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ENDANGERED: The Mediterranean


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From Italy to Cyprus, Spain to Monaco, mention of the Mediterranean usually conjures up an image of summer holidays, fine food, and blissful weather. The Mediterranean has a 'rich biodiversity', and many of its 'species do not exist anywhere else'. But behind the exterior of the popular destination is an ecosystem facing a multitude of threats.


Image Credit: Kookay via Pixabay

The area is an intercontinental sea situated between Europe and Africa; the region encompasses the sea itself and 'seven Member States'. 

The Threats

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists overexploitation, coastal developments, pollution and droughts as just a few of the factors responsible for the 19% of the region’s species threatened by extinction. It is estimated that 'at least 16 irreplaceable species are already extinct'.

Overfishing in particular has been given a great deal of the blame for the environmental issues in the Mediterranean. Fishers in the region are often ignoring science-based recommendations, with 90% of fish populations “harvested in excess”, with the likes of hake, anglerfish and other commercially popular species being exploited “ten times over suggested limits”.

With plastic pollution rife across the world, the Mediterranean is not immune from that either. In 2018, WWF feared that it was becoming a “sea of plastic”, with 95% of the waste in the area being plastic.

 A sea turtle entangled in a ghost net

Image Credit: U.S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration via Wikimedia Commons

134 species in the Mediterranean, from fish and turtles to mammals and birds, are falling 'victim' to 'plastic ingestion'. 'Weak tidal and current movements' also mean that the pollution stays close to its source, leading to highly polluted waters in many coastal areas.

Not only does this harm the rich biodiversity of the sea itself, but it also threatens the livelihoods of many of the region’s population. John Tanzer, who leads Oceans at WWF International, said that “Worsening plastic pollution will threaten the Mediterranean’s global reputation for tourism and seafood, undermining the local communities who depend on these sectors for their livelihoods.”.

Conservation Efforts

While the Mediterranean may be suffering, conservation efforts are being made.

WWF helped to ban fishing deeper than 1,000 metres, where many of the sea’s creatures live. They also aided the creation of an 80,00km2 sanctuary for whales and dolphins and helped to expose the “scandal behind the serious overfishing of bluefin tuna.”

Awareness of the situation has been further shown through the MedFish4Ever Declaration, which was signed in 2017 by many of the region’s fisheries ministers. The Declaration is a ten-year strategy for the region’s fisheries to be managed cooperatively.  

Furthermore, the IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation is “devoted to promote sustainable livelihoods and biodiversity conservation through cooperation and shared values and culture.” Their 'strategic lines' are to “enhance cooperation and coordination between all Mediterranean stakeholders”, “improve knowledge”, “foster networking, capacity building, an exchange of experiences” and “empower civil society”.

With so many species at threat within this diverse ecosystem, action needs to be taken to tackle this issue while maintaining the income of many of the population.

Lead Image: Couleur via Pixabay


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