All across the Mediterranean, protected areas contribute to human welfare, poverty alleviation and sustainable development, in addition to their conservation function. They help protect species and genetic diversity, maintain ecosystem services, support the livelihoods of the local people, and provide a wide array of goods and opportunities.

The number of protected areas in the Mediterranean has increased significantly over the last decade, and environmental conventions and multi-lateral agreements have promoted the development of several systems of protected areas (Ramsar sites, Biosphere reserves, Natural and Mixed World Heritage sites, Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMIs) …). However, while the number and size of protected areas have been increasing, biological diversity continues to be lost in the region. One of the reasons for this could be the existing system and governance aspects relevant to the creation and management of protected sites in the Mediterranean, which are suffering the following shortcomings:

  • The diversity of the objectives, criteria, and methodologies used in the selection process of the different systems of protected areas, as well as the lack of coordination between them, do not allow the development of an integrated, effective and dynamic regional network that is ecologically representative.
  • Due to planning and management considerations when analysing the viability of conservation targets, habitat dynamics, stakeholder involvement, traditional knowledge relevant to the management of natural resources, threats and the zone of influence, protected areas are in many cases not fulfilling their objectives of biodiversity conservation and contribution to the livelihoods of the people living in and around them.
  • The ecosystem approach is often not well implemented and limited to establishing connectivity corridors without adequately considering the integrated management of the global landscape of the whole zone of influence, which may integrate habitats of wide-ranging species, genetic reservoirs, watersheds, or cultural components. These wider land and seascapes are essential components in national and global biodiversity conservation strategies. While preserving natural and cultural heritage, they can help reduce habitat fragmentation, and can contribute to poverty alleviation by providing sustainable livelihoods through the integrated sustainable management of their natural resources (Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) / The CBD Programme of Work on Protected Areas (PoWPA)).
  • In most cases, the baseline allowing the evaluation and monitoring of the ecological integrity of protected areas is not determined.
  • Governance is often assumed exclusively by the agency in charge of the management of protected areas, and the participation of local communities and other key stakeholders in establishing and managing protected areas is inadequate in several Mediterranean countries.
  • Protected areas are often poorly funded and sustainable financing instruments are not widely developed.
  • Training and capacity development for people managing protected areas is insufficient in many countries of the region, as is the awareness of decision-makers regarding the contribution of protected areas to sustainable development.

Different countries display different degrees of flexibility with respect to incentives for biodiversity conservation and provisions for sustainable use. Many still implement a “protectionist approach” with strong centralized jurisdiction over particular land areas, and weak links to local populations, resource users and local economies, although legislation and attitudes continue to evolve. Often centralized jurisdiction over protected areas may be at odds with decentralized powers (e.g. regional governors and their equivalents), or there may be conflicts of interest between the concerned ministries (e.g. where new environmental ministries have been created), raising the need for inter-ministerial coordination with existing protected area managers, such as forestry or agriculture departments. Equally, there is recognition that land-use policies outside of protected areas, both in coastal zones and semi-mountainous areas, contribute to the creation of unique Mediterranean landscape values.

Protected areas will have an important role to play in increasing the resilience of ecosystems under the climate change scenario. One of the goals of adaptation is to ensure that the existing network of protected areas will be successful in conserving biodiversity in the future by identifying and correcting any existing weaknesses.

An example: Ecotourism and protected areas in Morocco and Tunisia

The objective of this project is to elaborate an ecotourism model linked to natural protected areas in the Maghreb (Morocco and Tunisia) and to prepare the guidelines for its implementation in two pilot areas, one in each country.

The main expected results of the project are:

1. Analysis of the capacity and the existing potential (institutional and operational) to develop an ecotourism network in natural protected areas in Morocco and Tunisia, in cooperation with IUCN ELC

2. The creation of a model of action and a conformity standard for ecotourism together with key stakeholders

3. Two natural areas (one in each country) will be selected for the implementation of pilot actions.

This Project represents a first phase of a long term programme, to encourage the development of an ecotourism network associated to natural areas in the Maghreb region. The project intends to improve decision making and the capacity for planning and management of ecotourism activities in two countries (Morocco and Tunisia), providing support and advice to competent authorities, professionals and managers of tourism activities in order to develop an environment friendly tourism based on cultural and natural values that takes into account the needs of the local populations.

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