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I would like to start by thanking for inviting me to the 16th ICP and for granting me the opportunity to talk about the Italian experience to manage Marine Protected Areas as a valuable instrument contributing to the integration of the three dimensions of Sustainable Development and blue growth.


In the document “The Future we Want,” the nations of the world recognize that “oceans, seas and coastal areas form an integrated and essential component of the Earth’s ecosystem”. They recognized the significant economic, social and environmental contributions of oceans, seas and marine resources, in particular to islands and other coastal States; but also their significant vulnerability to climate change, ocean acidification, overfishing, and pollution. Consequently, oceans, seas and marine resources have gained greater attention among the current discussion around the post 2015 SDGs. Indeed, a proposal for a stand-alone goal to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources has been presented and we warmly wish that it will be adopted at this year UNGA.

The protection and conservation of oceans, seas and marine resources is especially crucial for Small Islands Developing States. For this reason, the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States, held in Samoa last September, adopted the Samoa Pathway implementation matrix). This constitutes a valuable step forward to the establishment of a strategic framework for the integration of the three dimensions of development of the SIDS.

Italy has always shown its support to the role of SIDS in international processes, not only at the political level, but also through concrete actions both bilaterally and through international or regional cooperation.

The Italian support to SIDS is a long and fruitful history of projects and actions, built together in a spirit of genuine partnership. An example is the Cooperation Programme with the Pacific SIDS, launched by Italy in August 2007, that has been particularly successful. Italy confirms today its support to SIDS, by believing that the SAMOA pathway can be a useful tool for addressing the critical situations of small islands, including the Mediterranean and Italian ones, which share considerable characteristics with the SIDS.

The small islands’ relevance: the Mediterranean, a “sea” of small islands

The Mediterranean Sea and Italy have plenty of small islands, where the fragility of environment and the interaction with the multiple human activities call for an effective and well-aware governance. Indeed, although Mediterranean and Italian small islands are not SIDS, they face similar environmental, economic and social challenges, which make them especially vulnerable. Impacts of climate change affect Mediterranean small islands too. For example, on some islands warming has already led to the replacement of some local species, by brining colonies of non-indigenous invasive species. Disasters like erosion and other coastal hazards threaten vital infrastructures and facilities, that support the living of island communities. Like other small islands, they face the problem of a narrow range of resources, and their consequential overuse. Further, their geographic dispersion and isolation place many Mediterranean and Italian small islands at a disadvantaged situation, including limited transportation and communication and consequent limits to the economic growth. For all these reasons, we are aware that effective governance and operational tools are fundamental to achieve a sustainable development, based on a balanced integration of the environmental, social, and economic dimension. Further, very rich historical and cultural traits characterize the natural and cultural landscape of these islands, which are a unique heritage to be put in value. Cultural capital and natural capital are strictly connected, and Italy, recognized this through the Charter of Rome on Natural and Cultural Capital, a policy document also adopted by the EU Member States during the Biodiversity and Nature Directors meeting held in Rome on the last November. This vision is the basis of the “Italian” approach to small islands that I am presenting today.

Since a number of years, in fact, Italy has chosen to focus, among its priorities, on two elements relating to the marine policy:

1) the establishment of a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs);

2) the development of a model for sustainable “blue growth”, which includes small islands.

The main goal of this policy is to jointly address:

a) the environmental dimension, represented by the protection of the vulnerable and fragile ecosystems included in the MPAs;

b) the social dimension, aware that the Italian small islands are an historic, cultural and archeological treasure, of fundamental value for the Italian people;

c) the economic dimension, since the unique connection between MPAs and Small Islands represents a significant added value for the economic growth of all the coastal communities, in particular for sustainable tourism and traditional fishery.

The network of Marine Protected Areas

The establishment of “Marine Protected Areas – MPAs” is a useful tool to manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems. Under the EU Birds and Habitat Directives, a marine network of conservation areas, called Natura 2000, was created. This network has significantly contributed to:

1) the goal of halting the loss of biodiversity in the EU marine areas;

2) the broader marine conservation and sustainable use objectives. Over the years, the MPAs have increased their targets of protection, by including small marine areas too, which were normally isolated, and with a greater attention to boost local and inclusive sustainable development.

Italy has established 27 MPAs, among which 9 are small islands, that play a fundamental role for the conservation of rare, threatened species. Italy has, indeed, 24,000 hectares of Sites of Community Importance regarded as priority, that ensure the protection of more than 1,000 hectares of Posidonia Oceanica seagrass meadow. As you probably know, this is among the most widespread endemic seagrass species in the Mediterranean region, and contributes to mitigate coastal erosion, water pollution and preserve marine biodiversity. Yet, the Posidonia is among the most fragile plant species whose conservation is threatened by trawling, increased pollution, and other collateral effects due to human activities. Hence, the contribution given by the Italian MPAs to its conservation can be considered a successful result for the integrity of the Mediterranean marine ecosystems. Overall speaking, I can say that MPAs strongly contribute to the environmental pillar of small islands’ development.

MPAs can also strengthen the social and economic dimensions of the local development of small islands. This objective has been pursued through a number of operational and effective initiatives that can be seen as best practices. In particular, the ISEA project, a project aiming to promote standardized interventions for the efficient management of marine protected areas. The Italian Environmental Ministry, in collaboration with WWF Italy, realized a high level training to provide practical support to the management of all Italian marine protected areas (MPAs), including small islands and Natura 2000 marine sites. In a nutshell, ISEA has developed a conceptual map for each Italian MPA, that is a graphic representation of the MPA management plan for the period 2012-2015. This conceptual map associates protected species and habitats to their problems, and to the strategies which shall be implemented by the management body in order to face these problems.

Further standardized conceptual maps improve the visibility and communication of small islands, and so they contribute to overcome problems due to physical isolation. In addition, since each conceptual map has been created through a participatory process. Educational and raise- awareness activities are part of the project, and have contributed to empower local communities and increase their participation in decisional processes.

The “blue growth” as a Euro-Mediterranean approach to the marine and coastal sustainable development

All these initiatives lead to the achievement of the second pillar of the Italian approach to small islands’ sustainable development: the “Blue Growth strategy”. The Blue Growth is the European Union’s long-term strategy to support sustainable growth in the marine and maritime sectors as a whole. The strategy is based on five sectors that have a high potential for sustainable growth and jobs, namely:

1) sustainable aquaculture;

2) coastal and maritime tourism;

3) marine biotechnology;

4) ocean energy;

5) seabed mining.

These sectors are particularly relevant for Italy’s growth. Among these, tourism and small-scale fisheries and aquaculture are priority areas for small islands. Italy has around 180.000 marine-based economic activities in these five areas. To promote them and integrate environmental aspects too, Italy has stressed on the role of Marine Protected Areas. Almost one third of these activities takes place in Marine Protected Areas. Sustainable fisheries in MPAs represent 10% of the national fisheries production; almost 50% of the touristic accommodation services are in MPAs, as well as around 20% of aquatic recreational and sport activities.

MPAs play a central role for local development and blue growth also because they favour strategic planning of initiatives. Strategic planning is particularly relevant for sustainable tourism and sustainable fisheries’ activities. In particular, sustainable tourism and sustainable fisheries are appropriate answer to combine environmental, cultural and economic elements when they are developed through a strategic planning based on these actions:

– make good use of environmental resources and considering the overall carrying capacity and ecological footprint of the activities;

– raise awareness about environmentally friendly and socially responsible tourism and fishing;

– respect and promote the cultural heritage and traditional values of local communities;

– ensure long-term economic programmes;

– ensure the participation of local communities in eco-tourism/fishing project and programme.

The establishment of a marine park or a Marine Protected Area should not be considered as an element that penalizes the local community. Consultation between the different actors involved is an essential condition for promoting a. sustainable process of fisheries as to combine the needs of economic development with protection of the environment. On this point, I wish to highlight that in November 2014, the Italian Minister of Environment gathered together national and international public actors, stakeholders, civil society and the research community to discuss in Livorno the opportunities for blue growth and employment. The outcome of this meeting, a policy document called the “Charter of Livorno”, stresses, among other elements, on the implementation of communication and participation initiatives as a cornerstone element for inclusive blue growth.


Oceans and seas require focused attention and a good governance that ensure a balanced integration of the environmental, social and economic interests at stake is crucial. Marine Protected Areas, as established and managed in Italy, might be taken into account as reference examples and considered for application in other similar contexts of small islands and within the SIDS. This contribution, therefore, aimed to synthetically describe the main initiatives implemented by Italy and foster a fruitful debate on this matter.