Oceana supports the EC demand that the marine protected areas network be improved in the Mediterranean and Macaronesian seas

According to the European Commission, Italy, Spain, France and Portugal failed to effectively protect their marine environment and must expand the Natura 2000 Network

Press Release Date: June 17, 2010

Location: Madrid


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In 18 years, Member States haven’t designated a coherent European network of marine areas to protect reefs, sandbanks, sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins or Posidonia oceanica seagrass, amongst others, required by the Habitats Directive.

Oceana supports the EU’s decision requiring Italy, Spain, France and Portugal to designate new marine protected areas in the Mediterranean and Macaronesian Seas (Atlantic) to ensure the conservation of some marine species and habitats. Since the Habitats Directive entered into force in 1992, these countries have had 18 years to include marine protected areas in the European Natura 2000 Network and comply with the European policies. Yet, the marine network has been evaluated as insufficient during the assessment seminar taking place between the 15th and 17th of this month in Brindisi, (Italy).

The Habitats Directive was drafted by the EU according to the international objective established by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, requiring protection for 10% of marine areas by 2012. Currently, the surface protected is less than 1% in the Atlantic Ocean and around 4% in the Mediterranean sea and, as such, marine research must be fostered to identify areas of ecological importance. In this sense, Oceana is currently documenting Seco de los Olivos seamount in Almeria as participating NGO in the LIFE+Indemares Project. With the help of an undersea robot (ROV), Oceana will collect information to endorse its proposal for including this seamount in the Natura 2000 Network.

The Habitats Directive requires EU Member States to create protected areas to guarantee the conservation of only 5 habitats and 16 marine species. However, the governments’ delay in designating these areas has pushed the European Commission to demand the urgent expansion of the Natura 2000 Network in its waters.

There are currently 502 marine protected areas within the Natura 2000 Network, even though many of these are very small in size. France is the Mediterranean country that has implemented the largest marine surface protected, followed by Greece and Spain, and has also been the best evaluated country during the seminar, for having the most complete protected areas network. In the Macaronesian region, the Natura 2000 Network has been poorly implemented and only 52 marine protected areas are included in the network; however in the Canary Islands the protected areas are slightly higher than those in the Portuguese archipelagos.

All these 4 countries must designate new marine areas to protect bottlenose dolphins, and to protect loggerhead turtles only France has created enough MPAs.

In regards to habitats, stronger efforts are to be made on protecting reefs, as despite being well-considered both in the Mediterranean and in the Macaronesian region, none of these 4 countries has designated enough marine areas to assure their protection. For the Posidonia oceanica, an essential plant forming marine meadows serving as shelter and spawning areas for several fish species, only Italy has designated new marine protected areas to protect these meadows, as Spain’s and France’s network have been considered as suitable and sufficient.

Ricardo Aguilar, Director of Research for Oceana Europe, has stated: “It is regrettable to learn it had been considered as unnecessary to create more protected areas for the Posidonia oceanic in the Spanish Mediterranean waters, specially taking into account the serious regression that this plant is suffering in the Mediterranean, and also the fact that some meadows in Andalucia do not have any kind of protection and are constantly devastated by bottom-trawling. However it is good news that new areas are being created by Spain, Portugal, Italy and France to protect reefs, as these areas harbour important communities of gorgonians, corals, sponges and polychaete worms, both in coastal areas and seamounts”.

Representatives at the EC, European Topic Center and governments, as well as NGOs and independent scientific experts, are participating in this evaluation. The Mediterranean, Macaronesian and the Black Sea are the areas being evaluated by the current seminar. Oceana has been invited to provide scientific information that validates the need to designate new marine protected areas and is providing relevant data obtained during its expeditions in the different Mediterranean coasts, Cantabrian and Atlantic.

Ana de la Torriente, marine scientist present at the seminar, explains “it is not logical that regulations related to environmental issues are always the last to be enforced. The serious degradation of marine habitats in the Mediterranean and Macaronesian regions and the decline of many species validate the need to implement urgent measures to halt the loss of biodiversity and promote the recovery of species that are often of commercial interest. Oceana contributes to this effort by providing scientific information collected in the field for the evaluation of areas in need of protection.”

On board the Ranger catamaran, Oceana has documented the seabeds around Italy, Spain, Greece, Portugal and Malta with the help of both divers and an ROV, up to depths of 700 metres in some locations. Part of its work is focused on documenting various seamounts, essential areas that harbour many of the species and habitats currently being assessed in the Brindisi seminar.

More information about the Natura 2000 Network