The Mediterranean region has long been the cradle of great civilisations that developed social and economic activities and practices. Today the sea is ringed by 21 countries belonging to three different continents whose cultures vary but which share many basic elements deriving from the area’s common history.
Most of these countries give great importance to the Mediterranean, which supports very important socio-economic activities. Managing efficiently this sea and its natural resources is a key element for the sustainable development of such activities.
The countries of the region, aware that there is a need for common concerted marine management have concluded several agreements to coordinate and enhance their actions to preserve and manage the Mediterranean Sea.
Some of these agreements go back more than thirty years and enable the states of the region to meet regularly (despite the particularly acute political tensions that exist between certain countries) to assess the state of the Mediterranean and its resources and to adopt common conservation and management measures.
The oldest of these agreements concerns fishing management. It was established in 1949 under the aegis of FAO and led to the establishment of the General Fisheries Council for Mediterranean (GFCM). It is now called the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean.
Although some Mediterranean countries take part only rarely in its work, the GFCM offers a particularly useful framework for harmonizing national fisheries management systems and for adopting common measures on a Mediterranean scale.
Several particularly important measures were introduced within the GFCM framework, such as, for example, the ban of driftnets, the ban of trawling in areas under 1 000 m depth amd the regulation of fishing seasons for some shared fish stocks.
The Barcelona Convention is another example of an agreement set by the Mediterranean countries to act jointly for the preservation of the Mediterranean Sea and the sustainable use of its resources. Initially it concerned the fight against pollution but it then evolved to cover several aspects related to the management of coastal zones and the marine environment.
Its fields of action are now extremely diverse – monitoring and controlling pollution, promoting integrated management of coastal areas, encouraging the use of clean industrial practices, protecting biodiversity etc. To cover these various fields, the Barcelona Convention has several theme Protocols.
As well as the regional agreements that cover the whole Mediterranean, there are several agreements that cover part only of the Mediterranean (e.g. the Berne Convention). The Mediterranean is also covered by many international agreements whose scope goes beyond the region itself (e.g. the Global Convention on Biological Diversity, the ACCOBAMS Agreement).
All these agreements offer an extremely useful framework for cooperation and regional solidarity regarding the conservation and management of Mediterranean natural resources. But their provisions are not well enough implemented for them to be efficacious.
Improving the effective enforcement of the measures advocated within the framework of these agreements presents a major challenge for bringing about the sustainable management of the Mediterranean.
From the latest number (26) of the Italian magazine Slowfood
Chedly Rais, a Tunisian, is consultant for the Mediterranean for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)