The Mediterranean Marine Protected Areas Network: A Successful Model in Action
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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Mediterranean countries have embarked since 1975, through the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols, on a series of cooperative, coordinative and mutual assisted processes aimed at protecting the Mediterranean, conserving its biological diversity and combating pollution.

Over the last two years, marine protected areas (MPAs) have taken center stage in international fora reflecting on progress towards agreed global goals.

A global study demonstrates that widespread lack of personnel and funds prevent MPAs from reaching their full potential, and that only 9% of MPAs reported having adequate staff.

MedPAN, the Mediterranean network of Marine Protected Areas, is working actively, with its partners, towards reaching international goals and objectives and reversing this trend.

Both the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically Goal 14 (Life below Water), feature specific targets for protected area designations, making area based management tools (ABMTs) like marine protected areas (MPAs) important to their achievement. MPAs also featured in recent discussions on a draft negotiating text for an agreement on the management of biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ).

Mediterranean countries have embarked since 1975, through the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols, on a series of cooperative, coordinative and mutual assisted processes aimed at protecting the Mediterranean, conserving its biological diversity and combating pollution. The Mediterranean countries thus dedicated one of the Convention’s Protocols to the conservation of biodiversity, especially by developing MPAs. This protocol (SPA/BD) enables the creation of Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance, which include areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Over the last two years, MPAs have also taken center stage in international fora reflecting on progress towards these agreed global goals. For instance, The UN Environment Programme – World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) launched the ‘Protected Planet Report 2016′ at IUCN’s World Conservation Congress (WCC). The report finds that MPAs cover 4.12% (14.9 million km2) of the global ocean and 10.2% of coastal and marine areas under national jurisdiction. Since 2014, marine protected area coverage in areas under national jurisdiction increased by 1.8%. In areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) (generally >200 nautical miles), MPAs make up only 0.25% of total ABNJ area, showing no change since 2014. Aichi Biodiversity Target 11, featured in the CBD Strategic Plan, aims to conserve 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020. At the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress, members approved the target of 30% to be set aside in “highly protected MPAs and OECMs” by 2030.

The Mediterranean has also played its part in this trend. To date,there are 1,231 MPAs and OECMs (Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures) in the Mediterranean Sea, covering 179,798 km2, which places a surface of 7.14% through a large variety of conservation designations, with national designations accounting for only 1.6% and no-go, no-take or no-fishing zones for 0.04%.[1] Over 72.77% of the surface covered is located in the Western Mediterranean. Designations cover 9.79% of European waters mostly due to the Natura 2000 at sea network, which rarely affords strict restrictive measures.

To reach the 10% quantitative part of the Aichi Target, an additional 71,900 km2 (2.86 % of the Mediterranean) would need to be placed under strong protection designations that also target currently under-represented features.

Looking at the qualitative aspects of the current system of MPAs and OECMs, many sites are not actually implemented and there are no regulations in place to curb existing pressures or enough means to enforce them. Little is also known about the management measures in place and if they are effective at maintaining or restoring the biodiversity they aim to protect. It appears that the human and financial means allocated to management are much too low, thereby compromising successful conservation. Most of the Mediterranean MPAs lack permanent staff, and are insufficiently funded and weakly enforced.

Most of the Mediterranean MPAs lack permanent staff, and are insufficiently funded and weakly enforced.

A recent study published in Nature, ‘Capacity shortfalls hinder the performance of marine protected areas globally’ confirms the trends in the Mediterranean and globally. The study demonstrates that widespread lack of personnel and funds prevent MPAs from reaching their full potential, and that only 9% of MPAs reported having adequate staff.

MedPAN, the Mediterranean network of Marine Protected Areas, is working actively, with its partners, towards reaching these international objectives and reversing the trend. Networks of managers of marine protected areas (MPAs) are indeed essential catalysts and facilitators for the development of well-managed ecological networks of MPAs. They often are the sole platform dedicated to MPAs only; which provide them the opportunity to best adapt and quickly react to MPA manager’s needs. They provide a rationale for an individual MPA to coordinate with others (as well as with other stakeholders) to share experiences, tools, and methods and to enhance efforts in managing their respective MPAs. They increase the visibility, raise the profile of MPAs and advocate for their full legitimacy. They share a common language, and encourage harmonization and coherence by offering knowledge development and capitalization tools. They build “regional MPA community” by gathering managers, local and regional management authorities, local stakeholders as well as donors towards the same overall goal. Finally, their governance allows top-down and bottom-up processes; and hence offers the continuum between MPAs’ objectives and national, regional and international targets.

There are several examples of Regional MPA managers’ networks such as: RAMPAO in West Africa, CaMPAM in the Caribbean and NAMPAN in North America. MedPAN is one of the most active and fruitful.

The MedPAN network gathers, to date, more than 65 members, primarily MPA managing institutions from the whole Mediterranean basin, and 41 partners willing to contribute to the creation and strengthening of the network. These actors manage more than 110 MPAs in 18 Mediterranean countries. MedPAN is run by the MedPAN organization, a permanent structure established in late 2008.

The MedPAN network’s mission, to promote the sustainability and operation of the network of MPAs in the Mediterranean, is instrumental in helping the region meet the targets under CBD Aïchi target 11 and Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 on Life below Water.

To achieve this, MedPAN has developed, through a partnership approach, three main strategic axes: increase knowledge on Mediterranean MPAs through regional database, analysis and monitoring tools; support the effective management of MPAs through capacity-building and experience sharing; and bring the voice of MPAs at national, European and Mediterranean levels to convince decision-makers and donors to create more MPAs with enough human and financial means. Finally MedPAN together with the UNEP/MAP RACSPA and other partners, gathered key MPA stakeholders of the Mediterranean during a Forum that was held in 2012 and 2016 to elaborate and evaluate the 2020 Mediterranean Roadmap.

MedPAN uses a partnership approach to develop its activities that includes its members and partners, as well as governmental and non-governmental organizations on a local, national, regional and international level. It is currently reinforcing the collaboration with other Regional MPA networks in the world such as RAMPAO in West Africa, CAMPAM in the Caribbean and NAMPAN in North America.

Overall, MedPAN is an example of what can be achieved at the regional level through a partnership approach to reach the MPA international objectives by technically supporting MPA management at local level while increasing MPA visibility to obtain strategic and policy support to them. MedPAN succeeded in building a “regional MPA community” by gathering managers, local and regional management authorities, local stakeholders as well as donors towards the same overall goal.

For more information, please visit http://www.medpan.org.

[1] 2016 Status of Marine Protected Areas in the Mediterranean: Main findings. MedPAN & UNEP-MAP-SPA/RAC.

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