Khalil Attia is the Director of the Specially Protected Areas Regional Activity Centre – SPA/RAC – based in Tunisia. The SPA/RAC was established by the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols to assist Mediterranean countries in implementing the Protocol concerning Specially Protected Areas and Biological Diversity. Following the publications of the Living Mediterranean Report, he answers the questions of the Tour du Valat.
1 – What are your thoughts on the results of the Living Planet Index in the Mediterranean Basin presented in the Living Mediterranean Report and on the sharp decline in populations of species living in marine, coastal and freshwater ecosystems since 1993?
The decline of biodiversity is a reality. One that is equally true in the Mediterranean! The report addresses the subject from a very telling point of view. The results indicate a 20% loss on average in the abundance of vertebrates in a span of 23 years, and 52% for marine vertebrates, particularly fish populations, which is directly linked to anthropic pressures (overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, etc.)
Other than a few encouraging tendencies, such as Bluefin Tuna populations, the general downward trends indicate that we are not following the objectives of the Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) or the Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean. And therein lies a very Mediterranean paradox where, in theory, the region has everything it needs to fight the decline in biodiversity: a strict multilateral regulatory framework (the Barcelona Convention and its 7 Protocols, including the Specially Protected Areas and Biological Diversity Protocol), translated into action by numerous regional strategies and action plans which are implemented by Contracting Parties with the assistance, monitoring and coordination of a Secretariat and 6 Regional Activity Centres, including SPA/RAC, as well as a programme to combat against marine pollution.
Despite all these measures (regulatory, institutional and technical) put in place for now over forty years and revised after the 1992 Rio Conference to take into account the new holistic vision of sustainable development by establishing a Mediterranean Commission on Sustainable Development (MCSD), the Mediterranean countries have been unable to reverse the declining trend of marine and coastal ecosystems and the loss of species which inhabit them. This is a real challenge that all the Mediterranean countries must face together and the Barcelona Convention presents the best framework for coordinated action to address this in the upcoming years to save the Mediterranean ecosystems and reverse this declining trend.
2 – Whether it is used on a global or regional scale, how do you think the Living Planet Index can help to fight against the mass extinctions we currently face?
The regular monitoring and evaluation of the state of marine and coastal ecosystems is essential for the conservation of biodiversity. In the Mediterranean there is a relatively new program – the Integrated Monitoring and Assessment Program (IMAP). It provides countries with indicators on the health of the marine environment. In addition to a continuous and coordinated monitoring of the entire Mediterranean Basin through indicators selected on scientific criteria, this program includes an integrated assessment of the good ecological status of the whole Mediterranean ecosystem every 6 years. The next report will be completed by the end of 2023. The objective is to be able to detect potential malfunctions by using a few indicators and to know at what level action must be taken. Interactions in the living world are complex. Indicators, which must be measured on the field according to well-defined scientific methods, are a way to take a snapshot of the living world in all its complexity.
Whether it is through IMAP or the Living Planet Index, feeling the pulse of the planet through continuous scientific monitoring of its health and its pressures is the first step to reconciling with nature, to act with it and not against it.
3 – We know that the Mediterranean Basin is a climate change hotspot as well as a region of very high socio-economic tensions, but the Living Mediterranean Report indicates that its biodiversity is also rapidly declining. What would be your recommendations to improve the situation?
Healthy ecosystems are more capable of resisting changes linked to climate change and to regenerate after catastrophes – which is why we must protect them.
The UNEP/MAP-SPA/RAC has developed the Strategic Action Programme for the Conservation of Biological Diversity and Sustainable Management of Natural Resources in the Mediterranean Region (Post-2020 SAPBIO) that will be proposed for adoption by the Contracting Parties of the Barcelona Convention during the 22nd conference in December 2021 in Antalya, Turkey.
The programme identifies a set of priority measures that the parties with the support of relevant regional and national actors should implement in order to relieve the pressure on marine biodiversity. They go beyond the strict framework of the environmental sector to address different aspects, in addition to the conservational aspects such as the incentives for sustainable use of natural resources, the reductions in conflicts of use, the development of the Marine Spatial Planning and the Integrated Coastal Zone Management, the integration of biodiversity in sectoral and crosscutting policies as well as the accounting of natural capital and ecosystem services.
The Post-2020 SAPBIO also proposes actions to strengthen certain favourable conditions for conservation such as the improvement of governance and management systems, capacity building and better communication with the decision makers and the socio-economic stakeholders.
4 – In addition to publications such as the Living Mediterranean Report, how can the scientific community contribute to raising awareness among decision makers, and society in general, of the importance of preserving biodiversity?
The remaining silos must be broken down and crossroads must be developed between scientists, politicians, civil society organisations, the media etc.
The Covid crisis has shown how important it is to integrate science into political decisions to save lives.
The environmental crisis is probably greater and more devastating than the current health crisis… We must therefore act rationally. The scientific proof is there and speaks for itself. What is needed is a more efficient communication method between scientists and decision makers, whether they may be political or economic. This requires that the scientific results be translated into messages that can be understood by decision makers! Biodiversity loss, the disappearance of fauna or flora species must be translated into economic losses and quantified into financial terms. Assessments and projections should be drawn up in figures. Then the decision makers will understand the meaning and the gravity of the findings and trends!