Issues affecting the Southern Waters of Gibraltar

The issues, affecting the Southern Waters of Gibraltar, have been broken down into broad categories, as follows:

  1. Water quality
  2. Land-based recreation
  3. Water-based recreation
  4. Fishing activities
  5. Ports and shipping activities


These categories reflect the range of issues known by the Relevant Authorities that are currently affecting the European Marine Site. However, this list could be changed in future reviews in order to take account of any new activities, if they arise.

For each activity group, consideration is made of individual activities and their current management, together with an assessment of any gaps in the management or in the knowledge about the activity’s effect on the Site. Some of these groups have been discussed in brief below.

a. Water Quality

There is no heavy industry in Gibraltar but heavy industry does exist in the North section of the Bay in Spain and this could impinge on the conservation objectives of the Southern Waters of Gibraltar.

In addition, the Bay is increasingly becoming a more prominent shipping hub which increases the risks of accidental spills and other impacts on coastal water quality. There are two designated bathing areas inside the Southern Waters of Gibraltar (Little Bay and Camp Bay) and another just outside (Sandy Bay). The Environmental Agency monitors bathing water quality in all of Gibraltar’s beaches to ensure that there is no deterioration in bathing water quality.

Further to the monitoring carried out by the Environmental Agency, the Department of the Environment is also monitoring the coastal waters of Gibraltar as part of Gibraltar’s obligations under the Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC. A comprehensive benthic invertebrate and sediment monitoring programme is also operational. Any proposed discharges to the sea are heavily regulated and are monitored by the Department of the Environment, who also respond to reports of pollution incidents and can co-ordinate clean-up campaigns.

Oil spills are a potentially serious threat to the Southern Waters of Gibraltar, given the high numbers of ships crossing the Straits of Gibraltar. However, there is a strong local contingency plan in place which would be implemented in the event of an oil spill which would minimize any potential effects on the Southern Waters of Gibraltar.

b. Land-based Recreation

The recreational value of the Southern Waters of Gibraltar is high since it is very popular with local people and tourists. Through recreation, the public can glean a greater understanding of conservation issues by means of awareness campaigns that are currently delivered by the Department of the Environment.

Tourism is also an important player in the local economy, with large numbers of visitors coming from abroad, particularly Spain and the UK. The Southern Waters of Gibraltar consequently forms an important part of the tourist product that Gibraltar has to offer. The main recreational activities undertaken are angling, water sports and bird watching. There is some debate as to the impact of recreation on protected areas. It has been argued that the presence of people can disrupt bird feeding patterns and draw on their energy reserves which should be stored up for migration. In addition, plants and sessile animals can also suffer from human trampling and seashore bait-collecting.

Europa Foreshore, located in the Southern Waters of Gibraltar, has been used by anglers and birdwatchers for many years. This has led to a problem of littering on occasions, and there has been an impact on the intertidal community primarily due to illegal bait collection. The collection of protected species is prohibited under the Nature Protection Act 1991. The Marine Protection Regulations 2012 offer additional protection in this regard.

 c. Water-based Recreation

The sheltered waters of the Bay and the dramatic views of the Rock of Gibraltar make this area very popular with water-sports enthusiasts. The marinas in Gibraltar are popular ports of call for yachts cruising in the Mediterranean and as a stopover before going through the straits. Other types of water-based recreation taking place include scuba diving, snorkeling, spear fishing, sailing and jet skiing. The issues surrounding water-based recreation are much the same as for land-based recreation.

e. Ports and shipping activities

The Southern Waters of Gibraltar European Marine Site is situated in the Straits of Gibraltar and abuts the Port of Gibraltar. To the west lies the Port of Algeciras, one of the busiest container ports in Spain. Any new projects within the Port of Gibraltar are caught by Section J of the Nature Protection Act. This Management Scheme considers the on-going operation of the Port and any impacts that it could have on the Southern Waters. The Gibraltar Port Authority (GPA) monitors commercial anchoring points using their VTS Radar Facility so as to ensure that vessels anchor within allocated areas and not within the anchoring exclusion zone (see Appendix 4). Anchoring operations by recreational vessels are strictly monitored by the GPA in conjunction with the Royal Gibraltar Police marine section. Such operations are not allowed in the vicinity of listed habitats that require strict protection.

GPA strictly enforces a ban on any discharges from vessels in Gibraltar waters. Any vessels found in contravention of the ban are liable to prosecution. Port operators have become more aware of their environmental responsibilities in recent years and are actively pursuing policies that limit the impact of their operations on the environment, whilst contributing to sustainable development. The Port operators are licensed by the Gibraltar Port Authority who seeks to ensure that there is compliance with the requirements of local, European and international maritime legislation.

Port Operator licensing conditions are periodically reviewed and can be viewed here.

Southern Waters of Gibraltar Management Scheme, EU Natura 2000 Site. Gibraltar