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Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMI)

A series of protected sites throughout the Mediterranean region

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The Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMIs) are sites recognized under the Barcelona convention Protocol to conserve amongst other things: “the components of biological diversity in the Mediterranean, ecosystems specific to the Mediterranean area or the habitats of endangered species , are of special interest at the scientific, aesthetic, cultural or educational levels”. 1

The Protocol to which the Parties to the Barcelona Convention acceded in 1984 and to which amendments were made in 19992, protects natural resources and certain natural sites, preserves the diversity of the gene pool, and safeguards cultural heritage in the Mediterranean region by creating a series of Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMIs). These listed SPAMIs are aimed to be representative of the region coastal and marine ecosystems, habitats and biodiversity. They safeguard habitats which are intrinsically restricted in areas or are in danger of disappearing in the Mediterranean, as well as those critical to the survival, reproduction and recovery of endangered, threatened or endemic species of flora or fauna.


Supported by

Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean (Barcelona convention).


Year of creation

1984 [The Protocol concerning Specially Protected Areas in the Mediterranean was adopted in 1982 but it was concluded in 1984, as part of the Barcelona Convention that protects the Mediterranean Sea against pollution.]


Regional (Mediterranean Sea)2



The following criteria listed in the Annex I to the Protocol of the Barcelona Convention are used in evaluating the importance of an area in the Mediterranean.1

a)Uniqueness-The area contains unique or rare ecosystems, or rare or endemic species.
b)Natural representativeness-The area has highly representative ecological processes, or community or habitat types or other natural characteristics. Representativeness is the degree to which an area represents a habitat type, ecological process, biological community, physiographic feature or other natural characteristic.
c)Diversity-The area has a high diversity of species, communities, habitats or ecosystems.
d)Naturalness-The area has a high degree of naturalness as a result of the lack or low level of human-induced disturbance and degradation.
e)Presence of habitats that are critical to endangered, threatened or endemic species.
f)Cultural representativeness-The area has a high representative value with respect to the cultural heritage, due to the existence of environmentally sound traditional activities integrated with nature, which support the well-being of local populations.

(Further annexes of the Protocol list threatened or endangered species (Annex II) as well as species whose exploitation is regulated (Annex III).1



All areas eligible for inclusion in the SPAMI list have a legal status guaranteeing their effective long-term protection. SPAMIs have a management body with sufficient powers means and human resources to prevent and/or control activities likely to be contrary to the aims of the protected area. In the case of areas situated, partly or wholly, on the high sea or in a zone where the limits of national sovereignty or jurisdiction have not yet been defined, the legal status, the management plan, the applicable measures and the other elements is provided by the neighbouring Parties concerned in the proposal for inclusion in the SPAMI list.1 The Protocol of the Barcelona Convention stipulates that the Parties develop guidelines for establishing and managing protected areas and lists a certain number of appropriate measures which the Parties must adopt in order to ensure the identified areas are protected. These measures include: prohibiting the discharge or unloading of waste, regulating shipping operations, regulating the introduction of any non-indigenous or genetically modified species, the regulation or prohibition of any activity involving he exploration or modification of the soil or subsoil of an area, the regulation or prohibition of wildlife exploitation activities, and other measures protecting the ecological and biological processes and the countryside.1


Business relevance:

Legal and compliance
The Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMIs) are legally protected. Each of them has a management plan, where management measures are set. The Contracting Parties undertake to observe the rules laid down, and that comprises their nationals, companies and ships flying their flags. These areas constitute the most important network of protected areas recognised and respected by all the riparian Mediterranean countries. While these areas may not often be referred to specifically, as legally protected areas they are included in a number of safeguard standards of financial institutions such as the World Bank Operational Policy 4.043 that will not finance projects in such areas. There are also several certification schemes, which stipulate various types of restrictions for activities in protected area. For further information, please see IUCN protected area categories information page.

The criteria for the identification of these areas include both high vulnerability and high irreplaceability and therefore many of these sites are likely to be of high biodiversity value for the Mediterranean region. As site-scale areas, they are therefore of high relevance to business in terms of avoiding risk associated with biodiversity loss and maximising opportunity associated with its conservation.

One of the criteria for identification of SPAMIs is cultural representativeness that is based on the existence of sustainable and traditional activities that support the well-being of local communities. Some of these sites will therefore hold a high socio-cultural value on this basis. The involvement of local communities in the management of SPAMIs is regulated within the management plan specific for each site.



  • Protected Planet is a tool for visualizing, mapping and contributing to information on protected areas. This includes information on the Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance, where known. Protected Planet brings together spatial data, descriptive information and images from the World Database on Protected Areas, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), WikipediaTM, PanaramioTM, FlickrTM, and Google MapsTM.


  1. Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Biological Diversity in the Mediterranean.(1999) OJ L322/3.
  2. EU legislation on Barcelona Convention: Protecting the Mediterranean Sea
  3. World Bank (2001) Operational Policy 4.04: Natural Habitats. World Bank, Washington, DC, U.S.A.
  4. United Nations Environment Programme Mediterranean Action Plan for Barcelona Convention


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