Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas in the face of climate change


The Network of Marine Protected Area Managers in the Mediterranean (MedPAN), the Regional Activity Centre for Specially Protected Areas (RAC/SPA – UNEP/MAP), and the Moroccan High Commissioner for Water, Forest and the Fight against Desertification, are organizing the second edition of the Mediterranean MPA Forum from 28 November to 1 December 2016 in Tangier, Morocco.


 Towards 2020 and beyond

Every 4 years, the Forum of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Mediterranean triggers a unique process during which all interested parties tackle the challenges MPAs face in the region. The high point of this Forum process is a 4-day event to assess the progress made and what’s left ahead according to the MPA Roadmap developed at the 2012 Forum and now adopted by the Barcelona Convention. What should still be done to conserve by 2020 at least 10% of the Mediterranean Sea through effectively managed MPAs and other area-based conservation measures? How to address MPA issues with a long-term and integrated vision?

The MPA Roadmap for a comprehensive and coherent network of well managed MPAs in the Mediterranean, a video from RAC/SPA on the MPA roadmap development

Beyond the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the 2016 Forum has the ambition to consider other challenges that MPAs face, related to climate change in particular, and therefore will also echo the COP22 of Marrakech. The Forum that will be held just after the COP22 will be the first opportunity to share the results with Mediterranean actors, especially regarding the role of oceans and MPAs in the fight against climate change.

More information on the forum:

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In accordance with the definition of wetlands inscribed in the Ramsar Convention[1], MedWet is also concerned with the conservation and wise use of marine areas.

Nowadays, global climate change is not an abstract future risk: it is already underway. Serious consideration thus needs to be devoted to actions for climate change mitigation and adaptation. The last Paris Agreement has sent a clear signal to the international community of the importance of conserving and enhancing natural ecosystems such as wetlands when pursuing responses on climate change. These ecosystems play an important role in this process, as they provide the basis for life through their multifaceted functions.

At the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii, Ramsar Convention Secretary General Martha Rojas-Urrego underscored the huge carbon storage potential of peatlands and the vital role of wetlands in achieving universal access to safe drinking water by 2030.


The Mediterranean Sea, a global biodiversity hotspot

The Mediterranean Sea is one of the richest biodiverse seas in the world. It is an important ecological area for the unique diversity of life hosted in its waters, the high number of endemic species, and its critical areas for the reproduction of pelagic species.

Recently, the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation created an Infographic video about the current conservation actions and knowledge on the conservation status of more than 3,000 species at the Mediterranean level, with key figures for all the taxonomic groups assessed for the past 10 years, as well as the Key Biodiversity Areas identified by the Centre. This work supports countries in planning and implementing conservation measures in line with their commitments made under international conventions such as the CBD Aichi Targets 11 and 12, the Barcelona Convention, and the Ramsar Convention Strategic Plan 2016-2014.

Watch the video on Facebook here.

Because of its importance for development, human settlements, commerce and resource exploitation, the Mediterranean region is threatened by pollution and human impacts such as overfishing, as well as by the pressures generated by tourism and coastal development. All these factors, with climate change effects, have a profound influence on biodiversity.


Mediterranean Marine protected areas (MPAs): a nature based solutions in the face of climate change

The marine and coastal protected areas have been designed and developed as a tool for conservation and sustainable management of the coastal and marine environment, to preserve ecosystems and habitats and to protect endangered species and natural resources.

As IUCN has explained, “Marine protected areas (MPAs) have gained world recognition as effective tools to protect the marine environment, and are much in favour in the Mediterranean, where hundreds of sites of different legal statuses have been declared during the recent decades to grant special protection to sites perceived to contain the most valuable marine habitats and species.’’

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Mediterranean will be strongly affected by climate change during this century.  Fortunately, however, MPAs can be a natural solution in the face of climate change because they have an important role in providing ecosystem services, mitigating impacts and increasing the ecological, social, and economic resilience of coastal communities.

The Mediterranean Sea level has been rising by one to three millimeters per year, and that rate seems to be accelerating. The habitats of MPSAs can provide a solution for that because they act as effective coastal defenses – for example, salt marshes dissipate over 90% of incident wave energy and reduce the potential impacts of sea level rise.

Coastal erosion, floods and other extreme storm events are expected to increase their intensity and impacts in the Mediterranean coast. MPAs contribute to the mitigation of climate change effects because the coastal dunes nourish the beaches and near-shore sandbars during storms and enhance the physical barriers against the erosion.

Posidonia oceanica seagrass leaves form compact and resistant structures along shores that provide a very effective protection against erosion. Seagrass meadows attenuate wave energy and underpin sediment and beach stability.

Marshes and seagrass meadows are significant carbon sinks that may help to mitigate the greenhouse emissions from the increasing use of coal and petrol.

And, in addition, MPAs may mitigate the effects of fishing on their surrounding environment and provide alternative activities for the coastal communities’ livelihood such as ecotourism.


What should we do?

 MPAs are jewels that must be preserved for the well-being of present and future generations. The world needs to do more to effectively protect our most biologically diverse spaces, and to ensure that local communities are involved in protection efforts. Their support is fundamental to long-term conservation.

We must take appropriate management actions to maintain the natural resilience of marine habitats against climate change impacts. And we must take advantage of all the potential of Mediterranean MPAs as natural tools for mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

Therefore we must contribute to increasing the number and size of MPAs and devote the necessary resources  to their effective management.

These measures will help to mitigate the impacts that the Mediterranean coastal regions will be experiencing in the coming years.


This article was prepared using the following sources:

UICN’s video: Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas as nature-based solutions to climate change

The Status of Marine Protected Areas in the Mediterranean Sea 2012, a study done by MedPAN in collaboration with the RAC/SPA

The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN), Germany (website here)



[1]           “For the purpose of this Convention, wetlands are areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six meters” (emphasis added).