The Mediterranean basin is both an area of exceptional biodiversity value and of intense and increasing human activities.
On one hand, the Mediterranean Region includes the largest of the semi-enclosed European seas which, by hosting 7 to 10% of the world’s known species in less than 0.5% of the ocean’s volume, is one of the 25 top global biodiversity hotspots. The many diverse coastal and marine ecosystems underpinning this biodiversity deliver highly valuable services to all the region’s inhabitants.
On the other hand, the Mediterranean Sea is surrounded by 23 countries from three continents, which are home to around 480 million people, approximately one-third of them being concentrated along the 46 000 km of coastlines. This population is constantly increasing and is exacerbated by tourism: The Mediterranean region is the 1st tourist destination in the world, accounting for 30 per cent of global tourist arrivals. The Mediterranean Sea is also a very strategic maritime passage and still one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, with about one third of the world’s total merchant shipping crossing the Mediterranean Sea each year. This traffic is forecasted to grow by 4% per year until 2025.
The future of the Mediterranean Basin’s key natural resources, i.e. water, coastlines, biodiversity and soils, is threatened by a number of pressures acting simultaneously and in many cases chronically including urbanization, industrialization, the expansion of intensive agriculture activities and aquaculture, the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources (85% of Mediterranean fish stocks are overfished), offshore hydrocarbons exploration and extraction, maritime traffic, and other pressures as noise pollution, invasion of non-indigenous species, sea-floor integrity or changes in hydrographic conditions. The fragility of the region is further aggravated by its sensitivity to climate change: in its Fifth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has identified the Mediterranean ecosystems among the most impacted by the consequences of the continuously increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Those include water acidification, ocean warming, sea level rise, invasion of alien species, and more intense and frequent extreme hydro-meteorological events damaging the shoreline and coastal habitats.
The modification and destruction of the Mediterranean marine and coastal environment being further amplified by improper development practices, poor management, and regional political complexity, many countries have been working over the last 40 years to put in place cooperation mechanisms aiming at the management and protection of this unique and at the same time very fragile coastal and marine environment.
In this context, the overarching objectives of the initiative is to demonstrate the benefit and utility of EO-derived information to enhance the scientific understanding of the many different stressors threatening the Mediterranean region, support regional monitoring priorities, and achieve measurable progress in embedding EO-derived information into the strategies and cooperation actions within the regions.
To achieve these goals, different independent projects are being implemented under the ESA Mediterranean Regional Initiative umbrella:
- A set of Earth science developments. These are aimed to better integrate EO-derived information within priority Earth science research programmes in the Mediterranean region. These will address the entire range of Earth system processes including regional climate processes, characterisation of regional sources, sinks and exchange processes for the main biogeochemical cycles, regional tectonic and solid Earth processes and coupling between different geophysical processes and phenomena.
- A set of EO application developments. The aim is to embed EO-derived information into operational regional Mediterranean monitoring, assessment and planning activities. Examples include enhanced environmental monitoring and assessment, improved management of natural resources in the Mediterranean region, support to regional programmes.