The Southern Waters of Gibraltar were approved as a Site of Community Importance (SCI) in July 2006 following Commission Decision 2006/613/EC. A protection regime has been in existence since 1991 through the Nature Protection Act 1991. Following its approval as an SCI, the Government of Gibraltar declared the Southern Waters of Gibraltar as a dual Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and Special Protected Area (SPA) through the following legislative instruments:
Extending three miles to the East and South of Gibraltar and stretching all the way up to the median line to the West of Gibraltar, the marine SAC/SPA has long been recognized as an important marine area due to its rich diversity in species and habitats. Sea cliffs and caves, reefs and sandy marine habitats all form part of the marine ecosystem found along the southern shores of Gibraltar. The abundance and richness of species is largely influenced by the strong currents and upwellings that are so characteristic of the Straits of Gibraltar. Seasonal abundance, due to migratory movements between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, results in a multitude of pelagic and predatory fish along with cetaceans including the Striped and Common Dolphins. The latter cetaceans breed in the Bay of Gibraltar.
The marine SAC/SPA is also located on an important migration route for seabirds. Many species stop over and feed within the marine SAC/SPA during their migratory journeys and some, such as the Cory’s Shearwater, forage in the marine SAC/SPA whilst breeding. Other species rely on the SAC/SPA during the winter in variable numbers depending on weather conditions (e.g. numbers of Gannets feeding inshore during storms).
There are two main beaches within the marine SAC/SPA namely Camp Bay and Little Bay. These beaches are monitored in line with the requirements of the Bathing Waters Directive (2006/7/EC). Sport and recreational angling along with scuba diving take place within the marine SAC/SPA. In addition, the waters within the marine SAC/SPA are also important fishing grounds. Fishing methods that involve the use of nets, raking of the seabed or artificial lights are prohibited. Commercial fishing activities within the Southern Waters of Gibraltar SAC/SPA are regulated through the Marine Protection Regulations 2012 which build on the legislative provisions of the Nature Protection Act 1991.