Safeguarding the Mediterranean Sea

Posted on April, 12 2011

If you’re one of the millions of holidaymakers who love this unique region, you’ll know just how beautiful the Mediterranean can be – soft sunshine, warm people, golden sand and sparkling sea.

And if your home is one of the 24 states and territories that make up the marvellous mosaic that is the Mediterranean region, you know how deeply this sea is rooted in your culture and wellbeing.
It’s incredible to think that a quarter of the species that live here exist nowhere else in the world. And shocking to realise that without our help, they could be wiped out forever.

What’s at stake?

Rare and wonderful animals like the loggerhead turtle, as well as more familiar species like tuna, have lived in the Mediterranean Sea for millions of years.

But now their natural habitat is under serious threat from overfishing, pollution and the effects of climate change.

Shoals of bluefin tuna migrate into the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic to spawn. But in the last two decades this iconic fish has been forced to the edge of collapse. High demand for its succulent flesh on global seafood markets has pushed up prices, enticing ever more boats out onto the water.

The story so far

Many of the Mediterranean’s most endangered species live far below the sea’s surface. To protect them, we helped bring about a ban on fishing at depths greater than 1,000 metres. We’ve also helped to create a massive 80,000 km² sanctuary in the seas between Corsica, France and Italy to protect the 18 species of whales and dolphins that swim in the area.

Together with governments and local people, we’ve made sure that more of the Mediterranean Sea is properly protected. We helped set up new conservation areas where activities like fishing and tourism are strictly regulated to protect the diversity of marine life. Protected areas in the Mediterranean today cover nearly 10,000 km² – still less than 1% of the surface of the Mediterranean Sea.

Early in the 21st century, WWF exposed the scandal behind the serious overfishing of bluefin tuna. An extensive policy and communications campaign has made this Mediterranean  fish  a  global  headline,  seen  as  one  of  the  most  urgent  marine conservation challenges of our time. WWF’s work has resulted in reduced catches, smaller  fishing  fleets,  and a  better  respect  for  rules  – illegal fishing  is  steadily declining. In parallel, a coalition of global businesses is supporting WWF in calling for a halt to trading in the overexploited bluefin tuna until it shows signs of recovery.

Did you know?

  • The Mediterranean coastline extends 46,000 km and includes one of the largest archipelagos in the world.
  • 1.5 million tonnes – fish caught in the region per year.
  • The recently issued global Census of Marine Life, assessed the Mediterranean as the most threatened sea in the world.
  • 28% of Mediterranean marine species are endemic, meaning they are exclusively found here – 700 species of fish, of which 110 of commercial value.
  • The Mediterranean is the most important breeding ground of Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus), the world’s most valuable fish species.
  • 15 cetacean species are regularly present in the region, including a large fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) breeding population.
  • 270 million international tourists visit the Mediterranean every year. 180 million more are expected by 2025.

What next?

So far, we’ve managed to officially protect 1% of the Mediterranean, mostly on the north-western shore. Now, we want to increase that to at least 10%, making sure that important ecosystems are protected right across the region – including the high seas as well as coastal areas. And we want to make sure that those areas are properly managed and receive the funding they need.

And the bluefin tuna still needs our help. WWF is keeping up the pressure on Mediterranean governments and policy-makers to transform fishing and trading practices to ensure a bright future for the fish – but also for the Mediterranean fishing communities that have caught this species for thousands of years. We are working to contribute new scientific knowledge about bluefin tuna biology and migratory behaviour through our pioneering satellite tagging project in the Mediterranean Sea, which will in turn improve fisheries management. WWF will keep bluefin in the spotlight until it is back from the brink.

WWF’s new Mediterranean Initiative aims to create a sea change in Mediterranean marine management. We are promoting the adoption of ecosystem-based management for all marine resources and creating a constituency of sustainable fisheries communities and marine protected areas to give social and economic value to this conservation goal.

What you can do

Join the myWWF Action Center
Be part of a global community of activists ready to take simple online actions that can help save wildlife and people. Sign up today!


Cork oak tree high in the mountains near Alcala de los Gazules, Andalucia, Spain.
© Edward Parker / WWF
Atlantic bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus) feeding in the Mediterranean Sea.
© Frédéric BASSEMAYOUSSE / WWF Mediterranean
WWF project staff leaving on a whale watching trip. Monte Carlo harbour, Monaco.
© Emanuele Coppola / WWF