A new project implemented by the Mediterranean Action Plan of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP/MAP) and funded by the European Union went underway in March 2020 with the two-pronged aim of strengthening national capabilities in integrated monitoring of the Mediterranean Sea and coast and enhancing the management of marine protected areas in the Mediterranean region.
The kick-off and Steering Committee meeting took place on 10 March 2020 in Tunis and saw the participation of representatives of Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, UNEP/MAP—represented by the Coordinating Unit and the Regional Activity Centre on Specially Protected Areas (SPA/RAC)—and the European Commission Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR).
The meeting reviewed the project’s progress during its inception phase and the annual 2020 workplan and budget. Participants also explored links with similar initiatives and lessons learned from previous projects such as the MED MPA Network.
“Towards achieving the Good Environmental Status of the Mediterranean Sea and coast through an ecologically representative and efficiently managed and monitored network of Marine Protected Areas” is the full title of the project. Partners and beneficiaries will refer to it as the IMAP-MPA project.
The project is endowed with a budget of 4 million euros for a duration 42 months and will be executed by the UNEP/MAP Coordinating Unit, the UNEP/MAP Programme for the Assessment and Control of Marine Pollution in the Mediterranean (MED POL) and SPA/RAC.
“The launch of the IMAP-MPA project will contribute to enhancing MPA management performance in the Mediterranean and to bolstering the collective knowledge of the state of marine and coastal ecosystems in the Mediterranean,” Ms. Tatjana Hema, the Deputy Coordinator of UNEP/MAP, who opened the Steering Committee meeting, said in a statement.
Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia will benefit from activities aiming to improve management performance in marine protected areas (MPA) and related monitoring capabilities. The IMAP-MPA project will also provide strong support to eligible countries in progressing with the implementation of their national sea and coast monitoring programmes in compliance with the decisions taken by the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention and its protocols.
The Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention and its protocols adopted the Integrated Monitoring and Assessment Programme and related assessment criteria for the Mediterranean Sea and Coast (IMAP) in 2016 to ensure quantitative integrated analysis and assessments of the state of the marine and coastal environment.
IMAP covers multiple aspects including pollution and marine litter, biodiversity, non-indigenous species, coastal zones and hydrography. Based on 11 Ecological Objectives and a series of Common Indicators agreed at regional level, IMAP sets regional standards to guide the formulation and implementation of national monitoring programmes by the Contracting Parties and promote coherent assessment in the endeavour to achieve a healthy marine and coastal environment and, ultimately, Good Environmental Status (GES).
The challenges ahead are momentous. The Mediterranean region fell short of achieving the SDG Target 14.5 to “Conserve at least 10 % of marine and coastal areas by 2020. The challenge at present is to hit the mark on Aichi Target 11 under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity calling for 10% of coastal and marine areas to be conserved.
Currently, MPA and other effective area-based conservation measures cover an estimated 8.9% of the Mediterranean Sea, but geographical imbalances between north and south remain. Moreover, most MPA are coastal or located in waters less than 50 meters deep, resulting in an under-representation of deeper ecosystems in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
When it comes to management capacity, gaps in Marine Spatial Planning (MSP), Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) and financial management afflict many marine protected areas in the region. Currently, only 10% of Mediterranean MPA are duly implementing management plans.
When effectively managed, MPA contribute to the recovery of declining species, habitats and biological communities. As Nature-Based Solutions, marine protected areas can protect endangered seagrass meadows and saltmarshes which are crucial to the health of the Mediterranean Sea and coast.
Photo caption: UNEP/MAP Deputy Coordinator Tatjana Hema addressing participants in the first Steering Committee meeting of the IMPA-MPA project (Tunis, Tunisia, 10 March 2020).