Credit: Daniel Molloy

Crossing borders towards a Good Environmental Status of the Adriatic


To protect our seas it is necessary to act together. Similarly, planning for our future relationship with the sea requires a “holistic” view that crosses borders and brings together all stakeholders. Since the signing of the Barcelona Convention, contracting countries have undertaken to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES) for the Mediterranean Sea. Defined by the European Marine Directive, GES is “the environmental status of marine waters where these provide ecologically diverse and dynamic oceans and seas which are clean, healthy and productive”. It’s an extremely ambitious goal, which can only be achieved by implementing an integrated ecosystem approach for the sustainable management of human activities.

The GEF Adriatic project brought national teams of experts and policy-makers to work together to protect and conserve common marine resources for generations to come. The project focused on certain Albanian and Montenegrin coastal areas. These areas, facing the Adriatic Sea and part of the Mediterranean Sea basin, had little or no data and research to assess the actual condition of their maritime ecosystems. The project's activities have been fundamental in laying the foundations for the achievement or strengthening of GES of both countries’ marine and coastal environment.

Eleven ecological objectives for the future of our seas

Understanding based on knowledge makes for informed decisions. That’s why the Integrated Monitoring and Assessment Programme (IMAP) was developed and adopted. Through IMAP it is possible to define the status of an environment on the basis of eleven ecological objectives (related to 11 ecological themes), each with precise indicators and targets. 


These eleven ecological objectives form a mechanism for measuring the status of a marine ecosystem:

  • EO1 – Biodiversity (marine habitats, marine mammals, reptiles and seabirds)  
  • EO2 - Non-indigenous species  
  • EO3 – Harvest of commercially-exploited fish and shellfish  
  • EO4 - Food webs  
  • EO5 - Eutrophication  
  • EO6 - Sea-floor integrity  
  • EO7 - Hydrography  
  • EO8 – Coastal ecosystems and landscapes  
  • EO9 – Contaminants  
  • EO10 – Marine litter  
  • EO11 - Energy, including underwater noise  


Once there are enough data available, an assessment can be undertaken using these ecological objectives and their indicators. This will indicate the current status of the marine and coastal environment, and whether good environmental status has been achieved, recovered, maintained or not achieved. Assessing the current environmental status requires making a comparison between a preferred state (GES) and an impacted one. Hence, it is important to be able to determine a reference condition against which the actual or potentially changed situation can be compared. 

However, GES does not mean a state with no human impact at all, but instead represents a context where human activity is at a sustainable level. In cases where human activities and pressures exceed the acceptable level, a deviation from the desired state (GES) to the current state occurs, generally due to the effect of anthropogenic pressures. Regional and sub-regional cooperation is necessary to understand what the good environmental state of a certain area entails and how GES can be jointly achieved. This took place in initiatives carried out along the coasts of Albania and Montenegro where research activities were carried out under a selected number of ecological objectives, and eventually led to establishing the current status of an area with a view to achieving Good Environmental Status (GES). 

Overview of Port Milena and Ulcinj Salina in southern Montenegro. Credit: Slaven Vilus.

Sensible planning for community goals

Albania and Montenegro, with their 860 kilometres of sea and coastline, offer some of the most valuable resources to both countries’ economies and populations. But the interaction between human activities and the environment creates a complex relationship that often generates significant impacts and pressures on natural habitats and species. 

The GEF Adriatic project demonstrated these interconnections in Albania and Montenegro. Among human activities, tourism, too, can generate litter which in turn affects human activities and the overall quality of life and health of human beings as well as ecosystems. Naturally, human activities, which depend on these very same resources, take place within ecosystems. It is helpful to understand and analyse the typical complexities in order to be able to identify what are the key economic drivers, pressures and impacts, before undertaking any assessments. This was an important factor when carrying out the overall assessment of the environmental status in Albania and Montenegro, whose findings formed the basis of an initial set of proposed actions towards achieving the desired state of the Adriatic sea.

In Montenegro, assessment towards GES focused on ecological objectives: biodiversity, non-indigenous species, eutrophication, hydrography, coastal ecosystems and landscapes, contaminants and marine litter. The greatest difficulty encountered by the GEF project researchers was the lack of historical data sets, which would have helped them to understand the evolution of environmental quality over the years. Nevertheless, it appears that GES, under most of the ecological objectives, has been achieved, with the exception of the presence of contaminants and marine litter in certain limited areas. Read more about the results of the GES assessment in Montenegro.

Click on the preview to download the infographic on GES assessment results in Montenegro


In Albania, assessments have revealed the complexity of the interconnections between environments and types of impact on the ecosystem. Within the Albanian context, there had been a significant lack of data collected historically, which would have provided a tool for comparison. Nonetheless, the analytical activities undertaken provide the best possible framework for further assessments towards achieving GES.

Click on the preview to download the infographic on GES assessment results in Albania