Marine protected areas (MPAs) are a cornerstone of marine conservation. Globally, the number and coverage of MPAs are increasing, but MPA implementation lags in many human-dominated regions. In areas with intense competition for space and resources, evaluation of the effects of MPAs is crucial to inform decisions. In the human-dominated Mediterranean Sea, fully protected areas occupy only 0.04% of its surface. We evaluated the impacts of full and partial protection on biomass and density of fish assemblages, some commercially important fishes, and sea urchins in 24 Mediterranean MPAs. We explored the relationships between the level of protection and MPA size, age, and enforcement. Results revealed significant positive effects of protection for fisheries target species and negative effects for urchins as their predators benefited from protection. Full protection provided stronger effects than partial protection. Benefits of full protection for fish biomass were only correlated with the level of MPA enforcement; fish density was higher in older, better enforced, and —interestingly— smaller MPAs. Our finding that even small, well-enforced, fully protected areas can have significant ecological effects is encouraging for “crowded” marine environments. However, more data are needed to evaluate sufficient MPA sizes for protecting populations of species with varying mobility levels.
This review focuses on the recent data on Mediterranean fishing fleets and landings, results from stock assessments and ecosystem models to provide an overview of the multiple impacts of fishing exploitation in the different Mediterranean geographical sub-areas (GSAs). A fleet of about 73,000 vessels is widespread along the Mediterranean coasts. Artisanal activities are predominant in South Mediterranean and in the eastern basin, while trawling features GSAs in the western basin and the Adriatic Sea. The overall landings of fish, crustaceans and cephalopods, after peaking during mid 90s at about one million tons, declined at about 700,000 tons in 2013. However, while landings are declining in EU countries since the 90s, in non-EU countries a decreasing trend was observed only in the last 5–10 years. The current levels of fishing effort determine a general overexploitation status of commercial stocks with more than 90% of the stock assessed out of safe biological limits. Indicators obtained from available ecosystem models were used to assess the sustainability of the fisheries. They included primary production required to sustain fisheries (PPR), mean trophic level of the catch (mTLc), the loss in secondary production index (L index), and the probability of the ecosystem to be sustainably exploited (psust). In areas exploited more sustainably (e.g., Gulf of Gabes, Eastern Ionian, and Aegean Sea) fishing pressure was characterized by either low number of vessels per unit of shelf area or the large prevalence of artisanal/small scale fisheries. Conversely, GSAs in Western Mediterranean and Adriatic showed very low ecosystem sustainability of fisheries that can be easily related with the high fishing pressure and the large proportion of overfished stocks obtained from single species assessments. We showed that the current knowledge on Mediterranean fisheries and ecosystems describes a worrisome picture where the effect of poorly regulated fisheries, in combination with the ongoing climate forcing and the rapid expansion of non-indigenous species, are rapidly changing the structure and functioning of the ecosystem with unpredictable effects on the goods and services provided. Although this would call for urgent conservation actions, the management system implemented in the region appears too slow and probably inadequate to protect biodiversity and secure fisheries resources for the future generations.
The effectiveness of management initiatives implemented in the context of the European Common Fisheries Policy has been questioned, especially with regard to the Mediterranean. Some of the analyses made to compare the fishing activity and management measures carried out in the North East Atlantic and in the Mediterranean do not take into account some of the differentiating peculiarities of each of these regions. At the same time, they resort to traditional fisheries management measures and do not discuss the role of marine protected areas as a complementary management tool. In this respect, the apparent failure of marine protected areas in the North-East Atlantic compared with the same in the Mediterranean is challenging European fishery scientists. Application of the classical holistic view of ecological succession to the functioning of fishery closures and no-use areas highlights the importance of combining both management regimes to fully satisfy both fishery- and biodiversity-oriented goals. We advocate that an optimal management strategy for designing an MPA to protect biodiversity and sustain fishing yields consists of combining a network of no-use areas (close to their mature state) with fish boxes (buffer zones maintained by fishing disturbance in a relatively early successional stage, where productivity is higher), under a multi-zoning scheme. In this framework, the importance of no-use areas for fisheries is based on several observations: (1) They preserve biological diversity at regional scale, at all levels—specific, habitat/seascape, and also genetic diversity and the structure of populations, allowing natural selection to operate. (2) They permit the natural variability of the system to be differentiated from the effects of regulation and to be integrated in appropriate sampling schemes as controls. (3) They maintain the natural size and age structure of the populations, hence maximizing potential fecundity, allowing biomass export to occur from core to regulated areas, dampening the fluctuations derived from deviations from the theoretical optimal effort in the fishing zone.
Marine and coastal ecosystems are among the most productive environments in the world and their stocks of natural capital offer a bundle of vital ecosystem services. Anthropogenic pressure seriously threatens health and long-term sustainability of marine environments. For these reasons, integrated approaches capable of combining ecological and socio-economic aspects are needed to achieve nature conservation and sustainability targets. In this study, the value of natural capital of the Egadi Islands Marine Protected Area (EI-MPA) was assessed through a biophysical and trophodynamic environmental accounting model. The emergy value of both autotrophic and heterotrophic natural capital stocks was calculated for the main habitats of the EI-MPA. Eventually, the emergy value of natural capital was converted into monetary units to better communicate its importance to local managers and policy-makers. The total value of natural capital in the EI-MPA resulted in 1.12·1021 sej, equivalent to about 1.17 billion of euros. In addition, using Marxan software, the results of the environmental accounting were integrated with spatial data on main human uses. This integration took into account the trade-offs between conservation measures and human exploitation by means of two different scenarios, with and without considering human uses in the EI-MPA. The comparison between the scenarios highlighted the importance of taking into account human activities in marine spatial planning (MSP), allowing the identification of key areas for natural capital conservation. In conclusion, this study showed the importance of integrating environmental accounting with conservation planning to support effective strategies for ecological protection and sustainable management of human activities. The results of this study represent a first benchmark useful to explore alternative nature conservation strategies in the EI-MPA, and, more in general, in Mediterranean MPAs.
Adaptive management is essential to the practical application of the Ecosystem-Based Approach (EBA). Despite there are frequent assertions that adaptive management is being used, evidence on its success is still limited. Indeed, it is difficult to bring the different elements of adaptive management together in a robust way and to choose the appropriate tools to do it. Therefore, it is necessary to provide a practical framework for adaptive policy action, consistent with the EBA. Accordingly, to operationalize the design and implementation of adaptive policies on the basis of the EBA, the Adaptive Marine Policy toolbox has been developed. The objective of the toolbox is to provide policy-makers a practical framework to design and implement adaptive policies. To show the functionality of the toolbox, the guidelines and resources provided within the toolbox have been applied to the marine litter issue in the Mediterranean and Black Sea as an example. The example application has shown that the toolbox is a useful and operational framework to build a science-policy interface according to the EBA. Despite some resources could be missing from the toolbox, they provide a practical and useful starting point to support the application of the different steps and key activities.
The Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) is the European Commission's flagship initiative for the protection of the European Seas, and the first holistic approach to ensuring that European Seas reach and are maintained at what is called a ‘Good Environmental Status’ by the year 2020. Regional cooperation, especially between neighbouring countries, and involvement of all interested parties, are horizontal principles of the MSFD, and particularly apply to the definition of programmes of measures, the principal instrument through which each Member State will implement its marine strategy. This paper presents the results from a dedicated, participatory, structured decision-making process that was implemented within the framework of the ActionMed project, which aimed to bring experts and policy/decision-makers from Mediterranean neighbouring countries together, to discuss and agree upon common measures for implementation in their sub-regions. It shows that a participatory approach, supported by customised, case specific intelligent tools, that follows expertly facilitated, structured workshops can be a successful way to enhance sub-regional collaboration. The paper also presents the top ranking measures, selected by experts and decision-makers for common implementation in two Mediterranean sub-regions.
Aquaculture is an increasingly important food-producing sector, providing protein for human consumption. However, marine aquaculture often struggles for space due to the crowded nature of human activities in many marine coastal areas, and because of limited attention from spatial planning managers. Here, we assess the need for coastal spatial planning, emphasising the establishment of suitable areas for the development of marine aquaculture, termed Allocated Zones for Aquaculture (AZAs), in which aquaculture has secured use and priority over other activities, and where potential adverse environmental impacts and negative interactions with other users are minimised or avoided. We review existing examples of marine aquaculture spatial development worldwide and discuss the proper use of site selection in relation to different legal and regulatory requirements. National or regional authorities in charge of coastal zone management should carry out spatial planning defining optimal sites for aquaculture to promote development of sustainable marine aquaculture and avoid conflict with other users, following a participatory approach and adhering to the principles of ecosystem-based management.
Coastal resource management requires the resolution of local resource use conflicts. The research on coastal conflict resolution is still scarce despite the progress made in fisheries and marine related conflict studies. Utilizing qualitative methodology this paper makes comparative analyses of strengths and deficits of coastal conflict resolution practices in three conflicts from the Swedish west coast and five conflicts from the United Kingdom, Italy and Belgium, all studied in the context of the European research project SECOA (Solutions to Environmental Contrasts in Coastal Areas). The analyses focus on power relations among the stakeholders and their practices of knowledge use, including knowledge integration and joint learning. The results show deficits of research and practical neglect of these aspects in coastal management. In the discussion the question of how approaches to conflict resolution can be improved and integrated into long-term strategies of sustainable resource management in coastal areas is addressed. It is concluded that complex conflicts over natural resource use require context specific combinations of formal and informal resolution methods. The interconnected components of transformation of power relations, knowledge integration and joint learning are seen as key components of conflict resolution.
Small-scale fisheries are responsible for high numbers of animals caught as bycatch, such as turtles, cetaceans, and seals. Bycatch and its associated mortality is a major conservation challenge for these species and is considered undesirable by fishermen. To gain insights on the impact of bycatch on small-scale fishermen and put it in context with other financial and environmental challenges they face, we conducted questionnaire-based interviews on fishermen working on Crete, Greece. We investigated fishermen's perceptions of sea turtle and other protected species interactions, and the impacts of such interactions on their profession and livelihoods. Our results indicate a connection between declining fish stocks, related increased fishing effort, and reported increased frequency of interactions between fishermen and sea turtles. Respondents believed that their livelihoods were endangered by industrial fishing and environmental problems, but thought that combined interactions with turtles and other marine megafauna species were a larger problem. Responses suggested that extending compensation to fishermen may be a good conservation intervention. Small-scale fishermen hold a wealth of knowledge about the marine environment and its resources. This may be of help to researchers and policy makers as it could be used to achieve a better managed, sustainable fishery. Including small-scale fishermen in the process of developing regulations will both enhance those regulations and increase compliance with them.
The improvement of fishing technology has been detrimental to the sustainability of fisheries, which is particularly clear for the bottom trawl fishery. Reducing its environmental impact is a key point for the development of a more sustainable fishery. The present work analyzed different possibilities to mitigate the impact of gears on the seabed and to increase the efficiency of the bottom trawl fishery of the Western Mediterranean. The analysis of three experiments showed that innovative technical and regulation measures can lead to benefits such as the reduction of fishing effort, the improvement of the cost-benefit relation and the reduction of the direct impact on the seabed and the indirect effect on the ecosystems through reduce discards and the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere. After years of studies focused on improving the sustainability of this fishery, it's about time to turn this improvement into reality.
Monitoring fish assemblages is needed to assess whether Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are meeting their conservation and fisheries management goals, as it allows one to track the progress of recovery of exploited species and associated communities. Underwater Visual Census techniques (UVC) are used to monitor fish assemblages in MPAs. UVCs should be adapted to fish abundance, body-size and behaviour, which can strongly affect fish detectability. In Mediterranean subtidal habitats, however, UVC strip transects of one surface area (25x5 m2) are commonly used to survey the whole fish assemblage, from large shy fish to small crypto-benthic fish. Most high trophic level predators (HTLPs) are large shy fish which rarely swim close to divers and, consequently, their abundance may be under-estimated with commonly used transects. Here, we propose an improvement to traditional transect surveys to better account for differences in behaviour among and within species. First, we compared the effectiveness of combining two transect surface areas (large: 35x20 m2; medium: 25x5 m2) in quantifying large, shy fish within and outside Mediterranean MPAs. We identified species-specific body-size thresholds defining a smaller and a larger size class better sampled by medium and large transects respectively. Combining large and medium transects provided more accurate biomass and species richness estimates for large, shy species than using medium transects alone. We thus combined the new approach with two other transect surface areas commonly used to survey crypto-benthic (10x1 m2) and necto-benthic (25x5 m2) species in order to assess how effectively MPAs protection the whole fish assemblage. We verified that MPAs offer significant protection for HTLPs, their response in terms of biomass and density increase in MPAs was always higher in magnitude than other functional groups. Inside MPAs, the contribution of HTLP reached >25% of total fish biomass, against < 2% outside MPAs. Surveys with multiple transect surface areas allow for a more realistic assessment of the structure of the whole fish assemblage and better assessment of potential recovery of HTLPs within reserves of HTLP.
The ecosystems of the Israeli Mediterranean coast have undergone significant changes in recent decades mainly due to species invasions and fishing. In order to characterize the structure and functioning of the marine continental shelf of the Israeli Mediterranean coast and assess temporal changes, we developed a food web model representing two time periods: 1990–1994 and 2008–2012.
The 1990–1994 and 2008–2012 food web models were composed of 39 and 41 functional groups, respectively. Functional groups ranged from primary producers to top predators, and included six and eight alien functional groups, respectively, encompassing several crustacean and fish species. Input data included local surveys and fishery statistics, published data on stomach content analyses, and the application of empirical equations to estimate consumption and production rates.
Results of the competitive interactions between alien and native species and changes in trophic flows between food web components highlight the increasing impact of alien species over time. Fishing had noticeable impacts in both time periods and played an important role in the ecosystem. Despite different productivity rates and other environmental differences, the Israeli marine ecosystem shared common structural and functional traits with other Mediterranean marine ecosystems. This is the first attempt to study the ecosystem of the Levant region using mass-balance models and to integrate such a large amount of alien species into food web analyses.
The ‘Study on International Best Practices for Cross-Border MSP’ has been designed to assist the European Commission (EC) and Member States in the implementation of the MSP Directive through the identification of good practices of MSP, with a particular focus on cross-border cooperation; and to elaborate recommendations that can support the promotion and exchange of MSP at the international level, relevant to the implementation of the EC International Ocean Governance Agenda.
Over the last few years, an increasing number of nations have begun to implement MSP at various scales, from local initiatives to transnational efforts, motivated by opportunities for new maritime industries, the reversal of negative environmental trends and the improved coordination of sectors among others. In Europe, the European Directive to establish a framework for MSP (the “MSP Directive”) is considered as a step forward in the adoption of MSP principles and good practices by EU Member States. This directive can support not only a more efficient sustainable development of marine and coastal resources, but also strengthen cross-border cooperation, and therefore improve ocean governance.
This study has centred its work on four main objectives or phases: Firstly, the review of existing guidance and MSP processes, and compilation of a detailed inventory of MSP implementation outside the EU, the Study’s ‘Global MSP Inventory’, 1 which provides a description of MSP processes and identifies common practice, including approaches to cross-border cooperation. Secondly, an in-depth comparative analysis of four case studies of MSP implementation, 2 including literature review, site visits and key informant interviews, that identifies lessons learned in MSP, and good practices in support of cross-border cooperation. Thirdly, the formulation of recommendations on the international exchange of MSP, including recommendations on the application of MSP in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ). Fourthly, the presentation of preliminary findings at the 2nd International MSP Conference (March 2017, Paris), partly coordinated and supported by the Study team.
This report presents the final publication of the Study and presents findings associated with these four objectives.
Europe has a long tradition of exploiting marine fishes and is promoting marine economic activity through its Blue Growth strategy. This increase in anthropogenic pressure, along with climate change, threatens the biodiversity of fishes and food security. Here, we examine the conservation status of 1,020 species of European marine fishes and identify factors that contribute to their extinction risk. Large fish species (greater than 1.5 m total length) are most at risk; half of these are threatened with extinction, predominantly sharks, rays and sturgeons. This analysis was based on the latest International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) European regional Red List of marine fishes, which was coherent with assessments of the status of fish stocks carried out independently by fisheries management agencies: no species classified by IUCN as threatened were considered sustainable by these agencies. A remarkable geographic divergence in stock status was also evident: in northern Europe, most stocks were not overfished, whereas in the Mediterranean Sea, almost all stocks were overfished. As Europe proceeds with its sustainable Blue Growth agenda, two main issues stand out as needing priority actions in relation to its marine fishes: the conservation of marine fish megafauna and the sustainability of Mediterranean fish stocks.
Concern is growing that marine fauna can be affected by noise such as naval sonar, pile driving or geophysical surveys, among others. Literature reports a variety of animal reactions to human noise (from apparently null or negligible to strong). However, conclusive results on its effects on marine mammals at individual and population level are still lacking. In 2015, the Italian Environmental Impact Assessment Commission mandated seismic operators apply a standard scientific protocol comparing marine mammal presence before, during, and after offshore seismic survey. For 60 days before and after the survey, marine mammals are monitored using visual and acoustic methods. One or more acoustic autonomous recorders, depending on area size, must also be deployed throughout the three phases for continuous monitoring. Consistent data gathered from many surveys will enable robust statistical analysis of results. Diffusion of this monitoring method internationally would improve the study of far-reaching, intense, low frequency noise.
Despite being a small part of the world's oceans, the Mediterranean Sea hosts a diverse marine mammal fauna, with a total of 28 different species known to occur, or to have occurred, in the region. Species currently recognised as regular in the Mediterranean—the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) and 11 cetaceans (fin whale, Balaenoptera physalus; sperm whale, Physeter macrocephalus; Cuvier's beaked whale, Ziphius cavirostris; short-beaked common dolphin, Delphinus delphis; long-finned pilot whale, Globicephala melas; Risso's dolphin, Grampus griseus; killer whale, Orcinus orca; striped dolphin, Stenella coeruleoalba; rough-toothed dolphin, Steno bredanensis; common bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus; harbour porpoise, Phocoena phocoena relicta) have adapted well to the region's environmental conditions, but their coexistence with humans is problematic. All the regular species are represented in the Mediterranean by populations genetically distinct from their North Atlantic relatives. Seventeen other species (three pinnipeds and 14 cetaceans) occur or have occurred in the Mediterranean as vagrants from adjacent regions. Impacts on the conservation status of marine mammals in the region deriving from a variety of threats include: (a) mortality caused by deliberate killing (to a large extent resulting from fisheries interactions), naval sonar, ship strikes, epizootics, fisheries bycatch, chemical pollution and ingestion of solid debris; (b) short-term redistribution caused by naval sonar, seismic surveys, vessel disturbance and vessel noise; and (c) long-term redistribution caused by fishery-induced food depletion, coastal development and possibly climate change. Accordingly, seven of the 12 marine mammals regular in the Mediterranean region are listed as Threatened on IUCN's Red List; regrettably, three are Data Deficient and two remain unassessed.
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.
The coralligenous habitats found in the Mediterranean Sea are hotspots comparable in biodiversity to tropical reefs. Coralligenous reefs are vulnerable to many human pressures, thus they are among the most threatened habitats in the Mediterranean Sea. In this study, we assessed the impacts on coralligenous habitats of activities associated with salvaging the wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise ship. After its partial foundering in 2012, the Costa Concordia remained adjacent to the eastern coast of Giglio Island (Tuscany, Italy), in the Tyrrhenian Sea, for over two years. Its salvage required high-impact engineering works, during the course of which monitoring of benthic communities was undertaken. We performed Rapid Visual Assessment (RVA) sampling (using recorded video) from 17 stations located between 35 and 76 m depth and characterized by coralligenous habitats. Sampling activity was performed during the summers of 2012, 2013, and 2014. In parallel, chemical and physical water parameters were measured continuously from summer 2012 to the end of summer 2014, in order to detect any perturbation in natural conditions caused by salvage activities. We assessed the ecological quality of coralligenous habitats by applying the COARSE (COralligenous Assessment by ReefScape Estimate) index, based on the RVA approach. Slight modifications were applied to one of the descriptors of the COARSE index in order to adjust for study site features. There was clear evidence of a reduction in coralligenous habitats quality. Assemblages, slope, type of pressure, and distance from the source of disturbance played a pivotal role in characterizing bottom quality. The index was shown to have an easy and cost-effective application, even in waters deeper than its calibration specification; furthermore, the modification reported here may increase its potential applications.
While reported losses of climate-related hazards are at historically high levels, climate change is likely to enhance the risk posed by extreme weather events. Several regions are likely to be exposed to multiple climate hazards, yet their modeling in a joint scheme is still at the early stages. A multi-hazard framework to map exposure to multiple climate extremes in Europe along the twenty-first century is hereby presented. Using an ensemble of climate projections, changes in the frequency of heat and cold waves, river and coastal flooding, streamflow droughts, wildfires and windstorms are evaluated. Corresponding variations in expected annual exposure allow for a quantitative comparison of hazards described by different process characteristics and metrics. Projected changes in exposure depict important variations in hazard scenarios, especially those linked to rising temperatures, and spatial patterns largely modulated by local climate conditions. Results show that Europe will likely face a progressive increase in overall climate hazard with a prominent spatial gradient towards south-western regions mainly driven by the rise of heat waves, droughts and wildfires. Key hotspots emerge particularly along coastlines and in floodplains, often highly populated and economically pivotal, where floods and windstorms could be critical in combination with other climate hazards. Projected increases in exposure will be larger for very extreme events due to their pronounced changes in frequency. Results of this appraisal provide useful input for forthcoming European disaster risk and adaptation policy.