Module 3

Unit 3.1

Blue Economy Tourism & Contemporary/Future Scenarios

University of Malta
Institute for Tourism, Travel & Culture

Ecosystem-based Management in Tourism

Ecosystem services in the tourism sector

Coastal tourism is a major consumer of provisioning and cultural ecosystem services. To a large extent it depends on regulating services. Coastal tourism provides physical benefits, for e.g. those derived from leisure, swimming, and other beach activities.

Furthermore, it provides psychological well-being: due to the reduction of emotional stress by the performance of such activities; due to the complex emotional connections people have and experience with ecosystems, including moral, spiritual, artistic and philosophical experiences.

The tourism industry is made of, and interacts with many different economic sectors: for e.g. transport, agriculture, construction and catering. It also depends on several functional services from natural ecosystems; these are usually provided by local authorities, such as water, energy supply, waste or sewage management.

Tourism and quality

Making significant allowance for challenges faced by tourism due to health pandemics and terrorism, among others, the growth potential for tourism is thus important in Southern and Eastern Mediterranean Countries (SEMC), such as Morocco or Egypt (around 10 million ITAs each), Tunisia or Israel, even though it could cannibalise parts of the sector in northern countries.

State of ecosystem services in the Mediterranean

Recent research has identified eleven coastal ecosystems services in the Mediterranean benefiting tourism. While the total monetary value was not estimated, another study calculated that five Mediterranean ecosystems translate into more than €22 billion per year. According to another study on the sustainability of ecosystem services provided by the Mediterranean, the capacity and the supply of coastal protection are decreasing in nearly all of the Mediterranean shores, leading to a more unsustainable situation. Furthermore, while the indicators defining the nature-based capacity of coastal recreation in the Mediterranean are stable, individual components of these indicators, such as water transparency and shoreline erosion, show that coastal recreation is losing sustainability.

Mita Drius, Lucia Bongiorni, Daniel Depellegrin, Stefano Menegon, Alessandra Pugnetti, Simon Stifter (2018) : Tackling challenges for Mediterranean sustainable coastal tourism: An ecosystem service perspective, Science of the Total Environment.

Mangos, A., Bassino, J.-P., Sauzade, D. (2010) : The economic value of sustainable benefits rendered by the Mediterranean marine ecosystems. Plan Bleu 

Liquete, C, et al. (2016) : Ecosystem services sustainability in the Mediterranean Sea: assessment of status and trends using multiple modelling approaches.

Ecosystem-based Approach

When applied to Coastal and Maritime tourism, the Ecosystem-based Approach (EcAp) facilitates the restoration of natural ecosystems and has the potential to support sustainable tourism activities. The concept of ecosystem-based approach was developed by the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1995. It is defined as “a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way.”

It aims at addressing issues within a given ecosystem by taking into account, through scientific reasoning, all the biological interactions, processes, and functions within the ecosystem, including the impacts of human beings. Due to the complex and changing nature of ecosystems, the ecosystem approach requires adaptive management.

It should not limited to any specific scale of action but rather determined by the targeted issue. There is thus no single way to implement the ecosystem approach and it can be integrated into other working frameworks, so far as they adhere to the complementary and interlinked principles of the ecosystem approach, which are as on the following slide.

Biodiversity management plan

To apply these principles, the Convention on Biological Diversity proposes five actions when operating a Biodiversity management plan:

  1. Management should focus on relationships and processes within a given ecosystem to better understand its resilience, as well as the cause and impact of biodiversity loss.
  2. The functions provided by biodiversity processes forming ecosystems are essential for human security and should be valued, protected, and shared for the benefit of the stakeholders, ensuring the good health of the ecosystem.
  3. Management should recognise the changing and complex nature of ecosystems by adopting learning-by-doing methodologies and flexible decision-making that is adaptable to uncertainties and cultural and social factors.
  4. The scale of action should be appropriate to solve the issue effectively.
  5. Management should seek and ensure intersectoral cooperation.

Ecosystem-based Management in European seas

Marine assessments that apply the ecosystem-based approach make it easier to identify the conditions and trends of the biological interactions within the marine ecosystems. They also facilitate the assessment of the impacts of human activities on them. They aim at managing natural capital in a sustainable manner, ensuring the renewal of marine natural capital, and, therefore, the maintenance of marine ecosystem services.

The report ‘State of Europe’s seas’ (SOES) reviews the state of the marine environment and trends in maritime activities, providing a framework to use Europe’s marine natural capital sustainably in order to ensure the continued provision of ecosystem services to, and associated benefits for, European citizens.

Ecosystem-based Integrated Ocean Management

Ecosystem-Based Integrated Ocean Management (EB-IOM) provides a framework for a strategic governance approach towards a sustainable ocean economy. EB-IOM is an adaptive approach for governing human activities at sea, rooted in the ecosystem approach, guided by the SDGs, with a strong focus on improving the ecological status of the ocean and on strategic integration across governance, knowledge and stakeholder silos. It integrates multiple concepts, including marine spatial planning (MSP), that share a focus on more holistic and strategic management, with ecosystem-based management (EBM) at its core.

Ecosystem-Based Integrated Ocean Management: A Framework for Sustainable Ocean Economy Development

more info

This report (previous slide) outlines a vision for a sustainable ocean economy that is based on the idea of “doughnut economics” by Kate Raworth (2017), and presents a thorough review of literature on ecosystem-based and integrated ocean management approaches that can help achieve this vision.

Governance integration refers to mechanisms of communication, information exchange, coordination or collaboration between public sector organisations that manage activities taking place at sea.

At the national level, different ministries often have responsibility for different maritime sectors. Similarly, there are often different sectoral management bodies that operate at a sub-national (e.g. province, state or municipal) level. Integration mechanisms are therefore needed both horizontally, to integrate management across sectors, and vertically, to integrate across scales of governance.

Transboundary integration is needed to coordinate governance and information exchange across international boundaries and across the land-sea boundary.

Stakeholder integration refers to mechanisms that engage ocean actors in planning, decision-making, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of management measures.

Knowledge integration refers to the need to draw knowledge from multiple fields of academic expertise (through multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches) and from stakeholders who often hold valuable local or traditional knowledge of relevance.

The purpose of knowledge integration is to build a comprehensive understanding of the socio-ecological system dynamics of the planning region, creating the information base needed to underpin sound management measures.

Ecosystem Approach in European and Mediterranean policies

The implementation of the Ecosystem Approach (EcAp) in policies relies on diverse environmental policy domains, where tourism is often not a special issue of consideration. Moreover, the diverse institutional complexities related to the governance of the Mediterranean area complicates an effective unified policymaking.

We will now review the main Mediterranean and EU-level policies applied to the Mediterranean Sea and their significance in the integration of the ecosystem approach within coastal and marine tourism-related policy and management.

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European policies based on Ecosystem Approach

The European Union has advanced quite significantly in the integration of EcAp in environmental policies. However, the lack of coordination among different European legislation makes it difficult to manage coastal and marine tourism in an integrated approach.

Similar to the Barcelona Convention, the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) approved in 2002, integrates the EcAp approach and aims at achieving good environmental status (GES) and a Healthy Environment in the Mediterranean by 2020 through the cooperation of national authorities. The MSFD obliges Member States to adopt marine strategies with an ecosystem-based approach to ensure that human pressures are compatible with the achievement of good environmental status by 2020 while enabling the sustainable use of marine goods and services by present and future generations40. Furthermore, strategies that include Marine Spatial Planning must be based on the EcAp.

Thus, it allows planning of activities and uses that respect the carrying capacity of ecosystems along with their maintenance and possible restoration. Although the MSFD establishes 2020 as the deadline to achieve GES, most countries have either not reported their estimated timeline, reported that they cannot estimate it or have reported to achieve GES after 2020.

Maritime Spatial Planning Framework Directive (MSPF)

The EU Maritime Spatial Planning Framework Directive (2014/89/EU) (MSPF) calls for a coordinated, integrated and transboundary ecosystem-based approach to promote the sustainable growth of maritime economies, and the sustainable use of marine resources ensuring that pressures are compatible with achieving good environmental status (GES).

Arguably, MSPF presents a contradictory objective in pursuing “sustainable growth” while also seeking GES. As has been argued earlier, consumption of marine resources should reduce drastically to achieve GES. Furthermore, states should apply MSP with EcAp as referred to in Article 1(3) of Directive 2008/56/EC.

The ecosystem-based approach should allow for adaptive management to ensure the refinement and further development on the basis of growing experience and knowledge increase. Member states should take into account the precautionary principle, as well as the principle of preventive action, as laid down in Article 191(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

On the one hand, the MSPF Directive obliges member states to pursue the sustainable development of energy sectors at sea, of maritime transport, and of the fisheries and aquaculture sectors. On the other, it leaves at the discretion of the member states to pursue promotion of sustainable tourism. The optionality given to the promotion of sustainable tourism is unfortunate as tourism is one of the sectors with the greatest impact on the quality of ecosystems.


There exists a real possibility that members states will disregard sensitive matters land based litter, and the impact of recreational boating by the maritime

plans as required by the MSPF. Thus, the MSPF may risk only contributing to the integration of the EcAp in tourism policy in those states which choose to promote sustainable tourism within its maritime plans required under the directive.

EU Biodiversity Strategy (EBS)

The EU Biodiversity Strategy (EBS) was launched in 2011 and renewed in 2020. It aims to halt biodiversity loss and the degradation of ecosystem services.

It is a key policy for the integration of the ecosystem approach in natural protected areas. Therefore, its objectives should have a significant impact on the regulation of tourism using EcAp. To achieve the EU biodiversity targets, the European Commission (EC) engaged stakeholders from six different sectors – agriculture, extractive industries, finance, food supply, forestry and tourism, in order to share their experiences and best practices.

However the 2030 strategy only mentions tourism marginally without concrete actions. Instead the European Commission decided to focus on 3 primary sectors: Agriculture, Food and Drinks and Construction. The EC aimed to establish a larger EU-wide network of protected areas on land and at sea, which can clearly benefit coastal and marine tourism, in particular related to Nature-based activities.

Water Framework Directive (WFD)

The Water Framework Directive (WFD) since 2000 sets a framework for the protection of inland surface waters, transitional waters, coastal waters and groundwater. It follows the precautionary, polluters pay and subsidiarity principles; ensure protection and sustainable use of water; integration of protection and sustainable management of water in various policies, including tourism.

It is complemented by the Bathing Quality Water Directive (2006), It aims to preserve, protect and improve the quality of the environment and to protect human health. While it does not directly cite EcAp, it encourages member countries to achieve good bathing water quality and thus, by doing so, it promotes the protection of the environment.

The WFD does not clearly establish the link between good environmental status (GES) good environmental potential (GEP), and other objectives related to the ecosystem services. However, the accomplishment of WFD may still benefit a wide variety of ecosystem services, such as recreational and tourism opportunities.

Some of the coastal recreational uses (e.g. bathing, snorkelling) strongly depend on the quality of the water. Fully adopting EcAp in the fulfilment of the WFD can have a significant impact on the facilitation of recreational services, which are essential for the tourism sector.

Therefore, integrating EcAp in restoring water systems, such riparian buffer zones, coastal waters may lead to an increase in recreational uses, which need to be controlled through different policies, including tourism, in order to maintain water quality.

European policies related to coastal and marine tourism

The European policies addressing coastal and marine tourism target the growth of visitor flows and the increase of economic competitiveness. This approach puts in danger the implementation of measures that may mitigate significant environmental impacts by tourism on coastal and maritime ecosystems.

Blue Growth Strategy

Blue Growth is the European long-term strategy to support economic growth in the marine and maritime sectors, especially coastal tourism, maritime transport, fisheries and aquaculture, non-living resources, port activities, and shipbuilding and repair.

The strategy was endorsed in 2012 at ministerial level and in 2014, the European Commission published a Communication on Innovation in the blue economy. The communication describes how Member States and EU policies are supporting the blue economy. It identified specific areas where targeted action was meant to provide an additional stimulus. A set of initiatives was subsequently launched to explore and develop the growth potential in these areas.

Further limitations

Sadly, the initial communication and the follow-up reports do not assess the importance and challenges in integrating the EcAp in the Blue Economy agenda. Many of the targeted sectors, such as fisheries, aquaculture, tourism and maritime transport, are today negatively impacting the Good Environmental State (GES) of maritime and coastal areas. On the one hand, the growth of other sectors, such as eco-tourism, should be sustainable; on the other,  they are significantly dependent on high-emitting transport, such as aviation.

Therefore their “sustainable growth” potential is also limited. Given the need to reduce the environmental impact of the blue economy activities, it is paramount that the European blue growth strategy promotes EcAp for ensuring that the development of the blue economy sectors respects ecological limits.

The question of how best to achieve this, however, remains.

European Strategy for growth and jobs in coastal and marine tourism

The EU coastal and marine tourism strategy approved in 2014 highlights sustainable tourism and promotes ecotourism, the implementation of integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) and maritime spatial planning (MSP), as well as strategies of waste prevention in member states.

As part of this plan, the European Commission promoted a structured dialogue on cruise tourism in 2015 to enhance synergies in the sector, targeting best

practice sharing in innovation, competitiveness and sustainability strategies.

Structured Dialogue aims to promote the active participation of stakeholders in particular sectors of society as part of a wide, democratic process, in order to foster debate around the major issues affecting them.

Ecosystem Approach at the Mediterranean-level

The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean, known as the Barcelona Convention, first signed in 1976, is the pillar of the UN Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) and the only international legal instrument protecting the entire Mediterranean marine and coastal environment. Its bordering Mediterranean contracting parties agreed on the objectives of the convention:

“to prevent, abate, combat and to the fullest extent possible eliminate pollution of the Mediterranean Sea area” and “to protect and enhance the marine environment in that area so as to contribute towards its sustainable development” (Barcelona Convention, art. 4).

The Barcelona Convention

The Barcelona Convention has adopted the Ecosystem Approach (EcAp) as the guiding principle to the implementation of its protocols. The contracting parties adopt the EcAp to pursue the goal of achieving a Good Ecological Status (GES) in the Mediterranean through informed decisions based on integrated quantitative assessment of the Mediterranean environment.

The MAP ecosystem roadmap (Decision IG.20/4) establishes 11 ecological objectives for the Mediterranean.

Regional Action Plan for Sustainable Consumption and production in the Mediterranean

The regional action plan for sustainable consumption and production (SCP RAP) was adopted in 2016 by the state parties of the Barcelona Convention (Decision IG.22/5). As all instruments to the Barcelona Convention, the SCP Action Plan integrates the ecosystem approach in its aim to achieve the shift to sustainable patterns in four priority areas of

consumption and production, namely food,
fisheries and agriculture;
goods manufacturing;
housing, and

The SCP Action Plan aims at achieving a circular and sustainable economy for the Mediterranean by 2027, preserving natural resources and energy, a clean environment and the wellbeing of society. Tourism is a key sector with measures aiming to implement EcAp in tourism. These include: the definition and promotion of sustainable destinations; the promotion of ecotourism, the integration of sustainable consumption and production principles in tourism-related legislation; and the adoption of green financial instruments, such as eco-taxes; and the mandatory use of tourism carrying capacity assessment.

However the state of advancement of the SCP RAP is rather weak and highly dependent on the country’s willingness and capacities.

Implementation of the Ecosystem Approach in the coastal and marine tourism

Coastal and maritime tourism is one of the most important blue economy sectors in the Mediterranean and a driving force for environmental and spatial change with a strong impact on biodiversity and ecosystems preservation.

Shifting the way blue tourism is planned, regulated and governed according to

ecosystem-based approach (EcAp) is critical to reduce the environmental impacts of tourism and guide its management in overcrowded spaces.

Integrated planning and management

The combined use of maritime spatial planning, integrated coastal zone management and land-use planning is necessary to develop a systemic land-sea monitoring and management framework relevant in targeted areas.

The integration of marine and terrestrial planning with the tourism management plan at local, regional and national level will then strengthen the environmental governance of tourism in coastal and maritime spaces.

Policy and regulatory tools

Policy tools are also essential to ensure longstanding sustainable management of tourism. Although their success in achieving sustainable tourism greatly depends on the political will of the relevant authorities, access to finance, engagement of all stakeholders, as well as the availability and quality of data.

End of Unit 3.1

Module 2
Unit 3.2