The Mediterranean is Turning Tropical, That’s a Problem

Mediterranean Turning Tropical

The Mediterranean Sea, one of the world's most important bodies of water, is rapidly changing as a result of climate change. A recent report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warns that with temperatures going up 20% faster than the global average, and sea level rises expected to exceed one meter by 2100, the Mediterranean is becoming the fastest-warming and the saltiest sea on our planet.

  • Almost 1,000 alien species have already migrated into the warming waters of the Mediterranean Sea and replaced endemic species, while increasingly extreme weather ravages fragile seagrass and coral beds, threatening cities and coastlines.

The tropicalization of Mediterranean marine ecosystems is well underway, compounding environmental stresses from pollution and aridification already facing the region.

Why This Matters

The Mediterranean is one of the world's most popular destinations, welcoming 400 million international tourist arrivals in 2019. The region also represents a $5.6 trillion economy. Of the assessed fish stocks in the Mediterranean, more than 90% are overexploited, and over the last 50 years it has lost 41% of its marine mammals and 34% of its total fish population.

As WWF noted, across the region even deepwater species like Posidonia meadows, gorgonian corals, and Pinna nobilis have all significantly declined. These declines threaten to destabilize entire ecosystems that provide food, livelihoods in the Mediterranean and also highlight the pressing need for more marine protected areas (MPAs) to help stabilize remaining ecosystems.

WWF: Where and why to protect 30% of the Mediterranean, February 24, 2021.

Action Needed ASAP

Climate change isn't a distant threat in the Mediterranean Sea. It's very much already arrived, putting at risk the $450 billion of ocean-related value generated from the Mediterranean's natural capital each year. (For perspective: if the Mediterranean Sea itself was an economy, it would be the 5th largest in the region after France, Italy, Spain and Turkey.)

As Giuseppe Di Carlo, Director of WWF Mediterranean Marine Initiative, explained:

The Mediterranean of today is not the same as it used to be. Its tropicalization is well under way. Climate change is not in the future, it is a reality of today that scientists, fishers, divers, coastal communities and tourists are already experiencing. There is a lot at stake for the economy and the benefits that the Mediterranean Sea provides. If we want to reverse the current trend, we must reduce human pressure and build resilience. Healthy ecosystems and thriving biodiversity are our best natural defences against climate impacts.

WWF wrote in its report that the science is clear: there's no quick way to act on climate change and temperatures will likely continue to rise for decades. However, governments must work to protect nature so that it can be as resilient as possible to inevitable warming. The report further stated:

In the Mediterranean we must protect the sea’s natural assets and rebuild its resources: WWF is leading calls for a network of marine protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures to cover 30% of the Mediterranean Sea by 2030.

WWF: MPAs can help save the Mediterranean, November 28, 2019.