Objective and research questions: This case study is carried out at the Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve of the Mediterranean: Andalusia (Spain) – Morocco (IBRM). It has been designated as a showcase to implement the EU Biodiversity Strategy in areas that are located in different countries with very similar natural and biophysical conditions, but different socio-economic contexts and policy frameworks. In this case study, AQUACROSS seeks to apply best practice examples of Nature-based Solutions (NbS) for aquatic ecosystems through the development of direct recommendations to increase the establishment of Green and Blue Infrastructures in the management and planning of transboundary water ecosystems.
The area comprises various Eastern Mediterranean ecosystem types which provide a diverse range of services and high species richness which are of great importance for the conservation of the world’s biodiversity. The reserve contains a high diversity of species on both shores due to the fact that is a migratory route between African and European continents. This area is characterized by 40 species of mammals, 117 species of birds, and shows high richness of reptiles’ species (around 50 % of amphibians in the Morocco country are located in the northern part). This reserve is also of exceptional interest for having the best representation and diversity of the Mediterranean vegetation (Junta de Andalucía, 2006). The climate conditions induce rich vegetation growth. On both sides of the IBRM, woodland/forest is the dominant ecosystem, however in the Moroccan section of the IBRM, the agriculture land is extensively present as well. Even though both sides of the IBRM share similar ecological characteristics, the human activities have shaped the landscape differently. From one side, almost 70% of the area is protected in the Spanish section of the IBRM, while in Morocco only 30% of the Reserve is protected (Molina, Vázquez & Villa, Díaz, 2008). Rapid socio-economic development and technological transformation in the IBRM area of influence have taken place in recent decades. As a result, this region has seen rapid population growth due to socio-economic development and the significant expansion of economic activities. Because of their ecological identity, some problems of conservation and development are also established on both sides of the IBRM. They are usually more severe in the north of Morocco than in southern part of Andalusia, due to the relatively more rigorous and driest climate, higher poverty rates and continuous population growth, greater dependence and unmeasured use of natural resources, and shortages in infrastructure, services and institutional capacities to address the sustainable management of natural resources.
Significant changes in aquatic ecosystems are already visible in the area, and are expected to become more pronounced in the future. The IBRM and its area of influence are facing a broad range of challenges that varies according to the aquatic ecosystems. Freshwater ecosystems at the IBRM and area of influence are subject to overexploitation of water resources (from agriculture, urban areas, water utilities and tourism) and prominent contamination from agriculture and urban waste water discharges; Coastal area in the area of influence offers a vibrant economic activity and recreational opportunities. However, these areas are subject to strong urbanization due to coastal migration and mass tourism that has been taking place in the area lately. Marine ecosystems are also under intensive pressures caused by fishing, shipping and recreational activities. Marine species at the Strait of Gibraltar are constantly threatened by maritime transportation, underwater noise, pollution by oil, chemicals, plastic and radioactive wastewater, overfishing, increasing tourism related activities, among others
Approach: The analysis has been performed in a regional scale covering the IBRM and its area of influence as presented in Figure 1. To ensure that restoration activities are implemented in areas requiring restoration and that are high priority taking into account ecological, economic, social and institutional realities, it is useful to implement broad-scale ecosystem assessments, including mapping, or to make use of existing assessments (Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), 2016).
The first step to set a clear policy goal is to define what constitutes a ‘restored’ ecosystem. In the context of this CS, a restored ecosystem is an ecosystem or habitat that has been degraded due to the pressures mentioned before and that is classified as degraded. Once submitted to a restoration process these areas will re-establish the services of the ecosystem. Therefore, the first goal of this it is to identify and prioritize geographical areas where the restoration would contribute most significantly to achieving the regional target, thus contributing to the EU 2020 Biodiversity strategy. For this purpose, we use the concept of the Green and Blue Infrastructures to identify the different components of the network and in particular the restoration areas. Once designed a potential GBI for the IBRM and identified the areas that might be potential candidates for restoration actions, we will provide final recommendations on Nature-based Solutions.
Solutions: NbS are recommended to be taken forward for restoring degraded ecosystems. There is a growing appreciation of their benefits for restoring ecosystems. By focusing on NbS to improve our GBI, we might be able to maintain healthy ecosystems, reconnect fragmented natural and semi-natural areas and restore damaged habitats, so they can provide us with more and better goods (Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, 2015). Therefore, an investment in NbS for aquatic ecosystems is key to bring more nature and natural features to the landscape and seascape, restore ecosystems and conserve biodiversity. In addition to this, it can create new skills, jobs and business opportunities. NbS can be used to complement other measures, or they can involve the use of natural areas or conservation measures that were originally established for a purpose other than the NbS.
Area: The Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve of the Mediterranean in between Andalusia (Spain) and Morocco is located in the Western side of the Mediterranean basin shared by Spain and Morocco. The reserve spans over two continents, Europe and Africa, passing through the marine area of the Strait of Gibraltar and covering an extension of one million hectares that includes river basins, coastal and marine waters.
Lead partner Organisation: The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (IOC-UNESCO) is leading the research in the case study.
Cooperating partner: The Environmental Information Network of Andalusia (Red de Información Ambiental de Andalucía, REDIAM) (REDIAM) is the cooperating organisation for AQUACROSS Case Study 2: Analyses of transboundary water ecosystems and blue/green infrastructure in the Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve of the Mediterranean, Andalusia (Spain) - Morocco. REDIAM, a department of the Regional Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning of Andalusia, Spain, collects, coordinates, and disseminates all environmental data in Andalusia, Spain. It is responsible for ensuring that all data is collected in an appropriate and standardised manner to allow for it to be integrated into planning in Andalusia and also shared with the relevant national and international authorities. REDIAM and this case study are represented on the SPBTT by Mercedes Garcia-Padilla.
The State Secretary of Environment at the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Sustainable Development of the Government of the Kingdom of Morocco is a cooperating organisation for AQUACROSS with the mandate of monitoring, elaboration and execution of the governmental policy in the domain of environment and sustainable development.
With thanks to: The Government of Andalusia (Spain) and the Government of the Kingdom of Morocco