“Legal aspects of Marine Protected Areas in the Mediterranean Sea: An Adriatic and Ionian Perspective”

Edited by Mitja GRBEC, Tulio SCOVAZZI and Ilaria TANI,

Routledge (London/New York, 2023)

Reviewed by MARKO PAVLIHA[1]

The legendary visionary, ocean explorer, inventor, photographer, writer, and filmmaker  Jacques-Yves Cousteau already argued many years ago that “the sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: We are all in the same boat.” 

Indeed, we are all on the same Blue Planet governed by legal rules which also play an important role in protecting and improving the marine environment. It is therefore commendable that Routledge of the Taylor & Francis Group has decided to publish a special monograph on “Legal Aspects of Marine Protected Areas in the Mediterranean Sea: And Adriatic and Ionian Perspective” as part of the IMLI Studies in International Law,[2] which was edited by Dr. Mitja Grbec,[3] Dr. Tullio Scovazzi[4] and Dr. Ilara Tani.[5] They have also written most of the chapters, and in addition, two critical perspectives were contributed by Mitja Bricelj[6] and Iztok Škerlič.[7]

As explained in the preface of the book, the objective is to provide a comprehensive overview of the legal basis, under international and the relevant regional legal frameworks, for the establishment and further development of area-based conservation tools in the Mediterranean Sea, with a particular emphasis on the transboundary area-based conservation instruments available for the Adriatic and Ionian Seas.

The monograph has 252 pages and comprises a foreword and preface, acknowledgments, lists of abbreviations and acronyms, figures and contributors, 12 chapters, references and index. After the introductory overview of the geographical and political considerations of the Mediterranean waters and its present juridical picture, the global legal basis for marine area-based conservation is presented, including the “marine bible” UNCLOS and other international conventions on whaling, biological diversity, protection of the world cultural and natural heritage, prevention of pollution from ships, and  protection of the underwater cultural heritage.

One of the key regional legal instruments is the Barcelona Convention, supported by other agreements and sub-regional instruments such as the Cooperation Within the Framework of the European Union Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR). The regional focus considers the means of transboundary cooperation in marine conservation that are currently in place among the states bordering the Adriatic and Ionian Seas, including the EU members (Croatia, Greece, Italy, and Slovenia) and the candidates (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro).

Furthermore, the EU law is explained which springs mostly from the Integrated Maritime Policy, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and some other legal documents. Then the specially protected areas of Mediterranean importance are discussed, as well as the possibility for establishing a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area in the maritime region in question, which is defined by International Maritime organisation (IMO) as an area that needs special protection because of its significance for recognized ecological or socioeconomic or scientific reasons and which may be vulnerable to damage by international shipping activities.

In the final chapter of the book the editors conclude their invaluable research with the following holistic and practical remarks:

“An essential consideration in defining the ways forward lies in that once all remaining coastal States that have not yet done so decide to proclaim an exclusive economic zone – namely Albania, Italy (which has adopted in 2021 a framework law that needs to be implemented through presidential decree), Greece, and Montenegro – the high seas will disappear from the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. Such trend toward the establishment of exclusive economic zones could soon become an incentive toward the adoption of a coherent and coordinated Mediterranean – and Adriatic and Ionian – network of transboundary area-based conservation tools.”

I entirely agree with Professor Dr. David Joseph Attard[8] in his foreword that this is an important and learned book which provides original and innovative approaches to deal with the challenge of protecting the marine environment in semi-enclosed seas. The authors have undertaken “a compelling and comprehensive examination of area-based conservation in one of the most complex, at times turbulent, restricted maritime area in the Mediterranean.” They have contributed greatly to the well-being of the Adriatic and Ionian Seas by providing the excellent tool that will assist the efforts to protect the marine areas of the littoral States.

Therefore I also fully recommend this impressive publication to various officials, diplomats, scholars, academics, students, and other audiences who care about our precious marine environment.

[1] D.C.L. (McGill), Dr. iur. h.c. (IMO IMLI); Professor of Transport Law, Maritime Law, Commercial Law and Insurance Law, University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Maritime Studies and Transportation (Slovenia); Visiting Fellow, Member of the Board of Governors and Member of the Academic Board of the IMO IMLI (Malta).

[2] The Series Editor is Professor Norman A. Martinez Gutiérrez, Director, IMO IMLI.

[3] Attorney-at-Law in Koper (Slovenia); Visiting Lecturer at IMO IMLI; Assistant Professor at University of Primorska, Faculty of Management (Slovenia); Secretary-General of the Maritime Law Association of Slovenia; Titulary Member of the CMI.

[4] Associate Member of the Institut de Droit International; Former Professor of International Law at the Universities of Parma and Milano-Bicocca (Italy).

[5] Attorney-at-Law in Milan (Italy); Adjunct Professor of International Law of the Sea and Maritime Law at University of Milano-Bicocca (Italy); Former Associate Legal Officer at UN DOALOS (USA).

[6] Co-ordinator of the third thematic pillar of European Union Strategy for the Adriatic and Ionian Region (EUSAIR).

[7] Director of the EUSAIR Facility Point Project partner (Slovenia).

[8] Judge; Former Vice-President of ITLOS (Hamburg, Germany); Former Director of IMO IMLI (Malta).