Eco-union organizes a side-event on Blue Tourism at the COP21 of the Barcelona Convention

Sustainable Coastal and Maritime Tourism to Tackle Environmental and Development Challenges in the Mediterranean Region

Tuesday 3rd of December, 18h-19h, Sala Sirena, Castel dell’Ovo, Naples

Registration form

Overview of the side-event

Poorly managed and unplanned tourism is one of the key threats faced by Mediterranean natural ecosystems, especially in maritime and coastal destinations, as they are receiving a large amount of visitors concentrated in the peak season and around highly fragile areas. At the same time, alternative and sustainable tourism models, such as ecotourism, can provide significant opportunities to improve livelihoods derived from ecosystem services while benefiting environmental conservation and local development. To this end, the side event co-organized by eco-union, IUCN-Med, Plan Bleu, Global Footprint Network and the French Ministry for Ecological Transition spotlights recent outcomes, tools, and lessons learned around the topic of Mediterranean maritime and coastal sustainable tourism.

This event will share novel approaches and lessons related to sustainable blue tourism and its role in supporting biodiversity conservation and territorial development around the Mediterranean coast. The event will also highlight recent opportunities and gaps identified in governance, policy-making, impact monitoring and management, while sharing innovative perspectives on how recent achievements can be capitalized and scaled to broader Mediterranean context in the framework of the Barcelona Convention and other multilateral or voluntary environmental agreements and commitments at global, regional, national or local scale.


  • State of Blue tourism tourism in the Mediterranean: Jérémie Fosse, President, eco-union
  • Learning from current initiatives: Raffaele Mancini, Blue Economy expert, Plan Bleu
  • Roundtable with key actors:
    • Carla Danelutti, Program officer, IUCN-Mediterranean (moderator)
    • Anne France Didier, SDG14 adviser, French Ministry for Ecological and Fair Transition
    • Alessandro Galli, Director of Mediterranean-MENA Program, Global Footprint Network
    • Mohamed Ali Ben Temessek, Ministry for local affairs and environment, Tunisia
  • Discussion with participants
  • Wrap-up: key messages to decision makers and stakeholders




Coastal and Maritime Tourism puts in danger natural ecosystems

Coastal and Maritime Tourism is one of the most important blue economy sector in the Mediterranean and a driving force for environmental and spatial change with a strong impact on biodiversity and ecosystems preservation[1]. Shifting the way blue tourism is planned, regulated and governed according to ecosystem-based approach (EcAp)[2] is critical to promote a resilient mediterranean economy and society. Planning and management tools such as Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP), Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM), Ecological Footprint (EF) or Carrying Capacity (CC), among others, provide key environmental insights, regulatory frameworks and governance mechanisms towards sustainable blue tourism in the Mediterranean region.

The Mediterranean basin has been recognized as a hotspot of terrestrial and maritime biodiversity[3], thus highly vulnerable to human-driven threats. To safeguard biodiversity and reduce vulnerability, the existing biodiversity conservation frameworks need to be enforced and implemented in the Mediterranean. As mentioned by the Mediterranean Action Plan (UNEP/MAP), current socio-economic trends, combined with poor management and planning development, are at the root of most environmental problems. Mediterranean mass tourism is at the core of this statement, being one a rising environmental threats of the region, especially in the western Mediterranean, Adriatic Sea and the northern eastern Mediterranean, where tourism drives much of the coastal development and pressure on resources, and is behind much of the degradation of coasts and nearshore waters[4].

Consequently, an integrated environmental governance of coastal-maritime tourism in the Mediterranean is a key element for the coming decades to strengthen national and regional environmental as well as tourism policies to effectively transpose the mandates of the Barcelona Convention (BC), and others such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), as well as European Union (EU) Directives. These policy arrangements must be oriented towards the sustainability of this economic sector and the ecosystem services it depends upon.

In contrast, the overconsumption of natural resources due to mass tourism, degrades and depletes coastal and marine ecosystems, increasing negative conflicts with other human uses and limiting the opportunities of development for future generations. Tourism has, as a matter of fact, a high dependence on well conserved coastal and marine ecosystem services. The sector should therefore act collectively to reach a commitment to preserve the natural resources in the long term, considering the entire coast and sea where tourism take place and the planetary boundaries that tourism contributes to overpass. A business-as-usual scenario will worsen the vulnerability of Mediterranean coastal & maritime destinations, seriously compromising their capacity to adapt to climate change and mitigate their effects[5].

Ecotourism in Protected Areas as an alternative

Tourism can be considered as an outcome of the cultural ecosystem services that natural areas provide to society. Looking in particular at the most vulnerable yet important biodiversity areas of the Mediterranean, the Protected Areas (PAs), properly monitored and managed ecotourism provides an off-season activity that respects the natural resources and the well-being of the people living in it, while providing incentives for conservation. For this sustainable model to be a real alternative for Mediterranean PAs, the enabling conditions around governance and policy-making must be strengthened to foster a balance between the sometimes conflicting interests of the conservation and tourism sectors. Currently these conditions for Mediterranean PAs are weak at both the local and regional levels, governance is often fragmented, and tourism rarely integrates environmental concerns, while conservation efforts in the region continue to struggle over key anthropogenic drivers such as mass tourism. For alternative tourism options to thrive, the need for a coordinated and integrated approach to strengthen the environmental governance around the tourism sector is thus essential to address these issues.

Need for stronger environmental governance

Reducing the impact of tourism on natural ecosystems requires governments to incorporate stringent environmental policies and coordinate different regulatory agendas. The integration of the EcAp in tourism planning and management should be based on the implementation of the EU Directive on Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) and the Protocol for Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM), two key frameworks oriented to mitigate environmental pressures and conflicts among human uses. Other approaches looking at resource use (water, energy, food, waste) must be appropriately integrated to decouple significant environmental impacts from tourism development.

Those frameworks need to be integrated properly within tourism destinations to reinforce the environmental governance of blue tourism. The Barcelona Convention should therefore strategically integrate coastal and maritime tourism in its mandate, improving the synergies between ICZM Protocol and MSP Directive, and ensuring an efficient implementation of the EcAp in tourism planning, monitoring and management. This structural approach should capitalize on the learnings and outcomes from a set of innovative and successful projects and initiatives promoted in the past years by key civil society actors, academia, governments and destinations, such as the one listed above.

Key field projects

  • Sail Charter: Charter for Good Practices in Maritime Transport for the Protection of the Marine and Coastal Environment.
  • Blue Tour Med: A community of projects on sustainable tourism in the Mediterranean under the InterregMED programme.
  • MEET: A regional network of Mediterranean Protected Areas to raise the profile of ecotourism and its needs for better management and promotion.
  • DestiMED: Standards for ecotourism itinerary planning, monitoring, management and promotion tested in more than 40 Mediterranean PAs.

Key Policy initiatives

Key Research initiatives and toolkits

  • Med2050 foresight: Foresight exercise designed as a science-policy interface to confront several possible visions of the Mediterranean future by 2030 and 2050.
  • BlueBoatsMed: Identification of main challenges and solutions related to the cruise and recreational boating sectors in the Mediterranean.
  • Ecological Footprint calculator: Free online tool to measure the Ecological Footprint of ecotourism itineraries and create a proven sustainable experience.

 This event is supported by



[1] Tonazzini, D. Et al. (2019) Blue tourism. Transitions towards sustainable coastal and maritime tourism in the world marine regions. Edited and published by eco-union & IDDRI.

[2] The EcAp is an integrated planning and management approach to ecosystems to maintain them in healthy, productive and resilient conditions in order to provide goods and services to society (IOC-UNESCO).

[3] IUCN (2008) The Mediterranean: A biodiversity hotspot under threat

[4] WWF Medtrends (2016):

[5] UfM (2019). Climate Change impact on the Tourism Sector in the southern Mediterranean