Mediterranean conservation

Working to protect a sea and its margins under pressure

Subject: Land, coastal and marine conservation
Location: The Mediterranean countries
Leader: Chris Walley

A precious but troubled sea

The Mediterranean Sea is at the heart of Western history. The great civilizations of the Egyptians, Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans arose on its shores and for millennia its waters have been used for trading and fishing.  Today over 25 countries and territories have coastlines on the Mediterranean and over 50 states have drainage basins that feed into it. Around 150 million people live around the edges of the Mediterranean and nearly twice that figure visit it each year for holidays.

The Mediterranean as we like to think of it

Cap Camarat, near St Tropez, France

Almost everybody has a delightful mental picture of the Mediterranean. It’s an image of azure skies, dazzling sands, warm blue waters, probably with a backdrop of tree-clad, steep-sided mountains. With good food and friendly people the Mediterranean is often seen as a paradise on earth. Yet this glorious image is deceptive. The clear waters of the Mediterranean and the adjacent land areas are under threat from a worryingly large number of problems. These range from overfishing, urbanization, pollution and invasive new species to rising temperatures, increasing salinity and algal blooms.  See the UNEP report State of the Mediterranean.


The future of the Mediterranean coast?

Our involvement in the Mediterranean

A Rocha has had a long interest in Mediterranean ecosystems – not just marine but also coastal, freshwater and mountain environments – and we continue to create a programme for research, conservation and education around the Mediterranean.

Our field studies centre at Cruzinha on Portugal’s Alvor estuary was where A Rocha first started over 30 years ago. A Rocha has been responsible for environmental monitoring (particularly of birds and plants) and practical conservation. We were instrumental in the estuary being declared a Natura 2000 site and have led the defence against its development.

In southern France we have two centres: Les Tourades just north of the Rhône delta and Les Courmettes which overlooks the Côte D’Azur. A Rocha has been involved in the conservation of the llon Marsh, just north of the Camargue, undertaking research on birds including the iconic European Roller, butterflies, reptiles and amphibians. Further east at Les Courmettes, research and conservation work is ongoing with birds and butterflies, and on the preservation of some unique freshwater ponds.

In Lebanon, the waters of the Aammiq wetland, a Ramsar site that A Rocha has been restoring and protecting, eventually make their way down to the Mediterranean sea. We are also now engaged in woodland restoration work in the country.


Greenhouses cover the coastal plain near Almería, Spain

Building and development affects much of the Mediterranean coastline

We are currently developing a Mediterranean marine programme in France and Monaco looking at issues such as microplastic pollution and seagrass restoration in the shallow offshore waters.

The links between these areas of work are not simply geographical: many of the problems of the Mediterranean – such as overfishing, pollution and habitat destruction – are the result of the actions of communities. A Rocha’s commitment to working with communities is critical in an environment that is so transformed by people. Although conventions and legislation have their place, if the Mediterranean is to be saved, it will be saved by people.

The prevailing culture around the northern edge of the Mediterranean and in many of its islands remains Christian which fits A Rocha’s ethos well; indeed in many places the church has more authority than the state. And our identity as an international organization serves us well in a region of so many different nations.

With its historic past and its threatened ecosystems and species the Mediterranean is a critical area for conservation work and one in which we want to play our part.

Seagrass meadows in a Marine Protected Area

Parc national de Port-Cros, France