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The Mediterranean Sea is experiencing an unprecedented ‘Blue Gold Rush’. And despite accounting for only 1% of the oceans, it is already one of the busiest and most developed in the world. Competition for maritime space and resources has never been higher. Interactions with marine protected areas have never been so frequent.
For thousands of years, the seas and oceans represented infinite space, giving the feeling that humanity might be free of constraints and limitations. The illusion lasted until the middle of the 20th century, when increasingly intensive fishing began to degrade global fish stocks. Since then, many more activities have developed in Mediterranean coastal areas and on the open sea, competing for the same resources and the same spaces.
Activities such as shipping have rapidly intensified, cruise tourism has been growing swiftly, and new sectors such as offshore wind energy and marine mining have recently begun developing.
On the other hand, the Mediterranean Sea hosts a multitude of areas of important ecological value which deliver a wide range of ecosystem services and are rich in biodiversity. Marine protected areas (MPAs) are the best known and most effective tool developed so far to protect those ecosystems. But today they're threatened by the ever-increasing interactions with human activities.
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are one of the most effective tools available to support the Good Environmental Status (GES) riparian states have committed to achieve: 10% of the world’s oceans under legal protection by 2020.
Yet, competition for maritime space will increase in the future, reflecting the pressing need to manage our waters more coherently.
Negotiations are likely to be channeled through public policies such as maritime spatial planning (MSP). The European Parliament has adopted legislation to create a common MSP framework in Europe, and Member States have been asked to deliver their first maritime spatial plans by 2021.
On the real side of the picture, MPA managers are wondering which marine uses they can allow inside the MPAs without weakening the conservation value of their protected areas.
Sectors can be more or less compatible with MPAs. If MPA can achieve their conservation goals and demonstrate that under targeted regulations the impacts of economic activities can be avoided or sufficiently mitigated, then in principle compatibility can be guaranteed. Most Mediterranean MPAs are multi-use areas and already provide a wealth of experience on these issues.
This point is at the core of the PHAROS4MPAs project, which assesses how maritime traffic, offshore wind farms, aquaculture, cruise, small-scale fishing, recreational fishing and leisure boating affect Mediterranean MPAs, and suggests strategic approaches for avoiding or mitigating their impacts.
The PHAROS4MPAs project is trying to help, providing a set of practical recommendations for regional stakeholders on how the environmental impacts of 7 sectors can be prevented or minimized.
Future marine economic development must consider areas of ecological value in general and MPAs in particular, viewing them as part of a wider network where areas with different ecological functions connect.
◦ Avoid putting new pressures on existing MPAs through thoughtful MSP – e.g. avoid setting up offshore wind farms or fish farms within MPA boundaries, establish buffer zones around the MPA to avoid pressures at MPA borders etc.
◦ Protect ecosystems across a larger scale than solely within the MPA
◦ Where activities do take place, mitigate their impacts in an appropriate manner, taking into account cumulative impacts and staying focused on the overall carrying capacity of local ecosystems
◦ Spread knowledge of sustainable MPA management measures to the rest of the unprotected ocean: MPA managers can lead a change in our thinking about sustainability.
◦ Identify sustainable practices and conditions by sector to provide tailored guidelines and standards for sustainable Blue Growth.