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The Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) was adopted in 1975 within the framework of the Regional Seas Programme, under umbrella of the United Nations Environment Programme. Today, The MAP gathers 21 Mediterranean countries and the European Community.

Although, in the beginning, the MAP centered his efforts on the control of the marine pollution, it allowed especially the installation of a framework of consultation and regional decision-making. Its mandate was prolonged in 1995 to reflect a better comprehension of the intimate links between conservation and development. The Contracting Parties then adopted the Action Plan for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Sustainable Development of the Coastal Areas of the Mediterranean (MAP Phase II) to replace the previous MAP of 1975.

The MAP Phase II tends in particular to ensure a sustainable management of the natural resources and to integrate the environment in the economic development and the regional planning, to protect the marine environment and the coastal zones by preventing and reducing pollution, and to safeguard and emphasize the sites and the landscapes with ecological or cultural interests.

The legal system of the MAP rests on the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean (Barcelona Convention), adopted in 1976 and amended in 1995. It aims to encourage the Contracting Parties to prevent, reduce, fight and as far as possible eliminate pollution in the Mediterranean zone, and to protect the marine environment and its natural resources in order to contribute to the sustainable development of the area.

This Convention is supplemented by seven Protocols approaching various aspects of the conservation of the Mediterranean, the Protocol concerning “Specially Protected Areas and Biological Diversity” (SPA/BD Protocol) is one of them.

The SPA/BD Protocol was adopted in Barcelona in 1995 and replaced the Protocol concerning Mediterranean Specially Protected Areas, adopted in Geneva in 1982. This new Protocol, which comes into effect in 1999, aims at promoting the conservation and the sustainable management of areas having a particular natural or cultural value and at promoting the conservation of the animal and plant species endangered or threatened.

It envisages in particular dispositions relating to the creation, protection and management of Specially Protected Areas (SPAs), to the establishment of a Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMIs) list, and to the protection and the conservation of the species.

The SPA/BD Protocol is thus the principal tool available to the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention, to implement, on the Mediterranean, the United Nations’ Convention on Biological Diversity for the in situ conservation and the sustainble use of the marine and coastal biodiversity.

The SPA/BD Protocol has three annexes which were adopted in 1996 in Monaco, namely the Common criteria for the choice of protected marine and coastal areas that could be included in the SPAMI list (Annex I), the List of endangered and threatened species (Annex II), and the List of species whose exploitation is regulated (Annex III).

The Regional Activity Centre for Specially Protected Areas (UNEP - MAP - SPA/RAC) is one of the six Centers offering, each, its own environmental and developmental expertise for the benefit of the Mediterranean community in the implementation of MAP activities. . The SPA/RAC's specific objective is to contribute to the implementation of the SPA/BD Protocol by assisting the Mediterranean countries to reach their engagements for this Protocol. With the entry into force of The SPA/BD Protocol in 1999, a new phase for the Mediterranean cooperation in the field of the conservation and thesustainble use  of the marine and coastal biodiversity was engaged.