These states that save the Mediterranean

This article comes from the journal Sciences et Avenir – La Recherche no. 892 of June 2021.

The list of plagues in the Mediterranean is much longer than the list of Egypt. The rise in atmospheric temperature due to greenhouse gases has already been 1.54 ° C since 1850. Seawater has risen by 0.4 ° C in a century, and its level is rising by one millimeter each year. Air quality is poor in coastal cities, where ozone, nitrogen oxides, natural fine particles exceed, in the north as well as in the south, the standards of the World Health Organization. This closed sea accumulates 64 million plastic microwaste per square kilometer. At least 78 marine species are threatened with extinction. So much for – terrible – observation. But the Mediterranean has the advantage. It is loved by 512 million inhabitants, and is admired by 360 million tourists every year. Therefore, there is no lack of good will, money and techniques to save her. “It is our good fortune that this basin is a high place of human culture and heritage. Therefore, there is a consensus that it should be preserved, including 22 22 coastal states which are, however, so different.”, assures Nasser Kamel, Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean. Here are 4 actions in her salvation.

1 / Marine areas are multiplying to conserve biodiversity

The Mediterranean Sea is home to 18% of the marine species known in the world in barely 0.3% of the total ocean volume! The only solution to conserving this vast biodiversity is to increase the number of marine protected areas. “These areas, recognized by ecologists as extremely interesting for biodiversity, but also for fish reproduction, are subject to management that protects the interests of everyone, while maintaining a ‘blue economy’ while respecting nature.”, defines Pierre-Yves Hardy, WWF France Project Manager for the Mediterranean Maritime Initiative, a program that brings together the actions of government departments, NGOs and companies to conserve biodiversity while sustaining human activities.

In these areas, leisure and fishing are strictly regulated or even banned. Finally, the goal of managers, whether state or associated, is to achieve strong conservation of over 30% of the Mediterranean area. Thus, we will save marine predators, 41% of which are threatened with extinction, such as 168 coastal species in the basin.

These protected areas require local management which is often problematic. An example with the sanctuary of Pelagos, which forms a triangle between mainland France, Corsica and Italy. Every year, eight to 40 fin whales and seed whales die here when they are hit by cargo ships and ferries as they come to feed in the western Mediterranean. “When the speed of the truck is reduced from 13 to 10 knots, the risk of a collision drops by 80% at 20% “, explains Denis Ody, head of the WWF whale protection program. The solution can be understood for the merchant navy provided states offer economic compensation, but it is much more difficult to apply to ferries loaded with passengers sailing at 26 knots. For them, WWF will have to apply another solution: lighthouses at sea that spot whales and transmit information to pilots, who can then temporarily reduce their speed.

2 / Wind and sun are anti-climate change agents

The Mediterranean lacks neither sun nor wind. Therefore, the region has solid arguments to become a key player in the fight against climate change. And she will be the first to benefit from the results. Because, located at the crossroads of temperate and subtropical climates, the Mediterranean basin accumulates the effects of global warming: droughts, heat, heavy rains, declining water availability, fires … And so far countries have done little. But things are changing fast. All countries in the south of the basin have established ambitious programs to combat greenhouse gas emissions. The award goes to Morocco, which from 2030 wants to produce half of its electricity from wind turbines and large photovoltaic parks at the gates of the Sahara, like Noor in Ouarzazate. Medener, a network of Mediterranean national energy agencies, estimates in its 2020 report that the share of renewable energy will rise from 5% of total basin energy production in 2015 to more than 25% in 2040. And contrary to what could be feared , large hydrocarbon deposits, which make up the revenue of Algeria and Libya, would not slow this growth. Example: A 25-megawatt solar power plant is now supported by Algeria’s largest gas center, Hassi R’mel. In addition, there is real energy cooperation being established on both sides of the basin, as evidenced by the direct power lines between Morocco and Spain, Tunisia and Italy.

The fight against global warming is also taking place at sea, thanks to Posidonia. One hectare of these flowering marine plants endemic to the Mediterranean stores 1,500 tons of carbon: that’s five times more than tropical forest for the equivalent area. In France, anchoring in these seagrass troughs, which also serve as fish nurseries, has been banned since 2020. The first step is to combat their decline, which has reached 30% over the last fifty years. To go further, meadows could enter the carbon market. To compensate for their excessive emissions, companies would therefore be called upon to fund replanting. This is starting to be done in France in Calanques Park, in Marseille and in Spain, in Andalusia.

3 / Overfishing is decreasing

Progress may seem modest, but unprecedented: in ten years, the share of overexploited commercial fish stocks has increased from 88% to 75%, according to the latest report from the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM), which depends on the FAO. food and agriculture of the United Nations. Of the 18 species studied, six even saw an increase in their biomass. Take the recent history of bluefin tuna, a highly profitable species exploited by industrial fishing bags. Populations were on the verge of collapse in the early 2000s, but draconian quotas (less than 8,000 tonnes in 2008 when catches exceeded 50,000 tonnes) allowed for a spectacular increase in numbers, so fishermen will be able to catch 32,000 tonnes a year from 2021.

To achieve these results, the CGPM manages, with the advice of fishermen and the countries concerned, fishing restricted zones to protect the breeding and concentration areas of juveniles. This is the case, for example, in the Jabuka / Pomo trench, located in the Adriatic Sea between Croatia and Italy, where hake, langoustines and deep-sea pink shrimp breed. Fleets are small, the number of days and hours of fishing is monitored, the size of the mesh is regulated, as well as the amount of catches by boat and by country. It is currently the most endangered species of hake, especially in the Bay of Biscay. The cessation of huts in this area as well as in Spain will be imposed this year until stocks recover.

4 / The global fight against plastic pollution has begun

Under the auspices of researchers from the University of Siena (Italy), the Plastic Busters project, endowed with 5m euros by the EU, aims to combat 600,000 tonnes of waste dumped into the sea each year, which floats between two waters or pollutes beaches. “The goal of the program is, first of all, to better understand the impact of this pollution on the sea and its inhabitants, to determine the place of waste concentration., explains Cristina Fossi, in charge of the program. But also to give the foundations of prevention policy to the states “. Launched in 2018, Plastic Busters hopes to provide a database of pollution status in 2022: affected areas, waste characterization, sources.

Because the second phase consists in setting preventive policies. Today, the use of plastics is much more important in the north than in the south and therefore most discharges come from European countries. France recycles only 25% of these materials. In the south, the recycling rate is even lower. Plastic Busters also pilots awareness-raising actions by encouraging, for example, a ban on disposable items in beach bars or civil bathing cleaning, operations that take place in fifteen countries. Stopping discharges into the sea remains the only possible option in anticipation of hypothetical water treatment solutions.


18% marine species known to the world live in the Mediterranean Sea.
512 million people inhabit the shores of the Mediterranean.
-13% reducing the share of overexploited fish stocks in ten years.

Cleaner water thanks to the propagation of wastewater treatment plants

In the mid-1970s, biologist from the University of Marseille and amateur diver Nardo Vicente decided to show elected officials of the Mediterranean coast the effects of his inactivity in terms of pollution control. His film, Pollution and disturbances on the Mediterranean coast, is a shock: black soil with dirt, absence of life, muddy and stinking water. Over the next two decades, driven by the adoption of the European Wastewater Directive in 1991, the French agglomerations were equipped with 250 stations worthy of the name, completely stopping the discharge of untreated water. “Today, almost 90% of coastal waters in France are in good chemical and ecological condition.”, we assure the Rhône-Méditerranée Corse Water Agency. European regulations have imposed strict standards for phosphorus, nitrogen and other pollutants such as pesticides on new members such as Croatia and Cyprus. European coastal states, responsible for the largest amounts of wastewater discharged, are currently decontaminating it with 96%. The Balkans and Turkey treat 83% of their discharges, and the southern countries 63%, according to a 2020 report by the European Environment Agency (EEA). Also, bathing waters in the Mediterranean today are generally of good quality and bathing is much less dangerous to your health. than fifty years ago, but vigilance is still needed. “Strong demographics in the south mean that the need for water and purification will increase, warns Nasser Kamel, Secretary General of the Union for the Mediterranean. We must continue to invest, and in particular we must deepen cooperation between states, because pollution has no borders, as stated in the Barcelona Convention. “. The countries of the South are now catching up. Thus, in Morocco, Tangier acquired a resort in the early 2000s when a large chain of holiday resorts closed its center due to foul odors. Most major cities around the Mediterranean now control discharges, except for countries in economic crisis (Lebanon) or in war (Libya, Syria).

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