UN report warns of dangers to Mediterranean Sea

Marine pollution, overfishing, desertification and rapid urbanization of coastal areas are the main problems plaguing the Mediterranean, the UN’s Environment Program/Mediterranean Action Plan (UNEP/MAP) warned on Wednesday.

According to a report on the state of the Mediterranean marine and coastal environment presented Wednesday, World Environment Day, by Maria Luisa Silva Mejias, coordinator of the Athens-based agency, regional governments also have to face a set of new challenges including the invasion of alien fish species and the environmental impact of seawater desalination plants.

The coastlines of Southern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa are home to 150 million people. An estimated 170 million tourists come here each year.

UNEP/MAP warns that 37 percent of coastal towns with a population of over 2,000 continue to discharge waste into the sea, while 18 percent of biological waste treatment plants are insufficient because they only offer first-stage treatment.

This is happening as the renewal rate of the landlocked waters, around 100 years, is falling as the amount of fresh water running into the sea from the region’s rivers has dropped by 20 percent.

Moroever, more than 65 percent of the sea’s fish stocks have been overfished, which means that more than 100 fish species are in danger of becoming regionally extinct in the next few years.

Activists also warned about the impact of the debt crisis on environmental policy. “Every country wants [to achieve] growth and jobs. But this has to be done in a way that protects the environment as well as tourism,” Silva Meijas said, urging Athens to sign the Barcelona convention on integrated coastal zone management.