Author: The INTEMARES team

In a global context of increasing concern for the protection and sustainable use of the ocean, Spain is progressively moving towards greater protection of its marine environment. Due to its huge marine area (more than 1 million square kilometres), its location between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea (and between the European and African continents) and the different oceanographic conditions in the different Spanish seas, Spain is one of the richest countries in Europe in terms of marine biodiversity. Estimates indicate the presence of more than 11,000 known marine species, in addition to a great variety of marine habitats, such as canyons, underwater caves, coral reefs, underwater structures caused by leaking gases, seagrass meadows, submarine fields and forests of algae.

In a few years, big efforts have been made to protect this natural heritage in the framework of national and EU legislation and funding. The implementation of the LIFE+INDEMARES project represented a significant step forward in terms of gaining knowledge on marine habitat and species, mainly in offshore areas, and increased the protection from the initial 1% to 8% at the end of the project in 2014. Currently, Spain has nearly 300 protected areas, of which 272 are included in the Natura 2000 Network, the largest network of protected areas in the world. Thanks to the last declaration as SPAMI of the Mediterranean Cetacean corridor in 2018, a huge area in the framework of the Barcelona Convention, the protection of its marine surface has reached 12% and is heading towards the 30% protection target in 2030, a goal of the Climate and Environmental Emergency Declaration approved by the Spanish Government in January 2020 and the European Union’s 2030 new Biodiversity Strategy.

INTEMARES oceanographic campaign in the SCI “Cañón de Avilés”, Spanish Institute of Oceanography, 2019.

A new approach to the management of the marine environment is required to achieve a sustainable ocean and the protection of its biodiversity, starting with the need to increase scientific knowledge on its values and functioning, addressing governance issues, integrating managers and stakeholders and fulfilling training and capacity building needs to ensure adequate conservation and efficient management.

These objectives underpin the LIFE INTEMARES integrated project, which is coordinated by the Biodiversity Foundation of the Ministry for the Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge, in association with a diverse and unique partnership of managers, marine scientists, NGOs and representatives from the fisheries sector: the General Directorate of Biodiversity, Forests and Desertification of the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge; the Spanish Institute of Oceanography, SEO/BirdLife, WWF Spain and the Spanish Confederation of Fisheries. It has the financial contribution of the European Union’s LIFE programme.

Since the beginning in 2017, it has directly involved more than 13.000 people and 800 organizations with the aim of moving towards a new model of marine management, with participation and science as basic tools in decision-making. 

A broad programme of actions is being developed in the fields of research, conservation, surveillance, governance, capacity building and environmental awareness-raising. In order to improve the knowledge of the ocean, 15 oceanographic campaigns have been carried out in offshore marine areas to improve scientific knowledge on habitats and species, on the impacts of human uses on biodiversity, including fisheries, and also to explore new sites for a potential declaration as Natura 2000 sites

Likewise, a participatory process is in course with scientists and experts on marine biodiversity to analyse insufficiencies of the marine Natura 2000 network on the basis of the EU seminars. The completion of this process is expected in spring 2021 and the resulting road map will pave the way for the declaration of new sites towards the 30% declaration by 2030.

Also, a comprehensive training program has been launched based on a Capacity Building Strategy developed with the participation of more than 290 people who have contributed to identify the training needs that will allow us to move towards more inclusive models in the management of marine protected areas. Issues addressed include governance, applied management, education and awareness, communication and information, cross-cutting skills and foundations and entrepreneurship in the marine Natura 2000 Network. To date, more than 13,000 people from Public Administrations have been trained, including the Marine Civil Guard and the Navy.

In addition, nine participative processes are in course to actively involve socio-economic sectors, managers and users for the elaboration management plans for marine Natura 2000 Network sites. First steps have been given for the elaboration of conservation plans and strategies for different endangered species, such as the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) or the limpet (Patella ferruginea), among others, and also for the implementation of specific conservation measures aimed at marine habitats and species, such as turtles, cetaceans, birds and sea grasses, including posidonia beds in the Mediterranean Sea.   

Furthermore, a Governance Strategy will be published soon together with a Guide for Participatory Processes. Its aim is to provide guidelines and tools to improve marine governance in Natura Network areas. In parallel, inter-administrative and sectoral collaboration has been strengthened to ensure proper coordination for the integration of different public policies.

Finally, since the beginning of the project, a successful system of integration of funding for the conservation of marine biodiversity is being implemented, mobilizing annually funds from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (through the Pleamar program), the European Social Fund (through the empleaverde program) and national funds managed through FB Call for Proposals. To date, more than 200 projects have been financed to complement INTEMARES objectives.

With 4 years ahead before the end of the project in 2024 and still many objectives to be attained, INTEMARES is in the way to set the basis for the new management model pursued in line with European and international ocean policies.

Biggest predators in the world in blue ocean. Pod of sperm whales swimming off the coast of Sao Miguel Azores. The Sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), a species found in the Mediterranean Cetacean Corridor (free of rights).