Five years ago, Spain had designated around 2100 Natura 2000 sites, but only a few of these were located in the marine environment, representing no more than around 1% of Spanish territorial waters, which was highly insufficient. In order to comply with European and international commitments it was important that Spain, which harbours a particularly impressive marine biodiversity, improves on these figures as soon as possible.
So, through several major EU LIFE funded projects, the Spanish Fundacion Biodiversidad, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Food and the Environment and eight other leading scientific institutes, stakeholder groups and NGOs set about gathering vital baseline data to inform the designation of further Natura 2000 marine sites.
Over 150 oceanographic surveys were undertaken to compile the necessary information on marine habitats, seabirds, cetaceans, turtles and other protected species as well as on their threats and pressures across Spanish waters. Around 40 work sessions involving more than 650 representatives of key civil society groups were also held all along the coast and in Madrid in order to gain their support and participation.
The oceanographic research campaigns have been vital in increasing the scientific knowledge on marine biodiversity in Spain. It has also enabled coherent management guidelines to be established and an extensive dialogue to be held with stakeholders, including fishermen, on protecting and using resources in marine Natura 2000 sites in a way that protects the species and habitats for which the sites are designated.
Through an experimental laboratory, tools have been developed to mitigate the impacts of certain human activities. Essential information for the adequate conservation and integrated management of the areas has been generated, especially on the spatial distribution and intensity of the different fishing activities, georeferenced hazard matrices and on the costs and benefits of the establishment of the Natura 2000 Network.
In just a short space of time, enough scientific knowledge was gathered to declare a further 39 marine sites for the protection of seabirds and 10 SCI for protection of other animals and marine habitats covering altogether 7.3 million hectares. As a result, the protected marine surface of Spain has increased considerably between 2013 and 2015, from just 1% to 8% of all Spanish territorial waters. The activities carried out have been absolutely decisive for the conservation of habitats and marine species of European interest and have contributed substantially to furthering our knowledge of marine biodiversity in Europe.