From the Levant to Gibraltar: A Regional Perspective for Marine Conservation in the Mediterranean Sea


Marine protected areas (MPAs) are critical to the well-being of threatened ecosystems and thus can be highly beneficial to humans, especially to those residing nearby. We explore the qualities of 117 MPAs in the Mediterranean basin and develop a taxonomy of their characteristics. We relate the spatial distribution of the MPAs to the various characteristics of the taxonomy (size, distance from shore, protection levels, management regimes, etc.) and to areas of high human impact and influence levels. To do this we use information on biogeographic regions and information from two different human influence models; one model developed for the marine environment and one covering the littoral terrestrial environment. Our analysis provides insights to planners and managers working in a regional capacity and trying to build MPA networks. Generally, current MPAs have not been established in high impact areas despite their being close to shores containing intense human activity. Decision-makers wishing to design and establish new MPAs may seek out areas of high cumulative human impacts (near the marine–terrestrial interface) or avoid them depending on marine conservation objectives, including the desire to vary types of MPAs within a network. Limitations of our analysis and methodology indicate areas for further research.

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The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of the Marie Curie International Reintegration Grant Program for funding this research through the Designation and Management of Marine Reserve Networks project (European Commission, FP7, Grant 268115). Also, we thank MPA managers for information on MPAs in their respective countries: Marko Pećarević (Croatia), Ruti Yahel (Israel), Patrick Schembri, Darrin Stevens and Christopher Cousin (Malta), Novak Cadjenovic (Montenegro), Leonardo Tunesi (Italy), Marta García Pérez (Spain).

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Correspondence to Michelle E. Portman.

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Portman, M.E., Nathan, D. & Levin, N. From the Levant to Gibraltar: A Regional Perspective for Marine Conservation in the Mediterranean Sea. AMBIO 41, 670–681 (2012).

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  • Marine protected areas
  • Mediterranean
  • Protection levels
  • Spatial distribution
  • Human activity
  • Human impacts