The cooperative audit identified that the necessary mechanisms for the designation and effective management of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) within the Mediterranean Sea were not always in place to achieve the desired equilibrium between the sustainability of Marine Protected Areas and blue growth.
This cooperative audit based its findings and conclusions on seven individual national audit reports, which were compiled by the Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) of Albania, Cyprus, France, Greece, Malta, Portugal and Slovenia. These national reports considered MPAs to entail a delineated marine site, which may have been already designated or is to be designated as such under international, regional or national legal frameworks and policies. The main objective of a MPA is to conserve and nurture the marine biodiversity while striking a balance with any economic activity permitted in the area. This definition includes, but is not restricted to, Natura 2000 sites, Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMIs) designated under the Protocol concerning Specially Protected Areas and Biological Diversity of the Barcelona Convention, artificial reefs or designated Marine Parks.
The aim of the cooperative audit was to determine the degree to which countries in the Mediterranean region are effectively conserving marine biodiversity to attain the targets set in national legislation and international protocols. To address this aim, the participating SAIs compiled an audit design matrix based on issues relating to the regulatory framework, strategies, site’ assessments undertaken, management plans drafted and national surveillance efforts. The analysis of these five key areas, led to these main findings:
a. The legal framework regulating MPAs is sufficiently robust and mandates national authorities to ascertain the sustainability of the marine environment. However, it does not provide a common definition of what constitutes a MPA. In addition, overlapping and in some instances conflicting provisions were identified within the national regulatory frameworks.
b. National strategic frameworks, generally, reflected the political will and aimed to outline the relevant outputs as well as outcomes through the designation of MPAs. However, in three of the participating countries no comprehensive sector specific strategies are in place, while all SAIs identified the potential of strengthening national strategic frameworks, so as to optimize their impact.
c. Participating SAIs noted that national authorities have carried out the relevant site assessments to designate MPAs. Nonetheless, the scope of these assessments was not always appropriately broad, either due to resource and technical expertise limitations, or to diplomatic issues when the site assessments concerned joint jurisdictions or the high-seas.
d. While it is recognised that management plans are key to the implementation of measures to ensure the sustainability of MPAs, most participating SAIs reported that site-specific plans are not yet in place. Moreover, other technical and logistical limitations, such as coordination issues and the non-deployment of resources, influenced the degree to which participating countries could implement specific measures to ascertain the conservation of protected species within MPAs.
e. SAIs reported that site-specific management plans, administrative capacity weaknesses and coordination limitations between stakeholders are the key elements that hindered adequate monitoring and enforcement of measures in MPAs. Monitoring and enforcement shortcomings do not guarantee that MPAs and therefore the biodiversity they aim to protect are being managed, as well as utilised, in a sustainable manner.
Governments’ responsibilities in designating, managing and enforcing the regulatory framework concerning MPAs is a complex endeavour. This audit has noted that more needs to be done to find a balance between the protection of the marine environment and the economic activities within. Within this context, site-specific plans and the deployment of the appropriate level of resources are a prerequisite to effective management, regulation and monitoring of Marine Protected Areas.
The equilibrium between marine conservation and blue growth also necessitates cross-border cooperation. To this effect, the strengthening of bi-lateral and multi-lateral frameworks of cooperation in this area between Mediterranean countries is critical to the sustainability of this biodiversity and socio-economic rich sea.