What is the Barcelona Convention?


img courtesy: wikipedia


The last week or so has seen a spate of WhatsApp forwards doing the rounds regarding a ship being cautioned in a Mediterranean port regarding possibly violating the Barcelona Convention by incinerating garbage whilst sailing through the Mediterranean.

What is the Barcelona Convention about?

The Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean was adopted in 1995.

It was in 1975 when 16 Mediterranean countries and the European Community adopted the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP), the first-ever Regional Seas Programme under UNEP’s umbrella. In 1995, the Action Plan for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Sustainable Development of the Coastal Areas of the Mediterranean (MAP Phase II) was adopted by the Contracting Parties to replace the Mediterranean Action Plan of 1975.

Today, the Barcelona Convention and MAP are more active than ever. The Contracting Parties are now 22*, and they are determined to protect the Mediterranean marine and coastal environment while boosting regional and national plans to achieve sustainable development.

*Albania, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, the European Community, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Slovenia, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey

The Convention’s main objectives are:

  • to assess and control marine pollution;
  • to ensure sustainable management of natural marine and coastal resources;
  • to integrate the environment in social and economic development;
  • to protect the marine environment and coastal zones through prevention and reduction of pollution, and as far as possible, elimination of pollution, whether land or sea-based;
  • to protect the natural and cultural heritage;
  • to strengthen solidarity among Mediterranean Coastal States;
  • to contribute to the improvement of the quality of life.


img courtesy: grida.no



The Barcelona Convention has given rise to seven Protocols addressing specific aspects Mediterranean environmental conservation:

  1. Dumping Protocol (from ships and aircraft)
  2. Prevention and Emergency Protocol (pollution from ships and emergency situations)
  3. Land-based sources and Activities Protocol
  4. Specially Protected Areas and Biological Diversity Protocol
  5. Offshore Protocol (pollution from exploration and exploitation)
  6. Hazardous Wastes Protocol
  7. Protocol on Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)


The Contracting Parties decide on MAP strategies, budget and programme in pursuit of MAP’s goal at their Ministerial level meetings, held every two years. They appoint Focal Points to review the progress of work and ensure the implementation of recommendations at the national level. A rotating Bureau of six representatives of the Contracting Parties guides and advises the MAP Secretariat (located in Athens) in the interim period between the biannual meetings.

MAP’s activities are primarily financed by the Contracting Parties through their contributions to the Mediterranean Trust Fund. Other main sources of funding to support specific projects and activities include a voluntary contribution from the European Union, UN agencies and the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

Key MAP priorities for the coming decade are:

  • to bring about a massive reduction in pollution from land-based sources;
  • to protect marine and coastal habitats and threatened species;
  • to make maritime activities safer and more conscious of the Mediterranean marine environment;
  • to intensify integrated planning of coastal areas;
  • to monitor the spreading of invasive species;
  • to limit and intervene promptly on oil pollution;
  • to further promote sustainable development in the Mediterranean region.

Depolluting the Mediterranean Sea by 2020 (Horizon 2020)

Euro-Mediterranean governments ain to tackle the top sources of Mediterranean pollution by the year 2020 through the Horizon 2020 initiative that is built around 4 elements:

  • Projects to reduce the most significant pollution sources focussing on industrial emissions, municipal waste and urban wastewater, responsible for up to 80% of pollution in the Mediterranean Sea
  • Capacity-building measures to help neighbouring countries create national environmental administrations that are able to develop and police environmental laws
  • Using the Commission’s Research budget to develop and share knowledge of environmental issues relevant to the Mediterranean
  • Developing indicators to monitor the success of Horizon 2020.


The relevant articles which have been brought into perspective from the cautioning of the ship are Articles 5 and 6 of the Barcelona Convention.

Article 5

Pollution caused by Dumping from Ships and Aircraft or Incineration at Sea
The Contracting Parties shall take all appropriate measures to prevent, abate and to the fullest possible extent eliminate pollution of the Mediterranean Sea Area caused by dumping from ships and aircraft or incineration at sea.

Article 6

Pollution from Ships
The Contracting Parties shall take all measures in conformity with international law to prevent, abate, combat and to the fullest possible extent eliminate pollution of the Mediterranean Sea Area caused by discharges from ships and to ensure the effective implementation in that Area of the rules which are generally recognized at the international level relating to the control of this type of pollution.

Currently, a common practice amongst those aware of this convention is to avoid incineration within the Mediterranean. But for those unaware, the more publicised regulations of MARPOL are what come to mind. In there, the Mediterranean Sea is a special area under MARPOL Annex V which prevents dumping of garbage but it is not designated a special area under MARPOL Annex VI for prevention of air pollution.

Of course, the recent publicity would do well to make sure fellow mariners are aware of the regulations in place.

(information courtesy: ec.europa.eu and Barcelona Convention)

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