Identifying Priorities for the Protection of Deep Mediterranean Sea Ecosystems Through an Integrated Approach

Emanuela Fanelli, Silvia Bianchelli, Federica Foglini, Miquel Canals, Giorgio Castellan, Queralt Güell-Bujons, Bella Galil, Menachem Goren, Julian Evans, Marie Claire Fabri, Sandrine Vaz, Tiziana Ciuffardi, Patrick J. Schembri, Lorenzo Angeletti, Marco Taviani, Roberto Danovaro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Benthic habitats of the deep Mediterranean Sea and the biodiversity they host are increasingly jeopardized by increasing human pressures, both direct and indirect, which encompass fisheries, chemical and acoustic pollution, littering, oil and gas exploration and production and marine infrastructures (i.e., cable and pipeline laying), and bioprospecting. To this, is added the pervasive and growing effects of human-induced perturbations of the climate system. International frameworks provide foundations for the protection of deep-sea ecosystems, but the lack of standardized criteria for the identification of areas deserving protection, insufficient legislative instruments and poor implementation hinder an efficient set up in practical terms. Here, we discuss the international legal frameworks and management measures in relation to the status of habitats and key species in the deep Mediterranean Basin. By comparing the results of a multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) and of expert evaluation (EE), we identify priority deep-sea areas for conservation and select five criteria for the designation of future protected areas in the deep Mediterranean Sea. Our results indicate that areas (1) with high ecological relevance (e.g., hosting endemic and locally endangered species and rare habitats),(2) ensuring shelf-slope connectivity (e.g., submarine canyons), and (3) subject to current and foreseeable intense anthropogenic impacts, should be prioritized for conservation. The results presented here provide an ecosystem-based conservation strategy for designating priority areas for protection in the deep Mediterranean Sea.

Original languageEnglish
Article number698890
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
StatePublished - 22 Jul 2021


  • Marine Strategy Framework Directive
  • Mediterranean Sea
  • biodiversity hotspots
  • deep-sea ecosystems
  • expert evaluation
  • marine protected areas
  • multicriteria decision analysis
  • protection guidelines


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