The role of the Pelagos agreement

The Pelagos Sanctuary is the only international sea area dedicated to the protection of marine mammals and their habitats in the Mediterranean Sea. It was established by a Multilateral Agreement between France, Italy and Monaco signed in Rome in 1999, which came into force in 2002. Meanwhile, in 2001, the  Pelagos Sanctuary was listed  as a Specially Protected Area of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMI), under the Barcelona Convention.

The main role of the Pelagos Agreement is to promote harmonised actions and management measures for the protection of cetaceans and their habitats against all causes of human-induced disturbance and mortality (e.g., pollution, noise, accidental capture, injury, etc). 

Beside various national legislations regulating human activities within the Sanctuary, at national level, smaller parts of the Sanctuary enjoy stricter protection via numerous Marine Protected Areas, National Parks, EU Natura 2000 Sites, and national SPAMIs.

The reason of the agreement

Documents and findings dating back centuries suggest that the abundance of marine mammals in the Mediterranean Sea is not a new phenomenon;  Prince Albert I of Monaco (1885-1910) – known as the Prince of the Seas because of his great passion for ocean voyages and scientific research – reported to have seen more cetaceans from the window of his palace than from the ships he had been on.

As scientific research progressed and data were collected, the reasons for such richness in biological terms began to be uncovered and the importance of this area became quite clear. 

The connection between the environment, primary production, and the presence of small and large marine creatures have been regularly studied to understand and preserve the ecosystems from urbanisation, fishing, shipping, recreational activities, etc.

The general ecological importance of the marine ecosystem in of this area has been confirmed in the 2010s by the UN Convention on Biodiversity, which identified two EBSAs (Ecologically or Biologically Important Marine Areas) fully overlapping the Pelagos Sanctuary: the North-western Mediterranean Pelagic Ecosystems and the North-western Mediterranean Benthic Ecosystems. More recently the IUCN identified two IMMAs (Important Marine Mammal Areas) in this region: the Western Ligurian Sea and Genoa Canyon IMMA (a key habitat for the Cuvier’s beaked whale) and the North West Mediterranean Sea, Slope and Canyon System IMMA (important habitat for fin and sperm whales and extending further beyond Pelagos).

The Sanctuary is one of the most productive pelagic environments in the Mediterranean Sea, but also one of those under the heaviest anthropic pressure.

In such a complex framework, the need for a structure capable of coordinating governance efforts, scientific research and outreach activities became clear.

The Pelagos Sanctuary, rather than being seen as a protected area in a strict sense, should be seen for what it actually is: an Agreement Area where protection and management actions are carried out by three Countries at national level. The trilateral Agreement serves to ensure effective governance via international coordination and involvement of all relevant stakeholders. The Parties at national level, the Permanent Secretariat that assists the Parties (central Authorities) to coordinate their efforts and stimulate the engagement of the users of the sea, representatives of private sectors, local and international environmental NGOs, researchers, local authorities and citizens of the Agreement Area.

By acting at several organisational scales, the Pelagos Agreement represents a forum to agree coordinated interventions, tools, policies and favour adaptive sustainable management for the benefit of marine mammals and their environment.

To achieve its objectives, the Pelagos Agreement relies on a Management and Action Plan, which has as overall vision the enhancement of the participatory approach to the conservation of the Sanctuary.The Management Plan acts as a guide, combining ongoing national activities with new measures deemed necessary to manage the Sanctuary space as a whole. This document defines roles, prioritises, objectives, and creates an outline for the activities that need to be accomplished for each of the general categories: networking, outreach, training, databases, archives, assessments, mitigation measures and governance of the Agreement. 

The Plan also attempts to streamline its policies and actions with those of other Agreements and international Conventions, including the Barcelona Convention, ACCOBAMS, Ramoge, IWC, etc. 

The Management and Action Plan is a fundamental living document, subject to six-yearly revisions to ensure the update and fine-tuning of objectives and interventions over time.

History and success stories of the Pelagos Agreement

Many concrete conservation measures and initiatives have been taken since the institution of the Sanctuary: laws and guidelines to protect the local marine biodiversity, including the Sanctuary to the SPAMI list, research and conservation programmes, outreach and education projects, media communication activities, fundraising and much more. 



The problem of cetacean bycatch resulting from the use of pelagic nets came to public attention thanks to scientific research bodies and NGOs.


Scientists (the Tethys Institute, universities), NGOs (SOS Grand Bleu, Greenpeace) and local elected officials speak out against driftnets and the accidental capture of cetaceans in the Corso-Ligurian Basin.


The Italian government issues Decree 18/07/90, which creates a “zona di tutela biologica” [Area of Biological Protection] and prohibits Italian fishermen from using driftnets in the high seas as well as in the Italian, French and Monegasque territorial waters in the Ligurian Sea.


the “Tethys Research Institute” and the “European Association Rotary for the Environment”, with the participation of various other NGOs, including the WWF’s Mediterranean, draft and present the “Project Pelagos” for the establishment of a marine protected area, a Biosphere Reserve, encompassing the most important habitat for cetaceans in the region including the High Seas. The Project officially presented to the public in Monaco, in the presence of Prince Rainier III, had the support of the Rotary Clubs of Milan (Italy), Monaco and Saint Tropez (France).


Signing in Brussels of a Joint Declaration for the creation of a Mediterranean Sanctuary for Marine Mammals also known as the Corsican-Liguro-Provençal Sanctuary.


the Pelagos Agreement is signed in Rome by France, Italy and Monaco.


The Pelagos Sanctuary becomes a SPAMI (Specially Protected Area of Mediterranean Importance), as foreseen by Article 16 of the Agreement text


The Agreement enters into force with ratification laws by the three signatory Countries


The First Management Plan is adopted.


A Permanent Secretariat is established in Genoa (Italy).


The Management Plan (2026-2022) is adopted.


The Headquarter Agreement is signed between The Government of H.R.H. Prince Albert the II of Monaco, the Parties and the Permanent Secretariat of the Agreement.


The New Management and Action Plan (2022-2027) is adopted.


The Meeting of the Parties (MoP) is the decision-making authority of the Agreement. The Meeting takes place biennially. The Presidency rotates accordingly among Parties.

The Meeting of the Parties:

  • examines recommendation from the Scientific and Technical Committee based on their assessments of the conservation status of marine mammals in the Agreement area, and of threats affecting them; 
  • evaluates the progress made and any critical issues in the implementation of the Agreement based on the reports of the Parties and the permanent Secretariat; 
  • adopts Resolutions and initiatives aimed at improving the effectiveness of the Agreement.

The Scientific and Technical Committee (STC) is the advisory body of the Agreement that produces and/or examines results of the scientific assessments on the conservation status of marine mammals and submits recommendations on technical, legal and scientific aspects of the Agreement and its implementation. The STC Presidency rotates biennially among Parties. 

The Permanent Secretariat (PS) is the administrative body of the Agreement, which assists the Parties for the achievement of the objectives of the Agreement. The PS is composed of an Executive Secretary and the Assistant. It is based in Monaco and relies on the administrative support of the Scientific Centre of Monaco (SCM).

Its main functions are:

  • to ensure and facilitate the cooperation among the Parties and with relevant governmental and non-governmental international organisations;
  • to assist the Parties in the application of the Agreement by implementing the MoP instructions;
  • to assess the level of implementation of the Agreement objectives and Resolutions;
  • to ensure the financial management of the Agreement based on the decisions of the MoP;
  • to represent the Agreement toward international, national, regional and local bodies.

At the occasion of the 8th Meeting of the Parties (Rome, 15-16 December 2021), the ambitious 2022-2027 Management and Action Plan was adopted. The Plan introduces a new general vision for the Agreement and a new working methodology.

To this end, the Parties decided to create new working groups (WGs) to establish a consultation process that is both technical and scientific, participatory and transparent. This mechanism will support the implementation of the Agreement’s biannual Programme of Work.

The Permanent Secretariat can therefore draw on the expertise of the members of the following 6 WGs and related 6 SWGs.

  • WG Assessments;
  • WG Impacts:
    • SWG Maritime Shipping and Collisions;
    • SWG Noise;
    • SWG Pollution;
    • SWG Fisheries;
    • SWG Good Practices.
  • WG Laws;
  • WG Governance;
  • WG Communication:
    • SWG Monk Seal.

You can still join the WGs by sending your CV and cover letter (in English) to the Permanent Secretariat of the Pelagos Agreement at the following address:

Where is the Pelagos Sanctuary ?

The Sanctuary covers an area of 87,500 sq. km and 2,022 km of coast. The area includes the coastal and pelagic waters of part of the Gulf of Lion, the whole Ligurian Sea, part of north Tyrrhenian Sea and of the Sea of Sardinia. It includes two main islands (Corsica and north Sardinia)  and several minor French and Italian islands.

Its coastal areas are densely populated and the environmental pressure resulting from human activities is seasonally particularly high.

The Sanctuary encompasses 241 municipalities: 129 in France, 111 in Italy and one in Monaco.

Photos credits :
©Hélène Labach – MIRACETI
©M. Costa – Tethys
©Vincent Jacques – Drone de Regard