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The Mediterranean, a sea with unique challenges

The Mediterranean Sea covers more than 2.5 million square km, with a 46,000 km coastline. Mediterranean countries have a population of nearly 425 million, with an additional 170 million tourists visiting them each year.

Its average depth is just 1500 metres. It is a semi-enclosed sea with two main exits: the Gibraltar Strait, approximately 14 km wide, and the Suez Canal, only a few metres wide. As a result, it takes over a century for the Mediterranean waters to be renewed through inflows from other oceans.

As far as biological diversity is concerned, it is one of the richest seas in the world: 7.5 per cent of all animal species and 18 per cent of all marine flora, in a sea that represents only 0.7 per cent of the total surface of the oceans.

The Mediterranean’s flora and fauna consist partly of temperate zone species and partly of subtropical species, of which 30 per cent are endemic.

Its waters join the coastlines of countries in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, making the region politically, economically and geographically complex as well as environmentally unique and diverse.

An overview

Sustainable Development

Sustainable development in the Mediterranean has specific features. Particular pressure comes from tourism, urban concentration in costal areas, the development of irrigated and intensive agriculture, the trend to abandon of poorly manage mountain regions, overfishing and intercontinental (Asia/Europe) maritime transport. All these pressures are exerted on particularly limited and fragile resources: water, natural cosatal areas and the marine environment.

The Blue Plan Regional Activity Centre's work on the environment and development has drawn attention, well before the notion of sustainable development even appeared, to the interactions between population, economic development, and pressures on the coasts and natural resources such as water and the natural environment.

This approach of Blue Plan, which is both systemic and forward-looking, corresponds in practice with the concept of sustainability with its three pillars: economic, social and environmental, a concept that has particular meaning for the Mediterranean.

The Mediterranean presents specific sustainable development problems. While significant progress has been made in access to education, gender equality and public health, unemployment among the young is the most burning issue in the Mediterranean area, according to the social questions covered by the Millenium Development Goals adopted within the United Nations framework.

The Barcelona Convention plays an important role in the Mediterranean region as a forum for sustainable development, though the Mediterranean Commission for Sustainable Development (MCSD), as well as a framework for cooperation in the management of common goods such as the sea.

Combating land-based pollution

Up to 80% of marine pollution is caused by land-based activities, with industrial activities from the chemical, petrochemical and metallurgy sectors as the main source of pollution. Chemicals used in agriculture are transported to the sea through runoffs.

Three of the Protocols adopted by the Contracting Parties deal with specific aspects of pollution from land: Land-based sources and Activities, Dumping from ships and aircraft, and Hazardous wastes.

The Strategic Action Programme (SAP), developed by MED POL, identifies the main land-based pollution sources and proposes remedial actions to be implemented by the year 2025. It also contains a list of 103 pollution “hot spots” and 51 sensitive areas officially recognised as needing special attention and intervention.

During 2004–2005, all Mediterranean Countries prepared National Action Plans (NAPs) which describe what pollution reduction measures they will implement, by when and with what funds, taking into consideration the environmental and socio-economic issues, legislative frameworks, and the available infrastructure.

MAP’s Cleaner Production Regional Activity Centre (CP/RAC) promotes cleaner production practices and techniques for the reduction of industrial Pollution through the application of an integrated preventative environmental strategy to processes, products and services with the aim of minimising waste through pollution reduction at source, conservation of raw materials and energy, and internal recycling.

Preventing maritime accidents and illegal discharges from ships

The Mediterranean Sea has the largest traffic density of oil tankers of the globe. With 28% of the world’s sea-borne oil traffic transiting in its waters, some 200,000 crossings per year, up to 2000 ships are in the sea at any one time. 151 maritime accidents resulting in oil spills were reported in the Mediterranean between 1977 and 1999.

As some Mediterranean countries lag behind in terms of their level of preparedness to deal with pollution emergencies, MAP’s Regional Activity Centre REMPEC helps them to meet their obligations under the Prevention and Emergency Protocol by providing support in developing national preparedness and response systems and assists them to set up appropriate port reception facilities for the collection of liquid and solid waste from ships. REMPEC also helps in setting up international agreements for cooperation and mutual assistance in case of emergency and in the training of personnel.

Since 1993, a Mediterranean Assistance Unit (MAU), an “expert advice” capability, has been set up with a view to providing immediate assistance to the authorities of a coastal State threatened or affected by a pollution incident.

Managing coastal areas

Around 145 million people –around 35% of the total Mediterranean population– currently make up the population of the Mediterranean coast. The Mediterranean is also the most popular tourist destination with 170 million people visiting each year. Coastal areas and natural resources are facing severe pressures from over-crowding and unrestrained development.

Some 48% of urban centres lack sewage treatment facilities and around 80% of wastewater is disposed of in the sea untreated, which means that a load of more than 3 billion cubic metres of untreated waters enters the sea every year.

Each person generates 254 kg of solid waste per year, in average, with an annual growth of 2-3%. 30–40 million tonnes per year come from the coast. This includes household waste, paper, glass, and plastic which accounts for 75% of waste in the sea.

Integrated Coastal Area Management aims to deal with coastal area problems collectively on the understanding that they are interlinked. It relies on the involvement of a range of sectors, stakeholders and administrative levels.

MAP, through its PAP/RAC center is moving to integrate sustainable management into planning and development activities by implementing Coastal Area Management Programmes (CAMPs), individual problem-solving projects in the worst affected coastal areas.

Since 1990, 13 CAMP projects have been completed in Albania, Algeria, Croatia (Kastela Bay), Cyprus, Egypt (Fuka-Matrouh), Greece (Rhodes), Israel, Lebanon, Malta, Slovenia, Syria, Tunisia (Sfax), and Turkey (Izmir Bay). Two more are currently being implemented in Spain and Morocco.

ICZM Protocol – a new legal instrument The finalisation of the new Protocol on ICZM is currently one of the priorities of PAP/RAC. A Working Group of experts designated by the governments has been meeting to draft the text that will be submitted for adoption to the Conference of Parties in January 2008.

Preserving the Mediterranean marine and coastal biodiversity

The protection of endangered and threatened species in the Mediterranean is crucial. Most threats are human-related therefore public support is a key factor. The preservation of the region's biodiversity, rare or fragile ecosystems, species of wild fauna and flora and their habitats, is one of MAP’s main areas of interest and action, that has gained wide recognition and support.

The SPA and Biodiversity Protocol commits the Contracting Parties to support actions to protect and enhance natural and cultural heritage, in particular to promote the establishment and preservation of Specially Protected Areas and to incorporate the conservation of biological diversity into their national policies.

Several Action Plans have been established and are being implemented by MAP’s SPA/RAC center. They concern the conservation of threatened species in the Mediterranean: Cetaceans, marine turtles --in particular the green turtle Chelonia mydas), marine vegetation, cartilaginous fish --such as sharks, marine bird species, as well as an Action Plan on the introduction of non-indigenous species, to regulate the intentional or accidental introduction of non-indigenous or genetically-modified species to the wild and prohibit those that may have harmful impacts on ecosystems, habitats or species.

Promoting information and communication

MAP’s efforts aim at increasing and improving the flow of information on the environment and on the MAP to the governments and national and international institutions and to promote greater public awareness on these issues. It promotes Public Participation as a key element in the decision-making process at national and local levels.

MAP also provides public information on the scientific and technical data and information and through its INFO/RAC Regional Activity Center promotes and encourages public information at national levels, to back up information and awareness campaigns on the environment and sustainable development.

MAP is developing an ambitious international information strategy, reaching-out to broader audiences and especially youth, using dissemination methods like the Internet and multilingual publications.

Safeguarding cultural heritage

The Mediterranean coasts feature the world’s greatest concentration of historic sites and monuments, the rich legacy of thousands of years of successive civilizations, trade, conquests and conflicts.

While Historic sites may be at risk of degradation from natural causes, the sustainability of historic sites is also threatened by the sheer volume of visitors as well as by the impacts of air and atmospheric pollution. Underwater sites are also vulnerable to waste-dumping and dredging activities.

The Programme for the Protection of Coastal Historic Sites (100 HS) seeks to help protect historic sites of common Mediterranean interest identified by the Contracting Parties on the basis of approved selection criteria. The Programme concentrates its work on sites that are on the list of 100 Historic Sites in various Mediterranean coastal states and offers training in optimal site management practices.

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