The Mediterranean Sea is the largest enclosed sea in the world with 46,000 km of coastline. Thanks to its geological history, this environment has offered consistent sea temperature and a nourishing environment for life to flourish, while assuring a balanced aquatic ecosystem excluded from any external deep oceanic factors. This situation, which has allowed the emergence of the stable marine ecosystem of the Mediterranean Sea, is now in jeopardy due to its geographic location.
Surrounded by 24 countries and territories from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, which account for more than 100 million people, the Mediterranean Sea and its incredible marine ecosystem have been under intense pressure over the last century. Pressures on the area are a result of a number of factors, including being one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, a booming tourism industry—it is the most popular tourist destination in the world, attracting approximately one third of the world’s international tourists— and growing development on the coast.
Nevertheless, over the last few decades there has been a conscious effort from stakeholders to change the dynamic and protect and restore the Mediterranean Sea. One example of this change was the construction of water treatment facilities. In the past 40 years, more than 250 facilities have been built between the Spanish and Italian border alone, resulting in a diminution of the local pollution. But the initiative didn’t stop there. To help the comeback of biodiversity, special structures have been placed at the bottom of the sea to act as a support for coral and to offer a place for fish to hide. More than thirty such structures have already been placed and the results are obvious (this video shows a place where no marine life used to be found). Species from all levels of the food chain are now coming back.
This initiative is only one of many that is happening in the Mediterranean Sea. A WWF initiative is raising awareness and supporting sustainable fishing through a program that will reach more than 50 million people. The initiative advises retailers on how to source sustainable and responsible seafood and improve their product range; improve the implementation of policies supporting the legal, sustainable, and responsible production of seafood; and conduct various scientific studies to see the impact of this initiative. They work closely with local fishers to find the balance between protecting the fish stock and allowing fishers to continue their activities.
One of the approaches used to ensure the subsistence of fish in the Mediterranean Sea is the establishment of protected areas. The Pelagos Sanctuary is a great example of that. It is a marine area of 87,500 sq. km subject to an agreement between Italy, Monaco, and France for the protection of the marine mammals that live in it. It is a site managed by three different authorities and includes coastal areas and international waters, which form a large ecosystem that presents scientific, socio-economic, cultural, and educational potential.
The socio-economic potential comes from developing sustainable tourism like in the Taza National Park in Algeria. Although one of the smallest national parks in Algeria, it is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations with over 5 million visitors every summer. The project has engaged key stakeholders from the private and non-profit sector to develop sustainable tourism activities in the region and reduce the pressure on local ecosystems from human activities.
It can be hard to immediately see the effects of all this work, but some indicators of change can be noticed! The population of bluefin tuna, for example, was close to collapse only five years ago but is now growing again.
All these initiatives are a reminder that even when things look to be quickly going in the wrong direction, persistence and smart initiatives can make a real difference and change the dynamic of important environmental issues.
Do you think it’s possible for humans and Mediterranean sea wildlife to coexist ?