Greenpeace ship tour "Defending our Mediterranean"

Feature story - 29 April, 2008
The Mediterranean Sea is a global treasure. Rich seagrass meadows and rocky reefs dominate its coastal zone while an awe-inspiring array of underwater mountains (seamounts), cold seeps and trenches are found on its seabed.

Coris julis over a Zostera seagrass bed near Kas, Greece.The Greenpeace ship, the Arctic Sunrise is in the Mediterranean for a three-month ship tour taking action on the threats to the sea and calling for a network of large-scale marine reserves to protect the health and productivity of the Mediterranean Sea.

The Mediterranean represents less than 1 percent of the world's oceans yet contains some 10,000 species - that's around 9 percent of the world's marine biodiversity.

But over-fishing and destructive fishing, including continued illegal use of driftnets, pollution, and rampant coastal development are steadily eroding this treasure.

"Defending our Mediterranean"

Greenpeace, for the third year in a row, is tackling these threats head-on. With our ship the Arctic Sunrise we are conducting a 3 month "Defending our Mediterranean" tour. The expedition will travel across the Mediterranean region exposing and taking action on destructive activities, documenting areas in need of protection, and calling for solutions.

The expedition is part of our call for a network of marine reserves across the Mediterranean, in both international waters and in coastal regions. Marine reserves - national parks at sea - are areas where no destructive activities are allowed, they provide a sanctuary for marine life.

The message is simple. "If we want fish tomorrow; we need marine reserves today".

Threats facing the Mediterranean Sea


Bluefin tuna is on the brink of collapse

The majestic bluefin tuna is famous as a symbol of the Mediterranean. This incredible fish can accelerate faster than a Porsche and can swim as fast as 43 miles (almost 70 kilometres) per hour. It is one of the top predators of the Mediterranean food-chain; crucial to the delicate ecosystem.

But Mediterranean bluefin are in serious trouble - "time and tuna are running out." In 1999, we recorded how Mediterranean bluefin stocks had declined by 80 percent, and it's getting worse. Rampant over-fishing and pirate fishing are pushing this precious species to the brink of extinction.

The bluefin tuna fishery in the Mediterranean is out of control, and must be closed immediately to allow the population to recover. Proper management must be put in place, including marine reserves to protect tuna breeding areas, if the fishery is ever to become sustainable again.

Driftnets - "walls of death"

Driftnets, known as "walls of death" are primarily used to catch dwindling stocks of swordfish, but are also responsible for regularly trapping and killing whales, dolphins and turtles that happen to cross their path.

Driftnets have been banned for years by the United Nations, the European Union, the International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, (GFCM). In other words, they are most definitely illegal.

Despite millions of euros being spent on decommissioning driftnets, they are still widely used in the Mediterranean. Hundreds of thousands of kilometres of these illegal nets are loose in the waters, indiscriminately killing marine life. In 2006, Greenpeace confronted and confiscated driftnets from Italian vessels, including one that had received €28,000 in grants to change its fishing gear.

Coastal development

Seagrass beds are common to shallow seas around much of the Mediterranean. They are important nursery areas, and help protect the seabed. They provide a special habitat for small animals and plants. But rampant development of coastlines for hotels, holiday homes, marinas and ports is destroying seagrass beds. In the worst areas they have disappeared altogether; leading to serious loss of biodiversity and habitat.

Between 2005 and 2006 Greenpeace Spain recorded that some 1.5 million dwellings and 293 golf courses had been built along 8000 kilometres of Spanish coastline. 116 leisure ports were either constructed or added to; 102 cases of urban development corruption were uncovered. The unplanned and reckless nature of this urban development along the coastline is causing severe erosion and pollution.


Thousands of tonnes of toxic waste are pumped directly into the Mediterranean Sea every year. Shipping, urban and agricultural pollution and tourism are aggravating the crisis. Mercury, cadmium, zinc and lead in sediments are found at "hot-spots", all too often located in coastal zones exposed to pollution.  These substances can travel thousands of kilometres, posing irreversible risks to human health and marine life across the region.

Approximately one third of the world's total merchant shipping crosses the Mediterranean each year. Some 370 million tonnes of oil are transported annually across this busy Sea- that's more than 20% of the world total.On average 10 oil spills a year happen in the Mediterranean.

Expedition is calling for Marine Reserves  

"Defending our Mediterranean" will confront these threats, and more. We are calling for a network of marine reserves to cover forty percent of the Sea. Large scale reserves to protect international waters, and a network of smaller reserves to protect coastal areas and allow fishing grounds to recover and flourish again. A network of marine reserves for the Mediterranean Sea will represent a shift in the balance of human impacts, from damage and harm to protection and conservation.

The demand for marine reserves in the Mediterranean is part of Greenpeace's call for a global network of properly enforced marine reserves to cover forty percent of the world's oceans. The Greenpeace ship, the Esperanza is currently in the Pacific confronting overfishing and calling for the creation of marine reserves in the Pacific Commons

Take Action

If we want fish tomorrow, we need marine reserves today. Add your name to the call to protect the world's oceans.