The 2015 EEA State of the Environment Report emphasizes that the key challenge in the coming decade will be to steer policy expectations for Blue Growth towards the EU policy visions of establishing a circular green economy and living well within the ecological limits of the sea.

WWF calls for this challenge to be addressed so that Mediterranean people fully benefit from the services provided by marine and coastal ecosystems in the future.


  • The Mediterranean Sea is a semi-enclosed, highly anthropized sea that clearly reflects this global deterioration of the state of the ocean, despite the presence of a comprehensive policy framework both at EU and Mediterranean levels.

  • The Mediterranean Sea is currently facing a blue Gold Rush. Five sectors are highlighted as potential drivers of blue growth: aquaculture, tourism, marine biotechnology and marine mineral mining.

  • Except for professional fisheries, all traditional sectors of Mediterranean maritime economy such as tourism, shipping, aquaculture and offshore oil and gas are expected to keep growing during the coming 15 years.

  • The combined and cumulative effects of these activities decrease the overall resilience of marine ecosystems. Climate change is another significant additional indirect leading to increased sea surface temperature and acidification. Consequently, the expected growth in the marine economy represents a potential additional threat to the health of already-stressed Mediterranean ecosystems.

  • The likely future developments and their resulting pressures can generate significant conflicts between sectors. This can be the case, between sectors that rely strongly on marine ecosystem services and offshore extractive industries or maritime traffic, and will impose additional risks on marine ecosystems and on the tourism economy.

  • These conflicts can reflect the incoherence between public policies including those not targeting the maritime sector. Strategically important energy-related infrastructure developments may not be compatible with the requirements of coastal economies that rely on environment conservation.

  • Despite technological progress and stricter environmental legislation, the development of key sectors is likely to increase pressures and impacts on the marine environment. There is a high risk of failing to achieve Good Environmental Status in the Mediterranean Sea by 2020 for 7 out of 11 of the descriptors of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD).

  • While Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) propose innovative approaches to sustainable development, the growth of maritime sectors also increases the challenge faced by the EU to meet the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Aichi Target 11, which requires at least 10% of EU waters to be within MPAs or other effective area-based management measures by 2020.

  • In the Mediterranean Sea, MPA coverage grew from 1.08% in 2012 to 3.27% of the total surface in 2015, representing significant progress towards the CBD target. However, it seems that it will be difficult to fill the gap over the next 5 years.

  • The current development of key economic sectors in the Mediterranean Sea is happening against a background of vague concepts and relatively weak formulation on what needs to be done to ensure that the Blue Economy is truly sustainable. And the future implementation of the Blue Growth Strategy and the Maritime Spatial Planning Directive (2014/89/UE), which needs to be transposed by EU Member States by 18 September 2016, adds complexity and uncertainty.


Cross-cutting recommendations:

  • Implementation of EU policy tools needs to take into account smart and innovative solutions as well as enlarged temporal and spatial dimensions to better anticipate sustainability challenges in the next years in the Mediterranean sea and riparian countries.

  • WWF supports the Sustainable Blue Economy as a marine-based economy that:

    • Provides social and economic benefits for current and future generations, by contributing to food security, poverty eradication, livelihoods, income, employment, health, safety, equity, and political stability.

    • Restores, protects and maintains the diversity, productivity, resilience, core functions, and intrinsic value of marine ecosystems, upon which its prosperity depends.

    • Is based on clean technologies, renewable energy, and circular material flows to secure economic and social stability over time, while keeping within the limits of one planet.

  • Clear governance mechanisms for decision-making that make trade-offs explicit need to be established and a participatory approach implemented. Transnational cooperation, potentially leading to enhanced regional governance mechanisms, need to be promoted.

  • WWF calls for the EU to further enhance data accessibility from the private and research sectors at national and regional level.

  • The MSFD, as the environmental pillar of the Integrated Maritime Policy, is the key component of the EU’s policy response to achieve healthy, clean and productive seas. The practical modalities of the implementation of an MSFD ecosystem-based approach need to be clarified and shared at the transnational Mediterranean level.

Photo: © Oscar Esparza Alaminos


  • The transboundary nature of drivers of environmental change in the marine environment requires a coordinated approach between countries to tackle them effectively.

  • From an environmental perspective, identifying priority areas for intervention at transnational level is crucial. Besides, mapping cumulative impacts is key to understanding the impacts have on the ocean’s ecosystems and the areas that are most heavily affected by human activities.

  • At the regional scale, the MEDTRENDS project helped identify hotspots in Mediterranean EU countries marine waters that require integrated ocean management measures be taken to address cumulative impacts. This areas includes:

    • The Alboran Sea,

    • The Gulf of Cadiz,

    • The Alboran Sea,

    • The Balearics islands,

    • The Ebro Delta,

    • The Catalunya coast,

    • The Gulf of Lion,

    • The Northern Adriatic Sea,

    • The Strait of Otranto,

    • The Strait of Sicily and more generally the area located south of Sicily,

    • The Northern Aegean Sea,

    • The Central Aegean Sea

    • The Ionian coast of Greece up to the South-Western part of Greece.

  • The establishment of high seas and deep seas MPAs in the Mediterranean areas identified as priorities for biodiversity conservation is crucial, whether in Member States EEZ or in the remaining Mediterranean open sea.

  • To date, the area beyond states’ territorial waters, including EEZ and open seas, has been granted few protection measures in the Mediterranean Sea. WWF believes that offshore operations should not be initiated before measures to protect deep-sea ecosystems from adverse impacts are in place.

  • The establishment of transnational cooperation platforms should be encouraged. Strengthening multi-level and territorial cooperation in the Mediterranean Sea region is a pre- requisite to effective decision making. Today, there are very few platforms that offer opportunities for countries and maritime sectors to discuss or exchange information at the transnational scale.

  • Macro-regional strategic processes driven by the EU will also need to establish synergies with Mediterranean regional institutions, governance bodies or agreements (Barcelona Convention, GFCM, ACCOBAMS).

  • WWF recommend to use an evidence-based approach to decision making that ensures policy development is informed by evidence at each stage, through combining social, economic and environmental data and tools.

Photo: © Jorge Sierra - WWF Spain