Background (CI 13)

Eutrophication is a process driven by enrichment of water by nutrients, especially compounds of nitrogen and/or phosphorus, leading to: increased growth, primary production and biomass of algae; changes in the balance of nutrients causing changes to the balance of organisms; and water quality degradation (IMAP, 2017). Seawaters depending on nutrient loading and phytoplankton growth are classified according to their level of eutrophication. Low nutrient/ phytoplankton levels characterize oligotrophic areas, water enriched in nutrients is characterized as mesotrophic, whereas water rich in nutrients and algal biomass is characterized as eutrophic. The Mediterranean is one of the most oligotrophic seas in the world and most of its biological productivity takes place in the euphotic zone (UNEP, 1989, UNEP/MAP, 2012). The development of nutrient/phytoplankton concentration scales has been a difficult task for marine scientists because of the seasonal fluctuations of nutrient and phytoplankton concentrations, phytoplankton patchiness and small-scale eutrophication phenomena. Although long-term scientific research (UNEP/FAO/WHO1996; Krom et al., 2010) has shown that the main body of the Mediterranean Sea is in good condition, there are coastal areas, especially in enclosed gulfs near big cities in estuarine areas and near ports, where marine eutrophication is a serious threat. In the Mediterranean Sea, the Barcelona Convention adopted in 1976 was the first legally-binding instrument for its environmental protection and included a number of protocols, such as the pollution land-based sources (LBS) Protocol. Since 2000, other international and national policies, such as the European Water Framework Directive (WFD) and the European Marine Strategy Framework (MSFD) are developing programmes, which sums to its environmental protection at sub regional levels and collaborate with UNEP/MAP. At the 19th Ordinary Meeting in 2016 of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention (Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean and its Protocols) adopted the Integrated Monitoring and Assessment Programme (IMAP) of the Mediterranean Coast and Sea and Related Assessment Criteria, which includes the targets to achieve the Good Environmental Status (UNEP/MAP, 2016). The initial targets of Good Environmental Status (GES) for IMAP Common Indicator 13 are reflecting the scope of the current MED POL Programme and the availability of suitable agreed assessment criteria.

In the Mediterranean area eutrophication is caused by both regional sources such as urban effluents, industrial discharges, and aquaculture activities as well as transboundary components such as agricultural runoffs, riverine outflows, and airborne nutrient deposition. The variables related to eutrophication are influenced by water circulation, but it is only recently that the general circulation pattern has been connected to regional sources of pollution including eutrophication (UNEP/MAP, 2003).

The highly populated coastal zone in the Mediterranean and the riverine input from a draining area of 1.5 106 km2 (Ludwig et al., 2009) induce eutrophic trends in coastal areas. The offshore waters of the Mediterranean have been characterized as extremely oligotrophic with a clear gradient toward east (Turley, 1999). The gradient is illustrated on figure 1 from data collected during the Meteor M84/3 cruise (Tanhua et al. 2013).

Figure 1. Distribution of nitrate (NO3) and phosphate (PO4) concentrations along a profile from off the coast of Lebanon to the Strait of Gibraltar during spring 2011. Data were collected during the Meteor 84/3 cruise. Reproduced from: Tanhua et al., 2013.
Figure 1. Distribution of nitrate (NO3) and phosphate (PO4) concentrations along a profile from off the coast of Lebanon to the Strait of Gibraltar during spring 2011. Data were collected during the Meteor 84/3 cruise. Reproduced from: Tanhua et al., 2013.