWF analysis of Mediterranean MPAs: 
  • Albania, Algeria, Cyprus, Israel, Morocco, Montenegro, Slovenia and Turkey have limited their management efforts to few or very small MPAs. 
  • Egypt, Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Tunisia, and Monaco have not implemented or endorsed any management or monitoring plan in the areas they claim to protect. 
  • An insignificant portion of the sea, calculated at 0.03 percent is currently fully safeguarded from any human intervention.
WWF recommendations include: 
  • Focus on effective protection: Ensure that the main priority of all MPAs is effective management leading to conservation of biodiversity, not economic opportunity.
  • More ambitious protection targets: increased conservation targets to protect at least 30% of coastal and marine areas by 2030, especially underrepresented areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services.
  • Stronger qualitative requirements: measurable indicators of effectiveness, clear thresholds for fully protected MPAs, representativity and connectivity of MPA networks, inclusiveness and participation of stakeholders.
  • Mechanisms of accountability: more robust, transparent, SMART mechanisms to monitor country progress.
  • Integration of MPAs into wider sustainable seascape management: a coherent network of MPAs is fundamental for the achievement of ecosystem-based marine spatial planning.
  • Good governance within and beyond territorial waters: enhanced cross-sectoral and cross-jurisdictional cooperation among states and across bodies, at global and regional scales.

    SDG 14.2
    By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans
    SDG 14.5
    By 2020, conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information
    The Aichi Targets are embedded in the CBD Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, which will be renewed at CBD COP 15 in China, in October 2020. Specifically, Aichi Target 11 looks at the protection of sea areas and provides that “by 2020, 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider seascapes.”
  3. Reviving the economy of the Mediterranean Sea, WWF 2017

On the Barcelona Convention:

The Barcelona Convention is the first UNEP initiative under the Regional Seas Programme. It is the institutional framework for cooperation on aiming at protection the environment and fostering sustainable development in the Mediterranean. Conferences of the Parties take place every two years and include a Ministerial segment, where Contracting Parties decide on strategies, budget and programme of work.
COP21 (Naples, December 2-5) is a key moment as strong commitments on biodiversity, marine litter, blue economy and climate change are expected to be made. The Contracting Parties are expected to give a mandate to the Barcelona Convention to develop the new Strategic Action Plan on Biodiversity post-2020, in line with the CBD post-2020 global biodiversity framework, as well as to upgrade the Marine Litter Action Plan - the legally binding framework tackling plastic pollution in the Mediterranean.

Larissa Milo-Dale
Marine Communications Officer
+32 483 26 20 86
Discarded fishing net draped over coral reef in Côte Agathoise
© Mathieu Foulquié