The specific objectives of the project are to improve the management and protection measures in order to maintain the biodiversity and to increase the resilience of networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for present purposes and future challenges, supporting a sustainable use of the resources. It includes the integration of selected protected areas by the refinement of a general framework (ISEA), shared methodologies (spatial planning and monitoring) and GIS tools to structure and exchange of information among MPAs/FRAs on biodiversity status, environmental variables, distribution and intensity of human pressures with a focus on vulnerable habitats of EU importance (e.g. coralligenous outcrops and Posidonia meadows). Taken together these initiatives will enable:

  1. The spatial planning and redistribution of human activities reducing conflicts and increasing synergies;
  2. The implementation of well-designed monitoring activities shared and comparable across MPAs/FRAs and habitats, allowing the objective to comparative assess the performance of single MPAs versus an MPA network;
  3. The potential to individuate early warning indicators of changes;
  4. The development of common trans frontier regulations and development of best practices to deal with present and future drivers of changes.

The CEAB team is mostly dedicated to elaborate a Common Monitoring Protocol in MPAs, with a special focus on the descriptors of GES of the MSFD. Furthermore, we must consider that:

  1. Few MPAs really work as protected areas due to poor or no management and lack of effective surveillance and enforcement, and, in some cases, no implementation of the management plans (assuming these exist).
  2. Many MPAs are the result of political opportunism or spatial considerations that have little to do with ecology; that is, most MPAs have been established where and when it was opportunistically possible for mostly non-scientific reasons, such as in areas where there is likely to be least negative reaction from stakeholders.
  3. Most of MPAs seem to be “cure-all” remedies aiming at the conservation of ‘biodiversity’ and at the same time favouring artisanal fisheries and “sustainable” use of resources. These all-purpose MPAs may sound good, but rarely incorporate adequate management measures and the ecological conditions to achieve all these high goals.
  4. Lack of representation and of information on what is to be protected (no lists of species, no habitat mapping and no baselines which are necessary to test the effectiveness of protection).
  5. Most MPAs lack long-term monitoring and adaptive management based on the monitoring results.
  6. Some MPAs show serious deviations from the original objectives due to a bias towards economic interests (e.g. tourism).
  7. Most MPAs are located in the western basin of the Mediterranean Sea; only a small number of MPAs have been established along the North African coast and in the eastern Mediterranean basin.

This rather sad reality contrasts with the results obtained in the really effective no-take zones. The ecological benefits of these areas are truly spectacular, especially in the case of fish. The biomass of fish is increased by 617% compared to the areas open to fishing. There is also a notable change in the trophic structure of coastal fish associations, with a large increase of big predators, which currently can reach half the total fish biomass, tending to the inversion of the trophic pyramid that has been observed in the most pristine zones of the oceans. The recovery of populations of some fish species have already reached the carrying capacity, implying that their demographic structure has been recovered, maximizing the reproductive capacity of these populations. It has also been shown that spill over from MPS favours local fisheries that get more benefits with less effort. At the level of benthic communities, the recovery of predatory fish keep sea urchin populations at bay, preventing that rich infralitoral macroalgae habitats from becoming barrens, resulting in a true regime-shift. Coastal habitats, in well-protected MPAs, show greater inter-annual stability in protected areas. But all that happens only in 0.04% of the Mediterranean.