The tenth stage of the project has just ended in Marseilles, France, after Ghana, Switzerland, Madagascar, Abu Dhabi, China, Singapore, Costa Rica, Wales and Iceland. Taking inspiration from the fourth thesis of the Manifesto for the Earth and the Human Being – Identifying and regulating the boundaries for the application of technology is essential for preventing Earth being treated like an inert substance which can be exploited and manipulated – I approached the theme of marine resources and in particular those of the Mediterranean Sea.
The partner for the tenth stage was Medpan of Marseilles - the network of protected Mediterranean areas. Medpan’s aim is to facilitate the exchange of information among the managers of the protected marine areas. The association was created with the intention of contributing to achieving the goals set by the Convention on Biological Diversity (Rio de Janeiro, 1999) and of contributing to the natural management of environments and species, in particular those mentioned in the Protocol relating to protected areas and biodiversity in the Mediterranean (Barcelona, 1995).
The Mediterranean Sea only occupies 1% of the Earth’s marine area but a good third of international goods transport and tourism crosses our sea, with the inevitable consequences for the health of its animal and plant life. The three main causes of the changes in the equilibrium of the Mediterranean and its biodiversity are pollution caused by marine traffic and the industrialization of the coasts; climatic changes, in particular the increase in sea temperatures; and the presence of tropical species which originate in the Red Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Protected areas cover 4.56% of the overall Mediterranean sea area, but only 1.8% of this protected area is outside Pelagos Sanctuary for Mediterranean Marine Mammals, an international protected marine area which was created in 1999 thanks to the three countries which make up the sanctuary: France (Cote d’Azur and Corsica), Principality of Monaco and Italy (Liguria, Tuscany and northern Sardinia).
The Mediterranean’s smallest protected marine area is in Israel (Akhziv National Park) and the largest, apart from Pelagos Sanctuary, is the Gulf of Lyon National Marine Park in France. There are 677 protected marine areas in the Mediterranean – 6.6% of the world’s total protected marine areas – but the reality is that less than 0.1% of the Mediterranean is covered by ‘integrally protected zones’ where fishing is prohibited.
The geographical distribution of protected marine areas across the Mediterranean is very uneven in that 96% of these areas are in the northern part of the Mediterranean Sea and they are all located in coastal zones, apart from Pelagos Sanctuary, which is the only protected area which extends into the open sea. Seventy-four per cent of the Mediterranean’s total surface area lies beyond 12 miles from the coast but only 3% of this area is protected and three quarters of this is within the Pelagos Sanctuary.
It has been calculated that 80% of Mediterranean marine species are over-exploited. One of the most endangered species is the Mediterranean monk seal: it faces a high risk of extinction with only 250-300 seals remaining, situated in the north east of the Mediterranean. Other species which are greatly at risk are the loggerhead sea turtle,“caretta caretta”, and the great white shark.
The study Elasmobranchi of the Mediterranean and Black Sea: Status, Ecology and Biology, carried out by the General Fisheries Commission of the Mediterranean – one of the varies regional bodies of FAO which works in the fisheries sector – highlights how in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea the presence of sharks has decreased dramatically in the last two hundred years, so that they are now facing the risk of extinction with serious consequences for the entire marine ecosystem and the region’s food chain.
As in other oceans, the equilibrium of the Mediterranean Sea requires ever greater care and protection. For this reason an increase in the number and size of Protected Marine Areas and activities like those of Pelagos have become more necessary and fundamental than ever.