Key threats in the Mediterranean region

Tourism and population pressure

Of the 220 million tourists who visit the region every year, over 100 million tourists flock to the Mediterranean beaches.

Mass tourism has led to degraded landscapes, soil erosion, increased waste discharges into the sea, loss of natural habitats, higher pressure on endangered species and heightened vulnerability to forest fires. It puts a strain on water resources and often leads to cultural disruption.

Mediterranean coastal areas, which account for 30% of international tourist destinations, are already seriously damaged.
Bar sign using Loggerhead turtle (<i>Caretta caretta</i>) name with tourists sunbathing ... / ©: WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER
Bar sign using Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) name with tourists sunbathing on beach in front, some with beach umbrellas which can hurt turtle nests. Lagana Bay, Zákinthos, Greece.
© WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER

Sea pollution

The land-locked waters of the Mediterranean have a very low renewal rate (80 to 90 years) and so are extremely sensitive to pollution. The Mediterranean represents less than 1% of the earth's total marine surface, but oil tanker traffic through this sea accounts for more than 20% of  global traffic. Every year 635,000 tonnes of crude oil are spilled by vessels in the Mediterranean Sea.

This is 15 times the amount of the Prestige spill off the coast of Spain. 80% of the urban sewage produced is discharged untreated. Added to that are agricultural runoffs containing pesticides, nitrates and phosphates which contaminate the sea.
 / ©: WWF-MEDITERRANEAN / E. PARKER
Commercial Port, Sfax, Tunisie.
© WWF-MEDITERRANEAN / E. PARKER

Overfishing

Around 1.5 million tons 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. Use of drift nets are also responsible for the accidental deaths and incidental catches of whales, dolphins and marine turtles.

Depleted fish stocks are also reflected in the undersized catch. 83% of all blue-fin tuna and swordfish caught in the Mediterranean are undersized.

 / ©: WWF-Canon / Michel Gunther
Mediterranean bluefin tuna — highly prized around the world, especially in Japan for sushi and sashimi — has been under increasing pressure from overfishing. Display of frozen tunas to be auctioned at the Tsukiji fish market, Tokyo, Japan.
© WWF-Canon / Michel Gunther

Forest loss and degradation

Almost 85% of Mediterranean forests have already disappeared. Major threats to forests include fragmentation, road construction, tourism, forest fires, land clearing for agriculture, and overgrazing.
Mediterranean mixed forests in Sjeverni Velebit National Park, Croatia. / ©: WWF-Canon / Gérald HIBON
Mediterranean mixed forests in Sjeverni Velebit National Park, Croatia.
© WWF-Canon / Gérald HIBON

Forest fires

Every year more than 50,000 fires burn an estimated average of 600,000 – 800,000 hectares, an area comparable to the island of Crete or Corsica. Human-induced fires, deliberate or through negligence, account for 95% of Mediterranean forest fires.
 / ©: Sergio Alvarez
Rare palm forest of Preveli in Crete, an early victim of resurgent forest fires in Greece. Neglect of forest management was a key factor turning wildfire to wildfire disaster in Russia and in past catastrophes in Greece.
© Sergio Alvarez

Desertification

About 300,000 sq km of land in the European coastal zone of the Mediterranean is undergoing desertification, affecting the livelihood of 16.5 million people. In Tunisia and Spain alone the costs of desertification have been evaluated at $100 million and $200 million a year respectively.
Parched land due to drought in "Sebkhra de Kelbia" lagoon. Tunisia. / ©: WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER
Parched land due to drought in "Sebkhra de Kelbia" lagoon. Tunisia.
© WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER

Water shortage

Precious groundwater resources in the region are being wasted through inefficient irrigation and drainage schemes. River engineering and dam construction continue to alter river and floodplain systems, resulting in loss of species and habitats. International disputes over water control have already occurred in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East
 / ©: MedPO/ WWF-Canon
The Sebou river and its tributaries are some of the most populated and fertile areas of Morocco.
© MedPO/ WWF-Canon