What future for the Mediterranean Sea?

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It’s not every day we glimpse our future. But if we did, what would we change about our actions today?

This year, we have the privilege to take a peek at what the Mediterranean Sea may look like in 15-20 years. But let me take a step back. It’s almost Christmas 2015 and we are all busy getting ready for the holidays, getting the decorations and lights up, the tree looking good. The phone rings and it’s a colleague worrying about getting the Medtrends report finished and out to the media by early January. We have been working on this report forever, and by now it’s an obsession to get it finished. This is a unique opportunity for WWF to provide useful and realistic scenarios for maritime development in the Mediterranean. It makes us excited and extremely concerned at the same time. It’s exciting because we have a product in our hands that allows us see what’s coming; it’s extremely worrying because it’s not the future we wish for our home, for our sea.

The Mediterranean is the largest enclosed sea in the world, home to 150 million people who rely on it for food, holidays, jobs, climate – the sea defines life in the region. The Medtrends report establishes future scenarios featuring 10 of the most economically important and fast growing sectors. But in fact, the report says that everything is growing fast: population, tourism, pollution, aquaculture. Growth can be good, but not if it’s not matched with planning or a vision that can guarantee we will continue to benefit from all the assets that the ocean provides. So, not good news.

Shipping containers in the port of Sorrento, Italy. © Edward Parker / WWFShipping containers in the port of Sorrento, Italy. © Edward Parker / WWF

Forty per cent of the Mediterranean is already being used by the extractive industry to explore or extract oil or gas, and the industry is expected to grow 5 or 6 fold by 2020. Maritime traffic for transport of goods and passengers is also on the rise. Today the Mediterranean moves more than 27 million passengers a year, second only to the Caribbean. By 2020, there will be no hidden corner of the Mediterranean that is not navigated by a ship.

This cross between a superhighway and an oilfield just happens to be where we grow and catch our fish (and Europeans eat a lot of fish). Aquaculture production is expected to expand from 280 to 600 tons a year, an increase of 112 per cent.

An aquaculture operation off the coast of Croatia. © WWF / Danijel KanskiAn aquaculture operation off the coast of Croatia. © WWF / Danijel Kanski

All this development will result in conflicts for space – for example between aquaculture and tourism, which is by far the most important industry for the Mediterranean economy, with a forecast of 500 million tourists by 2030. This picture doesn’t even touch on fisheries, mining, wind farms, climate change and floating plastic. There is a lot happening at sea we easily forget about.

It is striking that despite technological progress and stricter environmental legislation, industrial development continues to increase pressures and impacts on the marine environment. Medtrends finds there is a high risk of failing to achieve Good Environmental Status (target sets by the European Commission) in the Mediterranean Sea by 2020.

© WWF WWF is working to protect and maintain the marine resources that underpin communities and economies in the Mediterranean. Tunisia. © Edward Parker / WWF

If we continue business as usual, the current exploitation of maritime space and resources simply will not be sustainable. The only way to ensure that the Mediterranean Sea can continue to support our economies, food security, livelihoods and recreation is crafting a new path of sustainability. This means that industries, governments and communities must build a vision that reconciles economic growth with maintaining ocean assets.

So, now that we know, what will we do?

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

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