Tackling challenges for Mediterranean sustainable coastal tourism: An ecosystem service perspective

ISMAR-CNR, Institute of Marine Sciences, National Research Council (Italy)


The article describes a conceptual study, supplied with an application of the presented methodology, which aims at highlighting the crucial and irreplaceable role of ecosystem services (particularly of cultural services) for the existence and development of coastal tourism in the Mediterranean. Ecosystem services are the benefits that the natural environment delivers to enhance human well-being. In the case of coastal tourism, the paper shows how, despite the crucial role played by ecosystem services, the tourism industry negatively affects the state of coastal ecosystems, therefore putting at risk the provision of coastal ecosystem services fundamental for the existence of the coastal tourism sector. Such loop relationship applies also to the other human coastal activities, which can threaten not only the coastal environment, thus indirectly damaging coastal tourism, but also directly the coastal touristic activities themselves. The multiple effects of these complex threat relationships are investigated through a case study located along the Northern Adriatic Sea coastline, where a geospatial threat analysis is applied to show the hotspots of cumulative pressures generated by recreational boating and the hotspots of cumulative pressures generated by other human activities, in both cases at the expenses of beach tourism. The paper calls for mainstreaming the ecosystem services perspective in the sustainable development of the Mediterranean coastal touristic activities.

Sea Basin(s): 
Type of Issue: 
Coexistence of uses
Ecosystem-based approach
Environment aspects
Type of practice: 
Stage of MSP cycle: 
Develop and implement plan
Cross-border / trans-national aspect: 
Coherence with other processes: 
Integrated Coastal Zone Management
Marine Strategy Framework Directive

Questions this practice may help answer

  • What are the threat flows produced by coastal tourism produced by coastal tourism and human activities on coastal ecosystem services?
  • What are the negative feedback effects of human driven threats on the development of Mediterranean coastal tourism?
  • How can MSP planners take into account the threats generated from coastal tourism and human activities? planners?

Implementation Context

Coastal tourism has been identified as one of the five priorities of the EU Blue Growth Strategy. While it is unquestionable that tourism plays a crucial role in the economic development of the Mediterranean region, it is undoubtedly true that its continuing growth will exert increasing pressures on the environmental resources of coastal zones. This study, which discusses the threat flows produced by coastal tourism and human activities on coastal ecosystem services, responds to the opportunity provided by the Interreg MED project CO-EVOLVE to explore the multiple links among Mediterranean coastal tourism, ecosystem services and the other human activities.

Aspects / Objectives

The study aims to develop, test and discuss a conceptual framework, which characterizes the Mediterranean coastal ecosystems and their services; the coastal tourism typologies and their relation with cultural services; the threats generated by coastal tourism and by other human activities on ecosystem services; and their negative feedback effects in terms of attractiveness to the coastal tourism industry itself.


Conceptual frameworks in the forms of cascade models are used, in the context of ecosystem services, to better represent the transdisciplinary nature of the ‘ecosystem services paradigm’. The conceptual framework adopted in this study is presented in the figure below.

Figure: The three components (coastal tourism, other human activities and coastal ecosystem services) of the conceptual framework, the Tourism-Ecosystem Service-Other human activities (TEO) loop and their flows. Source: Mita Drius et al., Tackling challenges for Mediterranean sustainable coastal tourism: An ecosystem service perspective, 2019, Science of the Total Environment.

For the characterisation of coastal ecosystems and their services in the Mediterranean, the authors performed literature research on the main ecosystem type classifications. Taking into consideration the purpose and scale of the analysis, they adopted the global ecosystem types classification proposed by the World Resource Institute. The global ecosystems classification was then applied to the Mediterranean coastal and marine systems through a survey conducted among the CO-EVOLVE consortium. The authors performed literature research on the main coastal ecosystem services classifications to characterise those provided by Mediterranean coastal ecosystems. According to this classification, they attributed the main coastal ecosystem services to each of the ecosystem typologies selected in the Mediterranean area, using a threefold ecosystem services framework (provisioning, regulation and maintenance, cultural)

For the characterisation of coastal tourism typologies and recreational activities, five main coastal tourism typologies were selected within the CO-EVOLVE project and adapted to the Mediterranean Basin. They were then organised. CO-EVOLVE’s project partners were asked, through a structured interview, to indicate the coastal recreational activities occurring in their country and to rank, from 1 (low) to 3 (high), the importance of each activity at the country level.

The authors reviewed the threats from coastal tourism and other human activities (named ‘CO-EVOLVE threat’) through a specific classification. The literature review they conducted allowed them to perform a ranking of the five coastal tourism typologies in relation to the CO-EVOLVE threats.

To test how the identified human activities interact with coastal tourism and the implications for coastal tourism itself, they developed a case study which focused on two coastal tourism typologies: beach tourism and recreational boating. The geospatial datasets applied for the analysis include locations of marinas, fetched from Tools4MSP Geoplatform.

Main Outputs / Results

This study provides an original conceptual framework, which was conceived in the context of the cascade models, whose primary purpose is, on one hand, to link the benefits arising from ecosystem services with their effects on human well-being, and, on the other hand, to show how human activities may negatively influence ecosystem services capacity to deliver further services. The study contributed to a better definition of the components in need of attention while addressing coastal sustainability, and also provided a concrete test.

The integrated analysis of coastal tourism threats is particularly relevant for coastal planning, as it takes into consideration how co-existing coastal tourism typologies may negatively interact among each other, by generating threats such as waste production and water pollution.


The framework is shaped on the five CO-EVOLVE countries, but it can be generalized to any coastal and marine areas of the Mediterranean basin and beyond.

Responsible Entity


Costs / Funding Source

This study was co-financed by the Interreg MED Programme 2014-2020, modular project CO-EVOLVE

Contact person

Mita Drius

ISMAR-CNR, Institute of Marine Sciences, National Research Council, Arsenale - Tesa 104, Castello 2737/F, 30122 Venice, Italy