Ecosystem Approach

The ecosystem approach (EcAp) is a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that provides sustainable delivery of ecosystem services in an equitable way [1]. The concept of ecosystem approach came into spotlight in Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1995, which later endorsed it as a strategy for holistic, sustainable, and equitable natural resource management, to be implemented via 12 principles. The CBD ecosystem approach principles describe the need to manage nature in terms of dynamic ecosystems, while fully engaging with local peoples.

The importance of the ecosystem approach has been increasingly recognised in international legislation such as the Protocol on ICZM in the Mediterranean; the Marine Strategy Framework Directive - MSFD  (2008/ 56/ EC), and the Maritime Spatial Planning MSP Directive (2014/ 89/ EU). Many other international instruments, such as the UN Law of the Sea Convention, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, the Reykjavik Declaration, the CBD decisions (especially V/6 and VII/11 ), the FAO guidelines, and the FAO Code of Conduct, are principal instruments in laying out the application of the ecosystem approach [2].

Ecosystem approach implementation in the Mediterranean under UNEP/MAP

Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention, through the UNEP/ MAP system, have committed themselves to the implementation of an ecosystem approach (EcAp) as a strategy for a comprehensive and integrated management of activities influencing the marine and coastal ecosystems. At their 15th Meeting (COP15, 2008), the Contracting Parties have decided (through Decision IG.17/5) to progressively apply the EcAp to the management of human activities in the Mediterranean, with the ultimate objective to achieve a Good Environmental Status (GES) of the Mediterranean Sea. 

In 2012 (COP17), the Contracting Parties agreed (through Decision IG.20/4) on an overall vision and goals for EcAp, on 11 ecological objectives (see below), operational objectives and indicators for the Mediterranean. A six-year cyclic review process of EcAp implementation was established  with the next EcAp cycle set to cover 2016-2021. 

At COP18, in 2013, the targets for achieving GES of the Mediterranean Sea and its coastal zone by 2020 were adopted. In addition, through Decision IG. 21/3 the EcAp roadmap was agreed on. The Contracting Parties also agreed to design an Integrated Monitoring and Assessment Programme (IMAP) by COP19, which would, for the first time, ensure a common assessment basis for the Mediterranean marine and coastal environment.

At COP19, in 2016, the IMAP was adopted. The IMAP provides guidance to the Parties on how to practically implement quantitative monitoring and assessment of the ecological status of the Mediterranean Sea and coast in line with the EcAp. The COP19 Decision IG. 22/7 implies that "the existing national monitoring and assessment programmes will be reviewed and revised as appropriate so that national implementation of IMAP can be fulfilled in a sufficient manner". The core of the IMAP are the common indicators, belonging to 11 Ecological Objectives (EOs), that summarise data into a simple, standardised and communicable figure and are applicable in the whole Mediterranean Basin, monitored by the Contracting Parties.

EcAp/IMAP ecological objectives (EOs) and common indicators (CIs)

EO1. Biodiversity

Biological diversity is maintained or enhanced. The quality and occurrence of coastal and marine habitats and the distribution and abundance of coastal and marine species are in line with prevailing physiographic, hydrographic, geographic and climatic conditions. 

CI_1. Habitat distributional range
CI_2. Condition of the habitat’s typical species and communities
CI_3. Species distributional range (marine mammals, seabirds, marine reptiles)
CI_4. Population abundance of selected species (marine mammals, seabirds, marine reptiles)
CI_5. Population demographic characteristics (body size or age class structure, sex ratio, fecundity rates, survival/mortality rates)

EO2. Non-indigenous species

Non-indigenous species introduced by human activities are at levels that do not adversely alter the ecosystem.

CI_6. Trends in abundance, temporal occurrence, and spatial distribution of non-indigenous species, particularly invasive, non-indigenous species, notably in risk areas

EO3. Commercial species

Populations of selected commercially exploited fish and shellfish are within biologically safe limits, exhibiting a population age and size distribution that is indicative of a healthy stock (To be further developed in partnership with GFCM).

CI_7. Spawning stock biomass
CI_8. Total landings
CI_9. Fishing mortality
CI_10. Fishing effort
CI_11. Catch per unit of effort (CPUE) or Landings per unit of effort (LPUE)
CI_12. By-catch of vulnerable and not targeted species

EO4. Marine food webs        

To be further developed.

EO5. Eutrophication 

Human-induced eutrophication is prevented, especially adverse effects thereof, such as losses in biodiversity, ecosystem degradation, harmful algal blooms and oxygen deficiency in bottom waters.  

CI_13. Concentration of key nutrients in water column
CI_14. Chlorophyll-a concentration in water column

EO6. Sea-floor integrity        

To be further developed.

EO7. Hydrography

Alteration of hydrographic conditions does not adversely affect coastal and marine ecosystems.

CI_15. Location and extent of the habitats impacted directly by hydrographic alterations

EO8. Coastal ecosystems and landscapes

The natural dynamics of coastal areas are maintained and coastal ecosystems and landscapes are preserved.        

CI_16. Length of coastline subject to physical disturbance due to the influence of man-made structures
CCI*_25. Land use change

EO9. Contaminants

Contaminants cause no significant impact on coastal and marine ecosystems and human health.

CI_17. Concentration of key harmful contaminants measured in the relevant matrix (biota, sediment, seawater)
CI_18. Level of pollution effects of key contaminants where a cause and effect relationship has been established
CI_19. Occurrence, origin (where possible), and extent of acute pollution events (e.g. slicks from oil, oil products and hazardous substances) and their impact on biota affected by this pollution
CI_20. Actual levels of contaminants that have been detected and number of contaminants which have exceeded maximum regulatory levels in commonly consumed seafood
CI_21. Percentage of intestinal enterococci concentration measurements within established standards

EO10. Marine litter

Marine and coastal litter do not adversely affect coastal and marine environment.

CI_22. Trends in the amount of litter washed ashore and/or deposited on coastlines (including analysis of its composition, spatial distribution and, where possible, source
CI_23. Trends in the amount of litter in the water column including microplastics and on the seafloor
CI_24. Trends in the amount of litter ingested by or entangling marine organisms focusing on selected mammals, marine birds and marine turtles (candidate common indicator)

EO11. Underwater noise       

CCI*_26. Proportion of days and geographical distribution where loud, low, and mid-frequency impulsive sounds exceed levels that are likely to entail significant impact on marine animals
CCI*_27. Levels of continuous low frequency sounds with the use of models as appropriate

* Candidate Common Indicator


[1] UNEP (2011) Taking Steps toward Marine and Coastal Ecosystem-Based Management-An Introductory Guide.

[2] Platjouw F. M. 2016. Environmental law and the ecosystem approach: maintaining ecological integrity through consistency in law. Routledge. New York.