The European Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) aims at implementing a precautionary and holistic ecosystem-based approach for managing European marine waters. Marine mammals are included as a functional group for the assessment and reporting under Descriptor 1-Biodiversity. Conservation of mobile marine megafauna such as cetaceans requires transboundary cooperation, which the MSFD promotes through regional instruments, such as the Regional Sea Conventions and other regional cooperation structures such as ACCOBAMS (Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and Contiguous Atlantic Area). A questionnaire survey and an exploratory analysis of MSFD implementation in the Mediterranean and Black Seas were conducted. The analysis revealed (i) the saliency of cetacean conservation, and (ii) heterogeneity among countries in the implementation of the MSFD that may hinder transboundary collaboration. ACCOBAMS can stimulate collaboration among scientists involved in cetacean monitoring and can foster transboundary initiatives that would align with MSFD objectives.
Among the many threats that can be recorded on sandy beaches, plastic litter represents a serious problem for these complex and endangered ecosystems. Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is increasingly abundant as a form of plastic litter in natural environments, particularly along shores and waterways. Nevertheless, despite the great number of scientific articles concerning the impact of litter on animal species, there are still no research focusing on the interaction between this type of beach litter and other biodiversity components. In this work, we reported the first evidence of interactions between EPS and living plants along a sandy beach of Tyrrhenian central Italy. We sampled 540 EPS items, mainly deriving from fishery activities (>75%). We obtained evidence for an interaction between EPS and plants: about 5% of items resulted perforated or have roots of three species (Phragmites australis, Spartina versicolor, Anthemis maritima). Apparently, we did not observed a relationship between plants and EPS items size. More research is needed to assess if the plant assemblage growing on EPS is random or if peculiar substrate exerts some sort of selection on the plant community.
Marine coastal ecosystems are affected by a vast array of human-induced disturbances and stresses, which are often capable of overwhelming the effects of natural changes. Despite the conceptual and practical difficulty in differentiating between disturbance and stress, which are often used interchangeably, the two terms bear different ecological meanings. Both are external agents, but the former causes mortality or physical damage (subtraction of biomass), whereas the latter causes physiological alteration (reduction in productivity). Sensitivity of marine organisms may thus have a dual connotation, being influenced in different ways by disturbance and by stress following major environmental change. Coralligenous assemblages, which shape unique biogenic formations in the Mediterranean Sea, are considered highly sensitive to change. In this paper, we propose a method to differentiate between disturbance and stress to assess the ecological status of the coralligenous assemblages. Disturbance sensitivity level (DSL) and stress sensitivity level (SSL) of the sessile organisms thriving in the coralligenous assemblages were combined into the integrated sensitivity level of coralligenous assemblages (ISLA) index. Changes in the coralligenous status were assessed in space, along a gradient of stress (human-induced pressures) at several sites of the western Mediterranean, and in time, from a long-term series (1961-2008) at Mesco Reef (Ligurian Sea) that encompasses a mass mortality event in the 1990s. The quality of the coralligenous assemblages was lower in highly urbanised sites than that in sites in both marine protected areas and areas with low levels of urbanisation; moreover, the quality of the assemblages at Mesco Reef decreased during the last 50years. Reduction in quality was mainly due to the increase in stress-tolerant and/or opportunist species (e.g. algal turfs, hydroids and encrusting sponges), the disappearance of the most sensitive macroalgae (e.g. Udoteaceae and erect Rhodophyta) and macro-invertebrates (e.g. Savalia savaglia, Alcyonium coralloides and Smittina cervicornis), and the appearance of invasive alien algal species. Although the specific indices of SSL or DSL well illustrated the changes in the spatial or temporal datasets, respectively, their integration in the ISLA index was more effective in measuring the change experienced by the coralligenous assemblages in both space and time.
A conceptual model was constructed for the functioning the algae-dominated rocky reef ecosystem of the Mediterranean Sea. The Ecosystem-Based Quality Index (reef-EBQI) is based upon this model. This index meets the objectives of the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive. It is based upon (i) the weighting of each compartment, according to its importance in the functioning of the ecosystem; (ii) biological parameters assessing the state of each compartment; (iii) the aggregation of these parameters, assessing the quality of the ecosystem functioning, for each site; (iv) and a Confidence Index measuring the reliability of the index, for each site. The reef-EBQI was used at 40 sites in the northwestern Mediterranean. It constitutes an efficient tool, because it is based upon a wide set of functional compartments, rather than upon just a few species; it is easy and inexpensive to implement, robust and not redundant with regard to already existing indices.
This report presents the conservation status of the anthozoans occuring in the Mediterranean Sea, based on the assessment of 136 species using the IUCN Red List methodology. It identifies those species that are threatened with extinction at the regional level to guide appropriate conservation actions in order to improve their status.
The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of a circle hook ring on catch rates of target fish species and bycatch rates of sea turtles, elasmobranchs, and non-commercial fish in a shallow-set Italian swordfish longline fishery.
Results were compared from 65 sets from six commercial fishing vessels totalling 50 800 hooks in which ringed and non-ringed 16/0 circle hooks with a 10° offset were alternated along the length of the longline. In total, 464 individuals were caught in the 4 years of experiment, with swordfish (Xiphias gladius) comprising 83% of the total number of animals captured. Catch rates of targeted swordfish were significantly higher on ringed hooks (CPUEringed hooks = 8.465, CPUEnon-ringed hooks = 6.654).
Results indicate that ringed circle hooks captured significantly more small-sized swordfish than non-ringed circle hooks (27.7% vs. 19.5%, respectively).
For species with sufficient sample sizes, the odds ratio (OR) of a capture was in favour of ringed hooks; significantly for swordfish (OR = 1.27 95%CI 1.04–1.57), and not significantly for bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) (OR = 1.50, 95%CI 0.68–3.42) nor for pelagic stingray (Pteroplatytrigon violacea) (OR = 1.13, 95%CI 0.54–2.36). All six loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) and three of the four blue sharks (Prionace glauca) were captured on ringed hooks, however, the small sample sizes prevented meaningful statistical analysis.
In summary, results from this study suggest that the addition of a ring to 16/0 circle hooks confers higher catchability for small-sized commercial swordfish, and does not significantly reduce catch rate of bycatch species and protected species in a Mediterranean shallow pelagic longline fishery.
These findings should motivate fisheries managers to consider factors in addition to hook shape when aiming to promote sustainable fishing practices. The presence of a ring has the potential to negate some conservation benefits.
Systematic, effective monitoring of animal population parameters underpins successful conservation strategy and wildlife management, but it is often neglected in many regions, including much of the Mediterranean Sea. Nonetheless, a series of systematic multispecies aerial surveys was carried out in the seas around Italy to gather important baseline information on cetacean occurrence, distribution and abundance. The monitored areas included the Pelagos Sanctuary, the Tyrrhenian Sea, portions of the Seas of Corsica and Sardinia, the Ionian Seas as well as the Gulf of Taranto. Overall, approximately 48,000 km were flown in either spring, summer and winter between 2009–2014, covering an area of 444,621 km2. The most commonly observed species were the striped dolphin and the fin whale, with 975 and 83 recorded sightings, respectively. Other sighted cetacean species were the common bottlenose dolphin, the Risso's dolphin, the sperm whale, the pilot whale and the Cuvier's beaked whale. Uncorrected model- and design-based estimates of density and abundance for striped dolphins and fin whales were produced, resulting in a best estimate (model-based) of around 95,000 striped dolphins (CV=11.6%; 95% CI=92,900–120,300) occurring in the Pelagos Sanctuary, Central Tyrrhenian and Western Seas of Corsica and Sardinia combined area in summer 2010. Estimates were also obtained for each individual study region and year. An initial attempt to estimate perception bias for striped dolphins is also provided. The preferred summer 2010 uncorrected best estimate (design-based) for the same areas for fin whales was around 665 (CV=33.1%; 95% CI=350–1,260). Estimates are also provided for the individual study regions and years. The results represent baseline data to develop efficient, long-term, systematic monitoring programmes, essential to evaluate trends, as required by a number of national and international frameworks, and stress the need to ensure that surveys are undertaken regularly and at a sufficient spatial scale. The management implications of the results are discussed also in light of a possible decline of fin whales abundance over the period from the mid-1990s to the present. Further work to understand changes in distribution and to allow for improved spatial models is emphasized.
Microplastic pollution of marine environment is receiving increased publicity over the last few years. The present survey is, according to our knowledge, the survey with the largest sample size analyzed, to date. In total, 1337 specimens of fish were examined for the presence of plastic microlitter representing 28 species and 14 families. In addition, samples of seawater and sediment were also analyzed for the quantification of microplastic in the same region. Samples of water/sediment were collected from 18 locations along the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. 94% of all collected plastic microlitter from the sea was in the size range between 0.1 and 2.5 mm, while the occurrence of other sizes was rare. The quantity of microplastic particles in surface water samples ranged from 16 339 to 520 213 per km2. Fish were collected from 10 locations from which 8 were either shared with or situated in the proximity of water/sediment sampling locations. A total of 1822 microplastic particles were extracted from stomach and intestines of fish. Majority of ingested particles were represented by fibers (70%) and hard plastic (20.8%), while the share of other groups: nylon (2.7%), rubber (0.8%) and miscellaneous plastic (5.5%) were low. The blue color of plastic was the most dominant color. 34% of all examined fish had microplastic in the stomach. On average, fish which had microplastic contained 1.80 particles per stomach. 41% of all fish had microplastic in the intestines with an average of 1.81 particles per fish. 771 specimens contained microplastic in either stomach and/or intestines representing 58% of the total sample with an average of 2.36 particles per fish. Microplastic was found in all species/families that had sample size of at least 2 individuals. The number of particles present in either stomach or intestines ranged between 1 and 35. Ingested microplastic had an average diameter ±SD of 656 ± 803 μm, however particles as small as 9 μm were detected. The trophic level of fish species had no influence whatsoever on the amount of ingested microplastic. Pelagic fish ingested more microplastic than demersal species. In general, fish that ingested higher number of microplastic particles originated from the sites that also had a higher particle count in the seawater and sediment.
Microplastic (<5 mm) ingestion has been recorded in Galeus melastomus, the blackmouth catshark, around the Balearic Islands. In total 125 individuals were analyzed for microplastic ingestion. Results have shown that 16.80% of the specimens had ingested a mean value of 0.34 ± 0.07 microplastics/individual. Stomach fullness index ranged from 0.86 to 38.89% and regression analyses showed that fuller stomachs contained more microplastics. A higher quantity of filament type microplastics were identified compared to granular or hard plastic type. No significant differences were given between ingestion values of two locations over the continental shelf providing further evidence of the ubiquitous distribution of microplastics. The findings in this study reflect the availability of this man made contaminant to marine species in seafloor habitats. Based on results from this study, data on microplastic ingestion could be used to study trends in the amount and composition of litter ingested by marine animals in accordance with descriptor 10 of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
This guide is designed as a consultation tool for environmental journalists in the Mediterranean region. It provides an overview of the main environmental according to experts from various institutions, and the challenges that those threats pose at present and in the future. In addition, it deals with the specificities of the legal and governance framework in the region. The objective is that all this information will provide journalists with as detailed a picture as possible of the environmental situation in the Mediterranean to serve as the basis for future press stories to be explored and developed.
We estimated the current level of knowledge concerning several biological characteristics of the Mediterranean marine fishes by carrying out a gap analysis based on information extracted from the literature, aiming to identify research trends and future needs in the field of Mediterranean fish biology that can be used in stock assessments, ecosystem modeling and fisheries management. Based on the datasets that emerged from the literature review, there is no information on any biological characteristic for 43% (n = 310) of the Mediterranean fish species, whereas for an additional 15% (n = 109) of them there is information about just one characteristic. The gap between current and desired knowledge (defined here as having information on most biological characteristics for at least half of the Mediterranean marine fishes) is smaller in length-weight relationships, which have been studied for 43% of the species, followed by spawning (39%), diet (29%), growth (25%), maturity (24%), lifespan (19%) and fecundity (17%). The gap is larger in natural mortality for which information is very scarce (8%). European hake (Merluccius merluccius), red mullet (Mullus barbatus), annular seabream (Diplodus annularis), common pandora (Pagellus erythrinus), European anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus), European pilchard (Sardina pilchardus) and bogue (Boops boops) were the most studied species, while sharks and rays were among the least studied ones. Only 25 species were fully studied, i.e. there was available information on all their biological characteristics. The knowledge gaps per characteristic varied among the western, central and eastern Mediterranean subregions. The number of available records per species was positively related to total landings, while no relationship emerged with its maximum reported length, trophic level and commercial value. Future research priorities that should be focused on less studied species (e.g. sharks and rays) and mortality/fecundity instead of length-weight relationships, as well as the economy of scientific sampling (using the entire catch to acquire data on as many biological characteristics as possible) are discussed.
Juveniles of blue shark Prionace glauca caught in pelagic longlines targeting tuna and swordfish in the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea were found entangled with plastic straps around their gill region. The plastic debris were identified as strapping bands and caused several degrees of injuries on the dorsal musculature and pectoral fins. They were also obstructing the gill slits probably causing breathing issues. These records were uploaded in the web site seawatchers.org, and highlight the potential of citizen science in revealing the occurrence of such problems which could help to measure the effects of plastic debris on marine life.
Understanding the mental constructs underlying people's social responses, decisions and behaviors is crucial to defining the governance challenges faced in dealing with marine anthropogenic litter. Using interactive governance theory, this study provides qualitative insights into how a small group of Arab-Israeli artisanal fishermen perceive marine litter and its impact (system to be governed) in the context of the socio-institutional structures (governing system) which manage waste and aim to protect the surrounding environment. It demonstrates that, until the relationships between local people and the various governing institutions are transformed, there is little hope for citizen cooperation in reducing marine litter long-term in the case-study site. More generally, underlying narratives and politics playing out at a local level need to be understood in order to identify which interventions are likely to be effective and which are not. An intervention checklist to assess the potential effectiveness of a marine litter intervention is proposed.
According to the European Union Habitats and Birds Directives, EU Member States must extend the Natura 2000 network to marine ecosystems, through the designation of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). However, the initial status of cetacean and seabird communities across European waters is often poorly understood. It is assumed that an MPA is justified where at least 1% of the “national population” of a species is present during at least part of its biological cycle. The aim of the present work was to use model-based cetacean and seabird distribution to assess the networks of existing Natura 2000 sites and offshore proposed areas of biological interest. The habitat models used here were Generalised Additive Models computed from aerial surveys observational data collected during the winter 2011–2012 and the summer 2012 across the English Channel, Bay of Biscay and north-western Mediterranean Sea. Based on these models, a ratio between species relative abundance predicted within each MPA and the total relative abundance predicted over the French Atlantic or Mediterranean marine regions was computed and compared to the 1% threshold. This assessment was conducted for winter and summer independently, providing information for assessing the relevance of individual MPAs and MPA networks at a seasonal scale. Our results showed that the existing network designed for coastal seabird species was relevant in both marine regions. In contrast, a clear shortfall was identified for offshore seabird species in the Atlantic region and for cetaceans in both regions. Moreover, the size of MPAs appeared to be a crucial feature, with larger MPAs being relevant for more species. Finally, we showed that the proposed large offshore areas of interest would constitute a highly relevant network for all offshore species, with e.g. up to 61% of the Globicephalinae population in the Atlantic French waters being present within these areas.
North East Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea fisheries are governed by the European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Despite the fact that both areas are managed under the same broad fishery management system, a large discrepancy in management performance occurs, with recent considerable improvement of stock status witnessed in the North East Atlantic and a rapidly deteriorating situation in the Mediterranean Sea. The control of fishing effort combined with specific technical measures, such as gear regulation, establishment of a minimum conservation reference size, and selective closure of areas and seasons, is the main management strategy adopted by Mediterranean Sea EU countries. On the other hand TAC (Total Allowable Catches) is the major regulatory mechanisms in the North East Atlantic. Here, we analyzed all available stock assessment and effort data for the most important commercial species and fleets in the Mediterranean Sea since 2003. The analysis shows that there is no apparent relationship between nominal effort and fishing mortality for all species. Fishing mortality has remained stable during the last decade, for most species, with a significant decline observed only for red mullet and giant red shrimp but an increase for sardine stocks. Also, current F is larger or much larger than FMSY for all species. Despite catch advice are produced by STECF each year, the realized catches have usually been much larger than the scientific advice. A recent analysis argued that this dichotomy might be due to several factors, such as the better enforcement of monitoring control and surveillance in North East Atlantic, the more complex socio-economic situation and the less effective management governance in the Mediterranean Sea. Here we argue instead that major reasons for the alarming situation of Mediterranean Sea stocks can be found in the ineffectiveness of the current effort system to control F, the continuous non-adherence to the scientific advice and inadequacies of existing national management plans as a key management measure. It is therefore undoubted that alternatives management measures as a TAC based system are necessary if Europe is willing to achieve the objectives of the CFP before 2020 in the Mediterranean Sea.
Marine litter is a global concern with a range of problems associated to it, as recognised by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). Marine litter can impact organisms at different levels of biological organization and habitats in a number of ways namely: through entanglement in, or ingestion of, litter items by individuals, resulting in death and/or severe suffering; through chemical and microbial transfer; as a vector for transport of biota and by altering or modifying assemblages of species. Marine litter is a threat not only to marine species and ecosystems but also carries a risk to human health and has significant implications to human welfare, impacting negatively vital economic sectors such as tourism, fisheries, aquaculture or energy supply and bringing economic losses to individuals, enterprises and communities. This technical report aims to provide clear insight about the major negative impacts from marine litter by describing the mechanisms of harm. Further it provides reflexions about the evidence for harm from marine litter to biota comprising the underlying aspect of animal welfare while also considering the socioeconomic effects, including the influence of marine litter on ecosystem services. General conclusions highlight that understanding the risks and uncertainties with regard to the harm caused by marine litter is closely associated with the precautionary principle. The collected evidence in this report can be regarded as a supporting step to define harm and to provide an evidence base for the various actions needed to be implemented by decision-makers. This improved knowledge about the scale of the harmful effects of marine litter will further support EU Member States (MSs) and Regional Seas Conventions (RSCs) to implement their programme of measures, regional action plans and assessments.
The Mediterranean Sea has been defined “under siege” because of intense pressures from multiple human activities; yet there is still insufficient information on the cumulative impact of these stressors on the ecosystem and its resources. We evaluate how the historical (1950–2011) trends of various ecosystems groups/species have been impacted by changes in primary productivity (PP) combined with fishing pressure. We investigate the whole Mediterranean Sea using a food web modelling approach. Results indicate that both changes in PP and fishing pressure played an important role in driving species dynamics. Yet, PP was the strongest driver upon the Mediterranean Sea ecosystem. This highlights the importance of bottom-up processes in controlling the biological characteristics of the region. We observe a reduction in abundance of important fish species (~34%, including commercial and non-commercial) and top predators (~41%), and increases of the organisms at the bottom of the food web (~23%). Ecological indicators, such as community biomass, trophic levels, catch and diversity indicators, reflect such changes and show overall ecosystem degradation over time. Since climate change and fishing pressure are expected to intensify in the Mediterranean Sea, this study constitutes a baseline reference for stepping forward in assessing the future management of the basin.
In 2004, the UN General Assembly resolved to establish a working group to consider issues pertaining to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ). The group met nine times between 2006 and 2015 before concluding its mandate by recommending the development of an international legally binding instrument on BBNJ under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Based on in-depth interviews with working group participants, this research examines how NGOs contributed to the working group process. Respondents from government delegations highlighted the usefulness of workshops and side events convened by NGOs, and the role of NGOs in bringing experts on technical issues – particularly marine genetic resources and the sharing of benefits – into the BBNJ negotiations. Respondents from both NGOs and government delegations emphasized the importance of fostering personal relationships in order to ensure a steady and constructive information flow. Social media efforts by NGOs were considered by some government representatives to have occasionally hampered open discussion, although they noted that conditions have improved. The lengthy working group process was marked by substantial fluctuation in participation, particularly within government delegations from developing states. Of 1523 individuals who participated in at least one of the working group meetings, only 45 attended more than half of the meetings, and 80% of these were representing NGOs or highly industrialized countries. Respondents felt that this comparatively small number of individuals provided a source of continuity that was crucial for moving the discussions forward.
Minimizing illegal fishing is of paramount importance for fisheries sustainability. The present study focused on the fisheries infringements through the analysis of the official records in one of the largest Mediterranean lagoons, Mesolonghi-Etolikon, and the analysis of questionnaires answered by local fishermen to determine the true effectiveness of the control efforts. This double analysis represents a valuable case study for determining illegal fisheries practices, status of control, and efficacy of regulations. Results exhibited that: (a) the high contribution of the recorded infringements was due to absence of fishermen/vessel licenses, (b) fines are not proportionate with the type of illegal activity, and (c) the number of the recorded infringements represented a very small percentage of the estimated number of fishing days conducted by both professional fishermen and people not having fishing/vessel license. Findings indicated a situation with great presence of illegality that might completely weak any possibility for assessing the status of fisheries and resources and seriously hamper any definition of thresholds useful for sustainable management. Solutions are discussed especially in the light of revision of regulations and of transparency in the decision-making process.
The global decline of marine ecosystems may be partially ascribed to poor governance and to the lack of sustainable use and marine biodiversity conservation policy. Conservation success is strongly related to how people perceive marine biodiversity and those perceptions can change as a result of the accumulation of knowledge, the quality of the environment, and the appropriate and sustainable management of these areas. Engaging the targeted community in the process of promoting and planning safeguarding activities may also contribute to the acceptability and the dissemination of a shared culture of sustainability and a positive change in behavior.
This study investigates people's knowledge, perceptions and feelings toward the protection and improvement of marine biodiversity of coralligenous areas in the North Adriatic Sea in Italy. Several focus groups were conducted in the major towns of the targeted area (N = 107) to explore people's familiarity with marine biodiversity and ecosystem services, and to reveal their opinions and behaviours for certain protection strategies, such as the marine protected area (MPA).
We found that coralligenous habitats are not very well known among the general people; in fact, only 42% of respondents had previously heard about biodiversity in these habitats. However, participants agreed that they provide important environmental services that benefit human wellbeing. Moreover, we found that 80% of respondents had heard before of MPA, and the majority of them were in favor of supporting interventions and policies to protect these areas.