11th Ordinary Meeting of Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention

Speech Published 30 Oct 1999 Last modified 16 Oct 2014

11th Ordinary Meeting of Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention

Malta - 27-30 October 1999

Presentation of the Joint EEA/UNEP-MAP report: "State and pressures of the Marine and Coastal Mediterranean Environment"

Executive Director
European Environment Agency

Note: The opinions expressed by the speaker are of a personal nature and do not necessarily reflect the views of the EEA, the European Commission or any other Community Institute.

"Sr Presidente, Sres Ministros, Delegades, Señoras y Señores.

  • Es un placer poder expresar my agradecimientos en mi preciosa lengua mediterranea materna el español. Gracias a Malta por acoger estra Conferencia, y a sus organizadores y en particular al PAM (Plan de Accion del Mediterraneo) y a su coordinador Lucien Chabasson por invitar a la Agencia Europea de Medio Ambiente a presentar los resultados del informe preliminar, realizado conjuntamente sobre "La situacion y presiones en el Medio Ambiente Marino y Costero del Mediterraneo".
  • Thank you Christoph Bail, Head of the European Community Delegation, for sharing your time with me.
  • As you may know, the Agency is one of the Community's decentralised Agencies and located in Copenhagen, Denmark. It is separated, or independent, from the Commission to better serve the Commission and the Community in general and the Member States by providing the best available information on the environment, now extended to sustainable development, for better decision making and public information and participation.
  • And in this role and as part of the Agency's pan-European vocation, we could not be absent from the Mediterranean scenario.
  • Let me profit from this opportunity to mention that the Agency, according with its funding Regulation, is open to countries that share its goals, and that following a Commission proposal adopted in July '99, negotiations for membership of the ten CEECs Accession Countries and Cyprus, but also Malta and Turkey, may begin soon. So welcome Malta, hopefully soon.
  • Delegates, ladies and gentlemen, the Agency is not used to talk but to present facts and figures visually. You have received copies of the Executive Summary of the report, made together with MAP, and using the expertise of the Agency's Topic Centre for Marine and Coastal Environment, hosted by the Italian ENEA. You have also copies of my "story line", including some visual presentations. Since the technical means to project them could not be put in place here, I will only make some oral remarks. The full report is being printed and available in coming weeks.

The State of the Mediterranean Sea. What are the facts ?

The good news

  • The Mediterranean Sea is still, surprisingly, a very alive sea.
  • The open waters are generally in a good state and most of the diverse ecosystems still seem healthy.

The not so good news

  • That we do what we can to degrade the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Natural conditions in some areas, together with continuously increasing pressures from coastal anthropogenic activities, keep creating pollution hot spots, sometimes persistent.
  • And in general, by these continuously increasing pressures, very much linked to abusive non-sustainable coastal development, we are affecting the general functionality of the Mediterranean Sea, not only in environmental terms, but also as supporting socio-economic activities and better life quality.
  • Hot spots and loss of functionality are main problems.
  • This can be illustrated with some specific issues related to sea water.
  • Eutrophication. Mediterranean surface waters in the open sea are classified among the poorest in nutrients, but there are several localised and something severe comes of eutrophication and with side effects as algae bloom.
  • Microbial contamination. It persits in the coastal zone and mostly related to untreated urban waste water that still represents 60% of the urban discharges.
  • Heavy metal and organochlorine compounds. With the exception of mercury, heavy metal concentrations in biota and sediments are generally low and for mercury there are slow reductions. There are still some hot spots with high DDT concentrations in sediments (The Rhône Delta). And there are detectable concentrations of DDT and PCB, while lower than now established limits for sea-food consumption.

Continuing with the not so good news

  • In contrast to the relatively good conditions of the sea itself, only a small percentage of the coastal area is left in good conditions, of which even a smaller part is adequately protected.
  • And the prospects are worse, due to increased pressures as:

- Population increase in the Mediterranean separian countries (and mostly in the coastal strip). The expected growth is from 450 M. people in 1997 to as much as 520-570 M. in 2025. The effect of second residences must be added, and that of tourism.

- Tourism increase. It is the Mediterranean coastal boom, bringing the urbanisation, mobility and infrastructures' boom. The Mediterrenean is the main world tourism destination.

All this means strong competition for space, territory, resources between man and nature in one of the most precious and valuable ecotons or transition zones of the world, the Mediterranean coast.

Tourism will grow during the yearly peak session from 135 Million visits in 1990 to between 235 and 353 Million visits in 2025.

  • Delegates, our report makes the case for urgent action at all levels and for stronger international co-operation in the Mediterranean, and under the Barcelona Convention, and with the European Communities.
  • But I could not finish my intervention without expressing my own perception, because, as a great Mediterranean man, Aristotle, said "Facts are facts, perception is reality".

It is my perception. I hope to share that:

1. We need better information to make policies more efficient and politicians more accountable, and give sustainable perspective to the doers (business and municipalities alike).

The Mediterranean sea and region traditionally is rich in environmental data and specific targeted information and scientific knowledge.

But it is extremely poor in consistent and integrated assessments linked to the political agenda. Getting out of the tunnel vision provides good basis for action and to monitor policies.

This is still a major handicap. A minimum common vision and if possible independent assessment is required to push for and make accountable a rational use of this common asset that is the Mediterranean.

2. It is also my perception that the potential gains of adequate action are significant.

The Mediterranean is a fantastic asset; it is a strong sea that we keep submitting to excessive pressure.

Notwithstanding this, its natural condition remains unique: its biodiversity, oligothophic conditions, regular water renewal, risks coastal biotopes and landscapes.

In summary, properly used the Mediterranean provides the basis for diversified economies in the basin and better life quality while keeping a unique Mediterranean identity.

3. And finally it is also my perception that there are many unsustainable trends on the way.

We keep transforming all this potential and opportunities into threats for the future.

We are doing much to degrade the surrounding territory, urbanising intensively the coast beyond carrying capacity, and degrading the transition zone.

We are substituting the ecoton, the transition zone, the coast by a built barrier that extends already over 2500 km of the 35000 km of the Mediterranean coast (Malta is a good example). (We could call it our environmental Berlin wall.)

And we continue to discharge too much untreated waste water and toxic substances.

And biodiversity is increasingly threatened by taking away the rich coastal biotopes, bringing invading fauna and flora species, over-exploiting fish resources and scraping sea beds.

In conclusion, it is my perception that we do our best to strangle the water body, by invading and urbanising the coast, and to suffocate it by sending our waste and untreated waste water to it, and by doing so we also diminish its socio-economic functionalities.

More coastal development, with more tourism, more intensive agriculture, irrigation … may kill all of them. More tourism is already killing tourism in certain areas.

In short, the Mediterranean sea and basin will be what we make of the coast.

The Mediterranean basin will only be as good as the rational use of the coast is.

Ministers and delegates of the separian States of the Mediterranean, please allow me to say something that may look politically incorrect, please stop finding comfort and excuses in the thinking that the problem is the Mediterranean sea in general and it is always the others to be blamed. And begin taking your own responsibility and look at your coast and stop, while you can, all the uncontrolled and mostly speculative coastal developments, you may have to make difficult discussions, but what is at stake is the major treasure for actual and future generations, the Mediterranean basin.

Please stop talking about integral coastal management and do it. Some Mediterranean municipalities as Calvia (Mallorca) have shown that it feasible and rewarding.

And of course the proper common framework should be consolidated.

For the Agency and the MAP, it means to provide more operational assessments beyond this preliminary report.

A report including medium term prospects and scenarios (linked to the recommendation of the Mediterranean Commission for Sustainable development) could well be available, if resources are provided, well before the Rio+10 Conference in 2002, as a basis for a real and feasible Mediterranean strategy and plan for sustainable development and related accounting mechanisms with indicators and targets.

The European Environment Agency is ready for that, it is only a matter of extending the on-going exercise we are making for the Commission and for the European Union to support the Community policies mentioned by Christoph Bail; and besides this Community exercise should be incomplete without the Mediterranean discussion. And we have with MAP a good partner to do the job efficiently.

Ministers, Delegates, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your attention."


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