Protecting the best of the Mediterranean

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As a marine scientist and conservationist I have traveled and worked around the world. My work has allowed me to explore spectacular places and meet brilliant, hard-working people.

But there’s nothing quite like working to protect your home, and that’s why I came back to the Mediterranean.

The Mediterranean Sea has provided food and enabled commerce since ancient times. It continues to do so today, though in very different ways. Industrial fishing and mass tourism have changed the face of the Mediterranean.

Some say the Mediterranean is doomed – a giant empty bathtub surrounded by ever-expanding resorts. I understand how people might arrive at this pessimistic assessment, but I don’t agree with it. Because when you zoom in, you see pockets of pristine, undeveloped nature that can serve as the foundation to rebuild a healthy marine environment and support vibrant, sustainable development.

Fishing port in Algeria. © WWF / M. MabariFishing port in Algeria. © WWF / M. Mabari

I am working with a group of people from across the region who are trying to protect these special places, so the sea will remain the heart of our shared Mediterranean culture, as it has been for thousands of years.

There’s Ibrahim, a PhD student from Algeria. At a time when nature conservation might be overshadowed by other issues in his homeland, Ibrahim is working with fishermen in Taza National Park to generate sustainable livelihoods through “pesca tourism” – a cultural experience that encourages people to explore beyond the beach. The hope is that when people see all that the park has to offer, they will be more motivated to ensure its future.

There’s the group of feisty women from Croatia, all of who come from coastal or island communities. These remote places offer few economic opportunities, but they do offer natural beauty that is attracting an increasing number of tourists. The women have a vision of visitors coming to enjoy nature and engage with their communities – staying with families, eating locally produced food, taking the time to enjoy an authentic Croatian experience. But in order to realize this potential, they must protect what draws people in: the coastal environment.

Telašćica Nature Park, Croatia.  © WWFTelašćica Nature Park, Croatia. © WWF

The team from Albania is young, and it’s fitting that this new generation of scientists is inaugurating the country’s first marine protected area. But, in fact, the place has been “protected” for decades by a military presence. Now the team is tasked with opening this pristine area to visitors in a way that doesn’t compromise it. Starting from scratch, they have the chance to demonstrate a new, 21st century model for marine and coastal management.

WWF’s Yaprak Arda isn’t from Kaş, Turkey, but she seems to know everyone in this eclectic community. Kaş is a relatively undeveloped stretch of coast sandwiched between the mass tourism hubs of Antalya and Bodrum. Most of the locals agree they don’t want to see their town transformed by such development, but what does it take to prevent that future and to shape the one they want? Yaprak helped convene community members with diverse interests to create the Kaş-Kekova marine protected area. This designation is important for the biological health of the marine environment, but more than that, the process to achieve it has helped the people of Kaş define their vision for a sustainable future.

Fishing and tour boats in Kaş harbor. © WWF / Claudia AmicoFishing and tour boats in Kaş harbor. © WWF / Claudia Amico

These are the people and these are the places that convince me that the Mediterranean can recover. While everybody thinks their own part of the Mediterranean is special, there are similarities throughout the region. Perhaps most importantly, there’s a growing movement to preserve these undeveloped places that represent the very best of the Mediterranean.

Giuseppe Di Carlo is director of WWF’s Mediterranean Marine Initiative. 

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