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June 25, 2024

The Natura 2000 marine network sites in the Spanish Mediterranean

An extensive network of marine sites is in a process of expansion, in line with Spain’s commitment to reach 30% of the Spanish marine protected area by 2030

Punta Redona – Arenal d’en Castell – Minorca- Spain

Under Spanish jurisdiction, the Mediterranean Sea bathes the coasts of five autonomous communities: Catalonia, the Community of Valencia, the Region of Murcia, Andalusia and the Balearic Islands. The different characteristics of these regions, in terms of geomorphology and climate, among other things, allow the development of a great diversity of species and habitats of high ecological value, which the European Union protects through the Natura 2000 marine network.

Many of the most important values of these areas relate to the breeding, feeding and migration of turtles, whales and birds, as well as the conservation of highly sensitive habitats that support complex and threatened communities of organisms. Among the most important marine habitats of European importance in the protected areas of the Spanish Mediterranean are the Posidonia beds (Posidonia oceanica). This marine phanerogam lives only in this sea, from the surface to a depth of 40 metres. The meadows of this marine plant cover a large part of the coastline and play a fundamental role in protecting it, improving water quality and providing shelter and food for many species.

Another habitat of great importance and widespread along the Spanish coast is the Sandbanks, which are permanently covered by shallow seawater. Sandbanks are one of the most widespread ecosystems along the Spanish coast and are the result of slow wind-driven accumulation processes of sand transported by sea currents. They are located at depths of less than 20 metres and are surrounded by deeper waters.

The Spanish Natura 2000 network also includes the Reefs habitat, made up of rocky substrates that provide shelter and food for a large number of species; the Submerged or partially submerged Sea Caves habitat, with communities of marine invertebrates and algae that change according to the light, such as the Red Coral (Corallium rubrum), and the Submarine Structures made by leaking gases habitat. Based on the oxidation of methane as the primary source of carbon and energy, this habitat contains a great diversity of bacteria and microbial mats that form the feeding substrate for a highly specialised fauna consisting mainly of invertebrates.

The Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge (MITECO) has recently approved including six new sites and extending two existing sites in the marine Natura 2000 network. Two of these new sites are in the Mediterranean Marine Region. They are the Espacio Marino Cañones de Alicante Site of Community Importance (SCI) and the Canal de Ibiza SCI. Both are home to underwater mountains, some of which are more than a thousand metres deep, inhabited by unique communities of corals, gorgonians and sponges, among other species. This will increase the representativeness and protection of the essential natural values present in this marine region.

As a complement to the Natura 2000 network, special mention should be made of the Marine Protected Area of the Mediterranean Cetacean Migration Corridor, with an extension of more than 46,000 km2, declared by Spain in 2018 and included in the List of Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMI List) under the Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution, known as the Barcelona Convention.

Millions of people’s way of life depend on the excellent health of marine ecosystems and the balance and functioning of ecosystems that guarantee the continuity of their services, including those for people and the economy. One of the objectives of the actions of the Fundación Biodiversidad in the LIFE A-MAR project is to share this knowledge with citizens who live on or visit the Spanish Mediterranean coast.