Mediterranean Sea

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Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) swimming in open sea. Zákinthos, Lagana Bay, Greece.
© WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER

About the Area

The Mediterranean Sea is an intercontinental sea situated between Europe to the north, Africa to the south, and Asia to the east. It covers an area, including the Sea of Marmara but excluding the Black Sea, of about 970,000 square miles. The Mediterranean Sea has significant endemism and is biologically distinctive from the adjacent Atlantic Ocean.

Its rocky reefs, seagrass meadows, and upwelling areas are particularly important habitats that support enormous biodiversity. Seagrass meadows provide important habitat, especially as breeding, feeding, and resting areas for numerous marine species, particularly fish, crustaceans, and marine turtles.

These meadows produce more than 80% of the annual fish yield in the Mediterranean. The grasses also stabilise the seashore and maintain water quality, particularly through oxygen production. The rocky reef ecosystems provide habitat for the endangered Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) as well as several endemic fish and invertebrates. The Ligurian Sea represents the most significant upwelling area in the Mediterranean.
Size:
N/A

Habitat type:
Temperate Shelf and Seas

Geographic Location:
Mediterranean Sea- between southern Europe and northern Africa

Conservation Status:
Critical/Endangered
Local Species
19 species of cetaceans can be encountered; 8 of them are considered common (Fin whale Balaenoptera physalus, Sperm whale Physeter macrocephalus, Striped dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba, Risso's dolphin Grampus griseus, long finned Pilot whale Globicephala melas, Bottlenose dolphin Tursiops truncatus, Common dolphin Delphinus delphis, Cuvier's beaked whale Ziphius cavirostris), while 4 are occasional (Minke whale Balaenoptera acutorostrata, Killer whale Orcinus orca, False killer whale Pseudorca crassidens, Rough toothed dolphin Steno bredanesis), and 6 accidental, alien to the Mediterranean, but occasionally sighted in the last 120 years (among them the Humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae).

A few of the characteristic species are the endangered Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus), Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis), Mullets (Mugilidae spp.), Gilthead sea bream (Sparus auratus), Sea bass (Dicentrarchus labrax), and the Greater flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber).

Also found in this ecosystem are loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta), green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas), and leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea).

Featured species

 / ©: WWF-Canon / Jacques TROTIGNON
Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus), Mauritania.
© WWF-Canon / Jacques TROTIGNON
Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus)

The Mediterranean monk seal male averages 2.4m in length and weighs approximately 315kg. Females are slightly smaller, weighing approximately 300kg. Adults are generally brown or grey on the back, and lighter on the belly. A white patch is common on the underside of the belly, and other irregular light patches are not uncommon. Older males tend to be black. Pups are born from 88-103cm in length and weigh 16-18kg.

Males and females are thought to reach sexual maturity between 5 and 6 years, although some females may mature as early as 4 years. Pups are born over much of the year although peak pupping occurs in September and October. Monk seal pups can swim and dive at about two weeks of age and are weaned at about 16-17 weeks. Monk seals are thought to forage in nearshore waters for fish and octopus. Individuals may live for 20-30 years in the wild.

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Threats
In the Mediterranan Sea marine life is heavily threatened by habitat degradation mostly due to human activities, such as fisheries, ship traffic, water pollution, coastal anthropization.

The cetacean population are currently affected by heavy pollution which contaminates the marine food web, by overexploitation of marine resources due to unsustainable and not selective fishery, and also by direct and indirect take of cetaceans.

Coastal development, intensive tourism, and land reclamation for agriculture place pressures on key wildlife habitats in the Mediterranean. Local and regional problems related to pollution, specifically effluents from domestic and industrial sources, oil transportation and refineries, and agricultural runoff, are beginning to have an impact on wildlife.

Additionally, intense development, sand excavation, urbanisation, and the release of untreated sewage into the sea is a major public health issue, as increased numbers of microorganisms have led to an increase in several diseases. The fisheries of this region have been overexploited and many local fisheries are declining as a consequence of indiscriminate trawl fishing and high levels of bycatch.

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WWF’s work

The WWF Mediterranean Schools
Conservation Capacity Building is a process designed to encourage, build and support the human and operational capacity of institutions, organisations and individuals within a region or community - to enable them to support and sustain, or independently develop and manage, conservation projects and initiatives in an effective and locally relevant manner. Capacity Building is one of the cornerstones of WWF's strategy and workplan in the Mediterranean region. WWF aims to foster the growth and development of key organisations and institutions involved in conservation related initiatives in the Mediterranean.

The Blue School
WWF environmental education and management course on the Mediterranean Sea.

The Blue School is a capacity building course focusing on the conservation and management of the marine and coastal ecosystems of the Mediterranean Sea. It is part of the Capacity Building effort of the Mediterranean Programme of WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), and is organised by the staff of the Miramare Marine Reserve (Trieste), a coastal protected area situated in the Gulf of Trieste - northern Adriatiatic Sea.

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