Marine environment: the Mediterranean Sea and its coasts

 / ©: Michel Gunther / WWF-Canon
Cirali beach, Antalya Province, Turkey, one of the few remaining nesting sites for the loggerhead turtles.
© Michel Gunther / WWF-Canon

What is the only place in the world where 3 continents meet?

Midway between the tropics and the Arctic is the largest enclosed sea in the world, surrounded by mountains and dotted with thousands of islands. This complex region of breathtaking natural beauty and inestimably valuable cultural heritage encompasses 25 countries and territories from Europe, Africa and the Middle East. It is one of the most populated regions of the globe and is a meeting point between developed and developing worlds.


Safeguarding Mediterranean marine biodiversity

We prize the Mediterranean Sea for food, recreation, beauty, traditions. It is also one of the world's biodiversity hotspots. Representing less than 1% of world oceans, the Mediterranean counts over 10% of all known species and the second highest percentage of endemic species in the world.

The Mediterranean is home to several endangered marine species:

  • the monk seal (Monachus monachus), of which only an estimated 550-600 animals remain.
  • the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the 100-million year old loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), which nest on Mediterranean beaches.
  • cetacean species, including the pilot whale, the fin whale and the short-beaked common dolphin.

The Mediterranean Sea intricately links humans and nature. The endemic seagrass Posidonia oceanica plays a crucial role in coastal protection by acting as a buffer to currents and waves.The rocky sea bottoms anchor algae and invertebrates like corals, molluscs and crustaceans. They act as refuge, feeding and spawning grounds for many species of fish. These fish act as a source of food and/or livelihood for the 150 million resident population of the Mediterranean coasts.

The Mediterranean is also an important commercial fishing ground. Of the 900 fish species found in the Mediterranean, 100 are commercially exploited. Some of these species have a high market value.

The spectacular coastal landscapes and mild Mediterranean climate attract enormous tourist activity from which local communities benefit too.

But these resources are not limitless, and overexploitation could tilt the balance of life irremediably. Human pressure has intensified in recent decades through overfishing, pollution, coastal development, unsustainable tourism, increased sea traffic. These threats need to be reduced if we want to stop biodiversity loss.


Currently, less than 5% of the Mediterranean Sea is protected.

WWF in action in the Mediterranean

WWF has identified the Mediterranean region as a global priority place where ecological integrity must be conserved to contribute to a more secure and sustainable future for all. We are working to establish marine and coastal protected areas to protect the most important regions for biodiversity. We promote fisheries management systems which do not adversely affect marine productivity. We try to ensure that measures against pollution agreed to in international conventions, such as the Barcelona Convention, are endorsed and implemented.


 


Coasts

The coasts of the Mediterranean Sea are the stuff of dreams. Stretching for 46,000 kilometres, they attract some 220 million tourists every year - a figure expected to swell to 350 million by 2050. Drawn by white sandy beaches and rolling dunes, lush coastal forests and sparkling waters, visitors to the Mediterranean - as well as its inhabitants - know they are onto a good thing.
WWF is encouraging a longer term vision and a new approach to coastal management in the Mediterranean. Working together with local communities, fishermen, foresters, tourism operators and those who manage the coasts, WWF advocates sustainable coastal development - for the benefit of nature as well as the people that rely on its resources, for generations to come.
 / ©: P. Guglielmi / WWF Mediterr anean
Wreckfish (Polyprion americanus) and barrel, Mediterranean Sea.
© P. Guglielmi / WWF Mediterr anean

A sea under threat

Pollution
The land-locked waters of the Mediterranean have a very low renewal rate and so are extremely sensitive to pollution. The Mediterranean supports 30% of world seaborne trade and 22% of tanker traffic. Oil tankers leave behind them a trail of pollution but 80% of the pollution at sea comes from land-based sources.

Urbanisation and tourism
70% of urban wastewater is discharged into the sea without any kind of treatment, added to which are agricultural runoffs containing pesticides, nitrates and phosphates. The 150 million people living along the Mediterranean coast produce 3.8 billion cubic metres of wastewater each year. A further 2.5 million cubic metres are produced by the 220 million annual tourists. The above figures are a rapidly increasing trend.

Overfishing
Around 1.5 million tonnes of fish are caught in the Mediterranean each year. Destructive and often illegal fishing methods, including bottom trawlers, dynamite, long lines, and drift nets have depleted fish stocks and are responsible for the accidental deaths and for incidental catches of flagship species such as cetaceans and marine turtles.

WWF Mediterranean Initiative

WWF has identified the Mediterranean region as a global priority place where ecological integrity must be conserved to contribute to a more secure and sustainable future for all. WWF Mediterranean, together with 5 WWF offices in the region - France, Greece, Italy, Spain, Turkey - the WWF European Policy Office and WWF International, has launched the Mediterranean Initiative, a common strategy to scale-up WWF conservation efforts in the basin.

Indeed, the level of protection of the Mediterranean Sea is largely inadequate. In particular, Marine Protected Areas are too few, not ecologically representative of the Mediterranean biodiversity and not effectively managed. The WWF Mediterranean Initiative is pushing actors involved in marine protection towards a threshold where marine biodiversity conservation becomes a political, economic and social priority and MPAs become the tool of choice to ensure the sustainable management of marine ecosystems.

Did you know?

  • "Mediterreanean" comes from the Latin "mare medi terra" or the sea in the middle of the land
  • Monk seals (Monachus monachus) are the most endangered mammal in Europe
  •  It takes at least 80 years for the waters of the Mediterranean to regenerate and clean out the tons of plastic, untreated sewage, oil and agricultural chemicals that are dumped into it every day
  • 18,000 species of plants and animals live in the Mediterranean. Almost a third exist nowhere else on earth
  • One-third of the world's merchant shipping is concentrated in the Mediterranean, with up to 300 tankers crossing its waters daily
  • Follow the journey of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea. / ©: WWF MEDPO