SPAs and Biodiversity Protocol

25 October 2012 | Article
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Wholly dedicated to Specially Protected Areas and Biological Diversity in the Mediterranean, this regional instrument known as the "SPA and Biodiversity Protocol" was adopted in Barcelona on June 10th, 1995, and entered into force on December 12th, 1999. Its annexes were adopted in Monaco on November 24th, 1996. This Protocol replaces its predecessor concerning Specially Protected Mediterranean Areas, which had been adopted in Geneva on April 3rd, 1982, and went into force on March 23rd, 1986 [1].

This protocol aims to preserve natural resources common to the Mediterranean region, conserve the diversity of its genetic heritage and protect certain natural sites, by creating an ensemble of Specially Protected Areas.

Modified in 1995, the protocol distinguishes Specially Protected Areas (SPA) from Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMI). The latter are approved by the meeting of the Parties and included on the SPAMI list. The Protocol states that the Parties shall develop guidelines for the establishment and management of protected areas, and lists a certain number of appropriate measures to be adopted by the Parties.

Furthermore, it incites the Parties to take all necessary measures to protect and conserve Mediterranean flora and fauna.

Traditional activities of local populations are exempt from the provisions of this particular protocol. They must not, however, endanger the maintenance of the protected ecosystems, nor the biological processes contributing to the maintenance of these ecosystems, or cause the extinction or a substantial reduction of the number of species or populations of flora and fauna within the protected ecosystems.

The annexes to the new protocol include a list of common criteria that the Parties must observe for the choice of marine and coastal areas which could be protected under the regime of Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance [2]. They also provide a list of threatened or endangered species [3], and a list of species whose exploitation is regulated [4].

The status of the SPAMIs is of particular interest, as they can encompass areas not only under national jurisdiction or sovereignty, but also areas situated entirely or partly on the high sea, without this undermining the rights or claims of the States (cf. two provisions regarding non-prejudice in article 2). As such, SPAMIs are considered as opposable to Other States, in application of the Convention of Montego Bay of 1982 or in application of customary law, in the case of Other States not yet party to the Convention. It should, however, be added that, in such areas, Other States are entitled to continue to benefit from the freedom of navigation and overflight recognized by the Convention of Montego Bay [5]. Parties to the Protocol are obliged to implement measures that are applicable in SPAMIs.

Furthermore, the provisions laid down by this Protocol require all Parties to the SPA/Biodiversity Protocol to comply with the measures for protection, planning and management that are applicable to SPAMIs [6].

— Link with the Convention on Biological Diversity [7]

Together with the Strategic Action Plan for the Conservation of Biological Diversity (SAP BIO) [8], the SPA and Biodiversity Protocol is the main instrument of which the Parties dispose to implement the Convention on Biological Diversity pertaining to marine and coastal biodiversity in the Mediterranean.

— Number of SPAs and SPAMIs

By the end of 2011, over 750 SPAs had already been established by Mediterranean States under the auspices of the Barcelona Convention, representing a total surface area of over 144,000 km², almost two-thirds of which are marine surfaces.

By the same date, 25 areas had already been recorded on the list of SPAMIs. One of them has also been established on the high sea: the Pelagos sanctuary for marine mammals [9], created as per an agreement signed in Rome in 1999 between France, Italy and Monaco, and included in the list of SPAMIs in 2001.

— Procedure for establishing a SPAMI

Parties wishing to propose an area for inclusion on the SPAMI List provide the RAC/SPA with an introductory report, whose format was adopted in 2001 by Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention. It contains information on the site's geographic location, its physical and ecological characteristics, its legal status, management plan and the means for its implementation, together with a statement justifying the area's importance to the Mediterranean.

Once this introductory report has been sent officially to the RAC/SPA, the proposal is submitted to the National Focal Points [10] which checks that it conforms to the common guidelines for the creation and management of protected areas and common criteria for the choice of marine protected areas to be included in the SPAMI List [11].

If the proposal is deemed by the National Focal Points to conform to these requirements, the RAC/SPA forwards the proposal to the Organization which informs the meeting of the Parties. This is the body which takes the decision to include the area concerned in the SPAMI List. In the case of an area wholly or partly on the high sea or in areas where the limits of national jurisdiction or sovereignty have not yet been defined, this decision must be taken, by consensus, by the Contracting Parties (which also approve the management measures applicable to the area).

Lastly, the Parties may revise the list as per a procedure adopted in 2008, which aims to evaluate the sites included in the SPAMI List and ascertain whether or not they fulfil the criteria specified in Annex I of the SPA/Biodiversity Protocol.

— Reflection undertaken regarding the creation of joint SPAMIs: the SPAMI, an instrument for inter-governmental cooperation

Thanks to the introduction of the SPAMI list, the Parties have been endowed with a tool designed to promote cooperation for the purposes of management and conservation of natural areas, and protection of threatened species and their habitats.

In fact, in the case of an area situated, either partly or entirely, on the high sea or in areas where the limits of national jurisdiction or sovereignty have not yet been defined, the proposal for inclusion must be presented jointly by the neighbouring Parties concerned. They must consult with each other to ensure the coherency of the measures proposed and the means whereby they will be implemented. The main challenge in this procedure lies in establishing an adequate framework for concertation and coordination between the Parties concerned.

Two such cases have been proposed. They concern the Alboran Sea and the Gulf of Lions. These two suggestions have been the subject of a long negotiation process led by the Centre in Tunis with the main Parties concerned, ie. Morocco and Spain for the first case, France and Spain for the second.

To support the interest of these choices, the RAC/SPA has been able to place at the disposal of the Parties concerned a wealth of information and data which can help to create these two SPAMIs. The idea is still under preparation, as two meetings were held in Malaga at the beginning of 2011 to examine the possibility.






[5] UNCLOS, Article 58.

[6] Article 8, paragraph 3 and article 9, paragraph 5.

[7] CBD.



[10] Part V, Article 24 "National Focal Points". Each Party designates a National Focal Point to serve as liaison with the Centre with regard to the technical and scientific aspects of the application of this Protocol. These National Focal Points meet periodically to perform the functions deriving from this Protocol.

[11] Annex I of the SPA/BD Protocol.


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