- The Natura 2000 network of protected areas aims to assure the long-term survival of Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats. Yet, evidence shows that the present network fails to represent effectively the biodiversity of the region.
- Priority areas for conservation of coastal and offshore biodiversity features in the Greek Ionian Sea were identified, based on the principles of systematic conservation planning (SCP). SCP is a transparent method for the design of MPA networks and is considered more efficient and successful in representing the biodiversity of a region.
- The prioritization software Marxan was used and three scenarios with different sets of targets for 17 (high and low priority) conservation features were produced. These scenarios explicitly took into account socio-economic factors expressed as a single cost metric, weighting different economic sectors in proportion to their contribution to the GDP of the region. Then results were compared with the existing Natura 2000 sites in terms of goal achievement, area requirements, and cost.
- The solutions produced by the systematic approach demanded less area and lower cost to achieve the goals set, when the selection of all Natura 2000 sites was not forced. Existing Natura 2000 sites alone failed to achieve conservation goals for some EU priority and other important coastal and offshore habitats and species of the Mediterranean Sea.
- It is suggested that the use of systematic conservation planning and related computational tools could benefit the selection of European marine priority areas, especially in the context of ecosystem-based marine spatial management. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.