Planning a network of marine protected areas for the Mediterranean Sea.

The main idea of this proposed project is the use of systematic conservation planning approach for the design of a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) for the entire Mediterranean Sea.

This globally significant region, with high levels of biodiversity and many endemic species, has been subjected to human exploitation and degradation for thousands of years.The aim is to protect the unique marine biodiversity of this ecologically important area and contribute to the persistence of the associated ecosystem services to humans, while minimizing the conflicts with prevalent socio-economic activities. The basic criterion to design this Mediterranean network of MPAs will be the identification of priority areas (coherent portions of the seascape containing important representatives of biodiversity and satisfying important socio-economic needs) that are more interconnected with each other by ecological connections than they are with other portions of the seascape, taking into account the distribution of the main threats occurring in the Mediterranean Sea.

A system of MPAs will be designed, with existing MPAs serving as a basis which would be complemented by additional (coastal and off-shore) areas, in order to achieve conservation outcomes. For this purpose, the best available prioritization software will be used. Marxan is a powerful computational tool facilitating systematic conservation planning, which uses simulated annealing techniques, to find multiple good solutions to the minimum set problem (Marxan).

Scenarios with different biodiversity targets will be produced. The conservation (biodiversity) features will be selected after consultation with experts on Mediterranean marine habitats. We will explore different ways of representing the cost of the system using social and economic information. Various sources of ecological data will be used. Moreover, species distribution modelling may be applied to overcome sparseness of distributional data, by relating them to a set of geographic and/ or environmental predictors. Similar sources of data will be used for socio-economic factors that will be taken into account for the design of the MPAs network. Stressors such as, fisheries and tourism, population density, land-based sources of pollution and others will be considered.