The Mediterranean Sea represents 46,000 km of coastline and covers about 2.5 million km2, with a maximum depth of 3,000m in the western and 5,092m in the eastern basin, and a narrow continental shelf. This semi-enclosed sea has a peculiar geological history and went through various stages such as closed, almost dried, and tropical, including drastic changes in sea level and salinity. Its waters are renewed every 70 years. 

The Mediterranean Sea is one of the most diverse in terms of species despite the low concentrations of nutrients that characterise its water. It includes 6% of the world’s species for less than 1% of the world’s ocean area, and while much of the fauna is of Atlantic origin, the levels of endemism are also high (28%), including some emblematic species of global conservation concern.

There are about 20 species of cetaceans, from dolphins to sperm and baleen whales. The Mediterranean encompasses about 750 species of fish, including sharks and rays, and is the main spawning grounds of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna. Five species of sea turtles are present in the Mediterranean, of which two regularly nest along the eastern and southern shores. The critically endangered monk seal population is shared between the Mediterranean and the Mauritanian in the Atlantic. Keystone species and critical areas, such as seagrass meadows and coralligenous assemblages, are found along the coasts, while deep-sea and pelagic waters support unique and sensitive fauna.

The Mediterranean is also the berth of civilisation. Humans have occupied the region for several millennia, modifying the landscapes and increasing pressures on natural resources (population increase, freshwater overexploitation, overfishing, pollution, hazardous maritime traffic, introduced and invasive species, uncontrolled coastal development and tourism), with potential cascade consequences for the near 150 million people living in the administrative coastal areas, and the 200 million tourists who visit every year.

This situation is likely to be exacerbated by the various impacts of climate change.

In order to mitigate these threats and impacts, the key tools for conservation and sustainable use are regulations (e.g. fisheries, aquaculture, maritime traffic), and spatial planning (e.g. marine protected areas, fisheries reserves, restriction zones) for all human activities.

For the coastal areas and its management, governance has been recently strengthened with the new Barcelona Convention Protocol on Integrated Coastal Zone management (ICZM).

The governance of the Mediterranean needs to be improved in the open sea given the complexity of the cultural and political situation. A large part of the sea is under the high-sea regime due to the partial or non-declaration of Exclusive Economic Zones.

Conservation and sustainable use are the key priorities of numerous partners in the Mediterranean: the Mediterranean Action Plan - UNEP/MAP (Barcelona Convention, Protocols) and its regional activity centres (Specially Protected Areas - RAC/SPA, Priority Actions Programme - PAP/RAC, Blue Plan, Marine Pollution Emergency Response - REMPEC), the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean - GFCM (FAO), the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans in the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic area - ACCOBAMS, the WWF (Mediterranean Programme Office), and the Network of Managers of Marine Protected Areas in the Mediterranean - MedPAN, as well as relevant international conventions (the Convention on Wetlands-RAMSAR, Convention on Biological Diversity …)

The IUCN Mediterranean Marine Programme is involved in a number of pragmatic initiatives to preserve and restore the biological integrity of the Mediterranean Sea, as well as to foster the sustainable development of the region.

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