The Regional Seas Program: What Fate for UNEP’s Crown Jewels?


Today UNEP’s Geneva-based Regional Seas Program is flushed with success: some 120 states, 14 UN agencies and 12 other international organizations take part in it. UNEP’s net covers 10 regional seas around the world, and the program has been described as the jewel in UNEP’s crown. But there is danger that the “crown jewels” will be hocked for short-term financial gains. At a time when more money is desperately needed to keep Regional Seas afloat, governments continue to pare the meat to the bone. Its future is still uncertain.

Urban growth in the modern era, indus­trialization, chemical-based agriculture, a boom in transportation, and overfishing of the seas have produced unprecedented stress for the ocean’s coastal ecosystems, the world’s richest water source of food and life (1).

The price we are paying for this unbridled development takes the form of pol­luted shorelines, a collapse of fishing stocks, lethal oil slicks, fouled waters, and the destruction of wildlife habitats. The Silent Spring predicted by Rachel Carson may not yet be upon us, but for many the Dreary Autumn of our coastal water resources has already arrived (2).

UNEP’s Regional Seas Program, launched in 1974, has been described as a race against time, like so many UNEP activities (3). But after nearly a decade of running, how far has it actually gone?

Today some 120 states, 14 bodies of the United Nations system and 12 other international organizations take part in the Regional Seas Program, which covers 10 regions of the world. It is hard to think of another international forum where Libya will sit down with Israel, the US with Cuba or Iran with Iraq, and agree on a common solution to their collective problems. It is, in effect, an effort to beat the clock without beating ourselves: to preserve the marine environment without putting a stranglehold on economic and social development.

When setting up UNEP in 1972, the founding governments gave it a “catalytic and coordinating role” in environmental protection and fixed the health of the oceans as one of its priority concerns. The years since Stockholm have only increased the importance of the Regional Seas Program as an alarm bell for dangers to the marine environment. A UNEP-commissioned review of the Regional Seas Program summed up the situation: “Although there is still an interest in levels of contamination in the open ocean and in major oceanic processes, the danger of the open ocean becoming severely polluted is now considered to be less acute, and it is evident that existing problems, and the first effects of new ones, are most likely to arise in waters close to land” (4).

The report added: “Attention is therefore being concentrated on protecting the health of the coastal waters, especially in enclosed and semi-enclosed seas.”

There has also been a change over the years in ecologists’ attitudes towards protecting the resources of the seas and oceans, as the analysts of the Regional Seas Program point out: “The application of environmentally sound management practices in coastal and maritime activities is now accepted as the key to safeguarding the marine environment” (5).

Since the 1975 Mediterranean Action Plan, UNEP has launched an average of one a year: the Red Sea (drawn up in 1976, with a revised version approved in 1982), the Kuwait Region (adopted 1978), the Wider Caribbean (1981), West and Central Africa (1981), the East Asian Seas (1981), the South-East Pacific (1981) and the South-West Pacific (1982) (see Figure 1).

The East African Region Action Plan is expected to be adopted in early 1984. An Action Plan for the South-West Atlantic is still “at an early stage” (4).

The 20 countries in the West and Central African Program, adopting their Action Plan, also approved a resolution giving naval vessels “a right of hot pursuit” to chase oil tankers that clean their bilges in the sea and then run to another country’s coastal waters to escape retribution (6). However feasible this proves in practice, the resolution does create a legal basis for catching offenders and serves as a warning to polluting vessels.

The Mediterranean Governments started with agreements to limit dumping from ships or aircraft and to promote emergency cooperation in combatting oil pollution and other harmful substances. Since then, they have dug deeper into the nitty-gritty of environmental protection through commitments against pollution from land-based sources (1980), expected to cost them $10 to $15 billion, and pledges

to set up specially protected areas (1982).

Government experts are due to start negotiations this year on a protocol to limit pollution from exploration and exploita­tion of the seabed, including the Mediterranean’s Continental Shelf.

Since 1974 the Regional Seas Program has steadily expanded its net to cover almost the whole globe. Through this Pro­gram, UNEP has succeeded where similar attempts at international standard-setting have largely failed. These parallel efforts have only highlighted the skill with which the Program has avoided the reefs and shallows on which it could so easily have foundered.

The Law of the Sea Treaty, produced by the longest running diplomatic conference in history, was a cliff-hanger until the last minute and still failed to win support from the United States, the nation with the most advanced technology for exploiting the mineral riches of the seabed- the key issue on which the negotiators had been seeking international agreement. A UN program called Global Investigation of Pollution of the Marine Environment (GIPME), launched in the early 1970s, has been un­able to gain much direct support, except in areas like the North Atlantic where inves­tigations were already underway.


The Regional Seas Program is unique in that it has evolved a framework that can be transferred successfully from one region to another, while still tailoring environmental activities to the needs and priorities of greatly differing regions.

The other cornerstone of its success has been the determination to involve Govern­ments at the earliest possible stages in Re­gional Action Plans, thereby providing the scientific key to sound decision-making by mandating a list of priority and secondary activities for environmental assessment and management. National institutions nominated by their respective Govern­ments carry out the actual work of the various programs under the overall author­ity of the Governments concerned.

The UN administrative hand lies lightly on the Governments participating in the Regional Seas Program. UNEP acts as the secretariat for only five Conventions. The objective is to make all the Action Plans financially self-supporting, following the UNEP-funded pilot phase. After steering the Mediterranean program through its early years, UNEP has gradually handed over responsibility for its oldest and most advanced Regional Seas program to the 17 participating Governments.

The Kuwait Region Action Plan, adopted in 1978, is already essentially in­dependent of UNEP.

Scientific checks and balances ensure the comparability of data used in manage­ment decisions for regional seas programs. This system has already produced results. The coordinated research program orga­nized to monitor pollution in the Medi­terranean, MEDPOL, found that some of the coastal states had been setting, if not applying, more stringent standards than required for mercury levels in fish and bac­teria in recreational and shellfish-growing waters (4).

The pilot phase of MEDPOL involved more than 80 national research centers in 16 Mediterranean States. The projects, whose results were evaluated last year, have been mainly baseline studies. A MEDPOL survey was used in negotiating the Mediterranean Protocol against Pollu­tion from Land-Based Sources -- the origin of an estimated 85 percent of all pollution reaching the Mediterranean Sea.

MEDPOL-PHASE 11(1981 - 1991) will monitor pollution sources, coastal areas in­cluding estuaries, offshore reference areas, and atmospheric transport of pollutants.


The weaknesses of the Regional Seas Program seem to spring essentially from the sources of its success. The UNEP-com­missioned review of the Program conclu­ded: “In many regions the level of expertise and facilities available for the actual imple­mentation and conduct of the agreed ac­tion plans is limited” (4). Efforts to raise national scientific standards had to continue if the regional seas action plans were to be fulfilled, the review advised.

The review added: “A clear deficiency in all regional programs, even those in­volving developed countries exclusively, is the scarcity of information available on in­puts of pollutants to the oceans from all sources except dumping and operational or accidental discharges of oil from ships.”

Most regions still lacked comprehensive analyses of their major environmental problems, while a report on the state of the regional marine environment has been produced only for the Mediterranean (8).

These shortcomings may, as the review suggests, have arisen because “in many cases, an entirely new type of cooperation is involved and new activities are required in geographical areas with often limited facilities and only weak infrastructures.”

Another problem is that only some sci­entific issues receive extensive publicity. Oil pollution is a case in point. The 1969 North Sea Agreement was the forerunner of the UNEP-sponsored regional Conven­tions on cooperation in combatting oil pollution and for the similar Helsinki Con­vention covering the Baltic Sea. This had its roots in the alarm over the wreck of the 224 000 ton Torrey Canyon oil tanker in 1967 and the resulting threat to French and British coastlines from 120 000 tons of spil­led crude oil. It was later found that the main fatalities in the open sea and in Corn­ish intertidal zones resulted from the “kerosene extract” used as the major dis­persant (9). Marine transport accounts at most for one-third of the total volume of petroleum hydrocarbons entering the ocean (10), and most of that comes from tanker cleaning (11). Coastal refineries, whose refined products are much more persistent, pose a much greater long-term threat to the marine environment (10). But similar oil tanker disasters in the decade that followed the Torrey Canyon wreck, and the brief flare of popularity among oilmen of the supertanker, skewed the problem, keeping it on the politicians’ leg­islative plates, as well as in the public eye. Regrettably more serious sources of pollu­tion have not received the same attention.

The political realities also produce some notable absentees from the Regional Seas Conventions. Djibouti, a major port, is a non-signatory of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Convention. The United States, whose Texas Gulf is one of the nation’s most industrialized regions, has supported the Caribbean Action Plan but is not mak­ing any pledge to the Trust Fund set up to finance it (12). Apparently, one hand washes another.

Even in the relatively developed Mediterranean Region, Governments have been reluctant to put their money where their mouths have led them. UNEP spent more than eight million dollars on the Mediterranean Action Plan in its first five years. When the time came for Gov­ernments to take over the cash responsibil­ity, they shaved over one quarter off the budget for 198 1 - 1983, finally agreeing on a modest expenditure of $12 million. So far only three countries -- France, Italy and Spain-have been giving over four-fifths of the governmental contributions.

The “frequently unpredictable financial resources (13) available to trust funds for regional activities have caused problems already. Delays in payment for contracted work make other organizations less than keen on taking part in projects. The chronic funding problems of UNEP and the Re­gional Seas Program can also be traced back to schizophrenic government atti­tudes. “Representatives of the same States which in the Governing Council of UNEP call for involvement of other organizations in the Program, do not have the same opinion when attending the governing bodies of these organizations” (13).

The Mediterranean and Kuwait (Gulf) Region are the two richest areas of the Program. Yet late payments meant that badly needed funds for the Mediterranean nearly dried up in 1981-82. The Kuwait Region Trust Fund received $3.8 million of the agreed $5.8 million by February 1981. enough to keep the Action Plan activities going. The Caribbean Program has also been snagged in funding difficulties; rais­ing the $1.5 million from its 23 govern­ments for the initial Trust Fund has proved more difficult than it should be. and the treaty signing ceremony fixed for Novem­ber 1982 in the Dominican Republic had to be put off because of financial troubles in the host country. It was rescheduled for March 1983 in Colombia.

During UNEP’s financial crisis of 1982 -- in one of the busiest years for the Re­gional Seas Program -- the head of the US delegation Mary Elizabeth Hoinkes told UNEP’s Governing Council: “It is a great program, one of UNEP’s most effective and important”. Lorne Clark, director of the Department of External Affairs’ Legal Operations Division of Canada, echoed that sentiment: “Regional Seas is the jewel in UNEP’s crown”. Despite such praise a few months later a Mediterranean region delegate was suggesting that UNEP get a bank loan to keep activities afloat (14).

UNEP may be winning its race against time in the Regional Seas Program but it would be ironic if the Governments that have specifically committed themselves to long-term environmental action programs, suddenly decided to hock the “crown jewels” for the sake of a short-term finan­cial balancing act.

Ultimately, this is the number one problem. UNEP cannot do more than its mod­est budget permits. And the Regional Seas Program is still tied to what some fear will turn out to be a “sinking ship”. UNEP’s already tight budget is constantly being chipped away by contributing governments and inflation -- affecting good programs as well as bad ones.

The continuing success of the Regional Seas concept, however, is a strong bargain­ing chip, especially with prospective donors and governments. The Programs have achieved results, results that are being used to make important decisions about the future of marine resources shared in common. The following short overviews provide a concise look at where each of UNEP’s 10 Regional Seas Pro­grams is at in the race against time.



Between 1964 and 1974 the population of the 18 coastal states washed by the Mediterranean increased by 50 million, with the highest growth rates concentrated along wafer-thin coastlines. Some 100 mil­lion people now make a livelihood along Homer’s wine dark sea, while another 100 million tourists visit its shores each year. The cradle of Western civilization now suf­fers pollution stress of every conceivable variety. Some 120 coastal cities pump municipal sewage into its waters; 80 per­cent of it either untreated, or inadequately treated. These and other land-based pollu­tants constitute about 85 percent of all pollution entering the sea. They include mercury, lead, pesticides, used motor oil, non-biodegradable detergents, and radio­active and carcinogenic substances (8). (For a complete overview of the Mediterranean’s pollution problems see AMBLO No. 6, 1977.)

The Mediterranean has some 500 spe­cies of fish, nearly 100 of them virtually restricted to that sea. The annual catch, however, is only about one sixtieth of the world total, but the high prices fetched by fresh fish means that the 830 000 metric tons caught in 1977 were worth $1.3 billion.

The Mediterranean region’s increased food production has come from extending cultivation into new, marginal lands rather than increasing production per hectare. The results have been high losses of arable soil, salinity and water logging on newly irrigated lands, and growing conflicts between competing demands for freshwater.

The main pollution problems in coastal areas are caused by domestic sewage and industrial discharges, the use of pesticides in agriculture, and oil pollution from heavy ship traffic.

This was the background to the pioneer­ing 1976 Barcelona Convention on protecting the Mediterranean Sea against pollu­tion. The two detailed protocols signed at the same time as the umbrella agreement have been followed by two others, and a fifth is due for negotiation in 1983.

The first protocol giving the Barcelona Convention “legal teeth” forbids dumping of dangerous substances. The “black list” of banned chemicals includes mercury, cadmium, DDT, PCBs, some plastics, used lubricating oils and radioactive wastes. A “gray list” of somewhat less nox­ious materials was placed under precise controls. The list included lead, zinc, cop­per, arsenic, cobalt, silver, cyanide, fluorides and pathogenic micro-organisms.

The second protocol committed States to cooperate in dealing with accidents or other emergencies that result in the dis­charge of large amounts of oil or other harmful substances into the sea. A Region­al Oil Combatting Center was set up in Malta in 1976 to act as a communications unit and to coordinate contingency plans.

In 1980, 12 states and the European Community (EC) signed the Program’s most ambitious control agreement, the Protocol on Land-Based Sources of Pollu­tion. This, too, had a black and a grey list of substances.

Enforcement lies in the hands of each government, but every two years they will report to each other about measures taken, permits issued, and the level of pollution in their waters.

A long-term monitoring program (MEDPOL) will provide regular data on the state of pollution, indicating whether the control measures are effective.

Implementation of the Land-Based Pollution Protocol is expected to cost the Mediterranean governments $10 to $15 bil­lion over the coming 10-15 years. Ratifica­tion by the required six countries before it can come into force is likely to be achieved during 1983. France and Tunisia -- the most developed and probably the least de­veloped of the Region’s countries, respec­tively, have both ratified the agreement.

But the protocol won quick acceptance because it offered a fair deal for the Mediterranean’s developing countries. It sets water quality targets rather than strict effluent controls on individual sources. The source controls would have penalized the Med’s “south rim” nations which are only now developing their industrial base.

Early in 1982, ahead of expectation, the Mediterranean states approved a protocol to create a network of specially-protected areas to safeguard natural resources. The plan foresees the establishment of some 100 protected zones, compared with the 15 or so marine parks, reserves and other pro­tected areas in the region today. Some zones would protect endangered species such as monk seals, marine turtles and pelicans. Others will serve as habitats for migratory birds. Still others will combine bathing beaches with sites of architectural or historic importance. The protocol also provides for protected zones holding underwater archeological remains and for breeding grounds of commercially valu­able fish and shellfish.

The Mediterranean Action Plan in­cludes all the above, but also sets as a major goal the encouragement of econo­mic development which is compatible with environmental precepts, ie capable of being sustained indefinitely. The theoreti­cal study is known as the Blue Plan, but in addition, under the Priority Actions Pro­gram, field projects have begun to put the theory into practice. These aim at estab­lishing mariculture centers in selected sites along the coast. Another promotes the use of solar and wind energy for water de­salination, distillation and pumping, elec­tricity generation and heating.

This Priority Actions Program, started along with the Blue Plan in 1979, has its center in Split, Yugoslavia. The Blue Plan center is located in Sophia Antipolis on the French Riviera. An additional center in Tunis is to deal with the specially protected areas, while UNEP’s Coordinating Unit for the entire Mediterranean Action Plan recently relocated in Athens.

The participants include: Algeria, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Malta, Monaco, Morocco, Spain, Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, Turkey, Yugoslavia, and the European Community (EC). (Albania is the only Mediterranean coun­try which takes no part in the Regional Seas Program.)


Apparently a new ocean in the first stages of formation, the Red Sea holds unique interest for geologists and biologists. Here are some of the world’s most northerly coral reefs. The sea itself has very high water temperatures and is very salty. Its animal and plant life, with several endemic species, shows a relatively low diversity compared with the flora and fauna of the Indian Ocean. Scientists are also interested in the possible effects of the Suez Canal on species composition in both the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.

As yet, in contrast with the other Regional Seas, it remains comparatively un­polluted and unaffected by population pressures. This may not last. Red Sea cities and industries are growing fast. Oil exploitation, production and shipping have been expanding rapidly and immigrants are crowding into the region to fill jobs. Oil tankers have to navigate through nar­row channels in the extensive coral growth of the Sea’s southern zone. On the sea bed, metal deposits have been discovered with a potential value greater than the re­gion’s petroleum reserves.

Oil pollution from accidental spills and intentional discharges by ships, oil from land-based sources, physical disturbances resulting from dredging and construction operations -- all may place undue stress on marine ecosystems.

Oil transport, offshore exploration and exploitation, port activities and the plan­ned siting of huge industrial complexes in the coastal zone could pose major long-term threats to the Red Sea’s environment.

The 1976 Action Plan, which later be­came known as the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Environment Program (PERSGA), concentrated on training the region’s marine scientists and strengthening marine science institutions through seminars, study tours and workshops.

The remodelled Action Plan, approved in February 1982, reflected the growing concern about the region’s future develop­ment. More comprehensive than the pre­vious Plan, with a basic structure similar to the formula used for other regions, the 1982 Action Plan is unique in putting the primary emphasis on conservation.

The Action Plan has a strong manage­ment chapter, designed to prevent damage to the marine and coastal environment caused by expanding economic and social activities in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

The Plan foresees projects on rational exploitation of living marine resources, public health, coordination of water man­agement policies, development of oil spill contingency plans, drafting of guidelines for coastal area development schemes, training in science and engineering related to environmental protection, and public awareness campaigns.

Seven coastal states of the region, adopting the Action Plan, signed a Con­vention for the Conservation of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Environment, with a protocol for cooperation in combatting pollution emergencies. PERSGA, directed from its Jeddah headquarters by the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scien­tific Organization (ALECSO), serves as the interim secretariat until a Regional Organization is set up. UNEP participates mainly as an adviser, and the International Maritime Organization (IMO, formerly IMCO) has been asked to help in estab­lishing a regional oil spill combatting cen­ter. The program has a $6 million budget for 1982-83.

The participants include: Democratic (Southern) Yemen, Jordan, Palestine (PLO), Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen (Republic).


Small, shallow and almost land-locked, the Arabian or Persian Gulf is one of the world’s most fragile and endangered environments. The Gulf, approximately 1200 kilometers long, averages only 35 meters in depth and varies in width from about 75 to 350 kilometers. Shore waters less than 10 meters deep stretch for many kilometers off-shore.

Eight of the fastest developing countries in the world cluster round the Gulf, but it gets virtually no rain and hardly any freshwater except through the Shatt al-Arab. It is generally assumed that water lost by eva­poration is replaced by seawater through the Straits of Hormuz. This would account for the Gulf’s high salinity, but it also means that pollution is not flushed away to the ocean.

Urban growth has outstripped facilities for sewage and garbage disposal. City populations, swollen by migrants, have doubled in as little as four years and in many countries, nearly all these people live on the coast. Kuwait and Qatar are due to put new sewage systems into operation shortly, but others are not due for completion before the turn of the century. At some sites 75 percent of the sewage goes, untreated, into coastal waters.

Wastes from the Gulf’s booming industries are even more serious a threat. Along the whole coastline investment is esti­mated to be between $20 million and $40 million per kilometer, with 20 major industrial centers under development. Although some individual industries have set their own standards to control pollutant emissions, no states so far have well-established integrated pollution control programmes.

Probably the largest single source of marine pollution has been from giant oil tankers. Before political turmoil in the re­gion, combined with the world oil glut, led to a decline in shipping, tankers throbbed through the Strait of Hormuz at the rate of 100 a day. About 60 percent of all oil car­ried by ships throughout the world -- a billion metric tons a year -- has been exported from this region. Most oil is carried by tankers at least as large as the quarter-million-ton Amoco Cadiz. One recent esti­mate (11) calculated that tankers carrying petroleum from Gulf terminals dump over 988 000 metric tons of oil into the sea each year, through discharges of ballast water from tanks containing petroleum residues.

It is a general practice for tankers to wait, under ballast, outside the Strait of Hormuz for a vacant berth. When this comes free, they unload their ballast water while steaming towards the Strait. Though ballast water contains only a small percentage of oil, perhaps 0.35 to 0.035 percent -- depending on whether the Load on Top (LOT) system is used -- supertankers can still dump a substantial amount into the ocean. P R Golob estimates that the Region has 47 times the average estimated amount of oil pollution for a marine environment of its size, and that transport losses were responsible for over half the total in 1979 (11).

One result is that Oman’s superb beaches on the Arabian Sea -- a potentially prime tourist attraction -- are becoming contaminated with tar. This complaint received some strong support in a survey carried out by the International Labora­tory of Marine Radioactivity in Monaco, (15). It found an average of 22 grams per meter of standing oil tar stocks in a quan­titative beach sampling, with 2325 g/m at the upper limit on Oman’s shoreline.

The eight Governments of the region adopted a Convention and Action Plan in 1978. Two legal instruments were ratified and entered into force in 1980, a remarkably short time by international standards. UNEP acted as interim coordinatoii until the Regional Organization, provided for by the Convention, was established in 1981 in Kuwait. UNEP was asked to continue its association with the Plan by coordinat­ing assistance from United Nations bodies.

The pilot phase, due to end in Decem­ber 1983, includes surveys of environmen­tal problems, baseline studies of pollution and oceanographic studies. A major emphasis has been on making data compa­rable with information generated in other regional programs. To this end, the plan provides for common methods of sampling and analysis, and intercalibration of analytical methods.

The Plan as a whole focusses on oil pollution, industrial wastes, sewage, fisheries resources, and the environmental impact of coastal engineering and mining. It also treats such subjects as public health, fish-farming, marine parks, port pollution, freshwater management, and the development of a mathematical model describing the physical oceanography of the Gulf. The establishment of a Marine Emergency Mutual Aid Center is also underway in Bahrain.

The Gulf countries have established a regional fund for financing activities car­ried out under the Action Plan. At present the fund has pledges of about $12 million with around half already contributed; enough to get the program through 1983.

The participants include: Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.


Diversity -- economic, ecological and cultural -- marks the Caribbean. This assortment of complex and fragile tropical and sub-tropical ecosystems, including 19 islands, has long been divided between the Hispanic cultural group of countries and the separate English, French and Dutch-

speaking states. As a result, communication -- not to mention cooperation -- has been about as rare as a Caribbean dugong.

Most of the Caribbean countries are still poor or in the process of modernizing their wobbling economies. They face a two-headed hydra -- underdevelopment and crushing poverty on one hand coupled to the environmental threats which unplan­ned development can pose on the other. Caribbean ecosystems are beset by a bevy of problems: chemical pollution produced by industry and modern agricultural prac­tices, silt from dredge and fill operations as well as poor land management, and wastes from coastal cities and tourist centers. Shrimp fisheries in the productive coastal areas are important for many Caribbean countries, but these are also the regions where development is concentrated (10). (For a complete overview of the Caribbean’s environmental problems see AMBIO No. 6, 1981.)

The Caribbean is also likely to become one of the world’s largest oil-producing areas. About five million barrels of oil are transported through the region every day, and there are periodic spills including the world’s largest oil spill to date -- the IX­TOC 1 blowout in 1979 that discharged 475 000 metric tons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico (16). An estimated 76.6 million barrels of oil were released into Caribbean waters from offshore rigs in 1978. Oily discharges from tank washings add as much as seven million barrels a yeai to this already inflated figure (17).

Two of the most important ecosystems from the human point of view, are coral reefs and mangrove swamps. Coral reefs and the diverse life which they support are menaced by collectors, careless boaters, siltation, and chemical runoff from agri­cultural pesticides and fertilizers. Mangroves, the nursery grounds for fish, shell­fish and crustaceans, are threatened with deliberate destruction as people build marinas, beaches and hotels. Seabed grass, which provides the habitat and nutrients for a specialized community of associated organisms, also appears especially vulnerable to pollution.

Their destruction would be damaging to the Caribbean environment for other reasons too. Coral reefs protect the main­land against storms and currents and de­fend islands against erosion. Mangrove swamps, which also reduce tidal currents, promote silt and mud deposition, further fortifying the coastline against erosion. Mangroves also contribute directly to the food web through their decomposing leaves, while seagrass beds fulfill an important role in consolidating sediments.

The Caribbean Action Plan required small, poor, developing countries like Grenada and Haiti to sit down and agree on a regional environmental program with rapidly industrializing, larger states such as Mexico and Cuba, and industrial giants like the United States. But for all their striking diversity, the countries of the Wider Caribbean share a common body of water and are exposed to many of the same natural and man-made hazards.

The Action Plan, approved by 23 of the 28 Caribbean states, territories and islands in 1981, was recognized as a landmark in regional cooperation, expecially given their historic differences. The Plan, con­centrating on sound environmental man­agement practices, would also be a major achievement for the region if carried out. From a list of 66 projects, the Caribbean states selected eight for immediate action in the initial phase because of their urgency. These include: watershed manage­ment, oil spill control, public awareness campaigns and environmental impact assessments. A $1.5 million trust fund was approved for 1982-83 to get the Program started. UNEP will contribute $1.38 million in addition to the $1.5 million hoped to be raised by the Caribbean states. The remaining five million dollars -- making a total of $8.2 million dollars for the program’s early years -- is to come from governments and development or aid orga­nizations. Work on the first eight projects began last year, while government­appointed scientific and legal experts have selected another 25 “high priority” activities of common interest among the 66 in the Plan.

Negotiations for a framework Convention and a Protocol on Cooperation in Combatting Oil Spills will be concluded at a conference of plenipotentiaries planned for Cartagena, Colombia in March 1983. The Participants include: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, France, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Netherlands, Nether-land Antilles, Nicaragua, Panama, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, United States, and Venezuela.


This Region was defined according to the coastal states involved in the program. In­itially centering on the Gulf of Guinea, it was finally expanded to cover the marine and coastal environment from Mauritania to Namibia. These 20 countries face com­mon problems of oil pollution, discharges from developing industries, and wastes from inland sources such as sewage and agricultural run-off. Coastal engineering projects -- harbors, piers and large-scale land reclamation -- cause widespread coast­al erosion with irreversible destruction of beaches, marshes and lagoons. Ships travelling in the offshore corridor from the Indian Ocean to Europe leave a wake of oily bilge on African beaches. Domestic sewage and industrial effluents from coastal cities create local hazards to the health of coastal populations and artisanal fisheries.

Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, and Sierra Leone were absent from the conference which approved the 1981 West and Central African Con­vention for Co-operation in Protection and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment. The meeting also adopted a protocol committing them to co-operate in fighting pollution emergencies. The pro­tocol specifically mentions six kinds of pollution: discharge from ships, pollution from land-based sources, pollution from exploration and exploitation of the sea­bed, atmospheric pollution, and coastal erosion (6).

Like the Barcelona (Mediterranean) and Kuwait (Gulf) Conventions, the Abi­djan Convention foresees additional protocols elaborating more detailed obligations for control of pollution and the man­agement of resources.

So far it has been signed by 19 states. It enters into force once ratified by six states, but this is expected to take about two years.

The African states have pledged $2.5 million for 1982-83, with over half a million from Nigeria (the biggest single contri­butor). UNEP is to contribute $1.4 million.

The Convention preamble stresses the scarcity of scientific information on marine pollution in the region, and projects chosen to receive top priority in the Action Plan include monitoring of selected pollu­tants. The other priority activities in the initial development phase of regional activ­ities are contingency planning for environ­mental emergencies, control of coastal erosion, and support for technical training and legislation.

The participants include: Angola, Be­ni Cameroon, Cape Verde, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mauritania, Nigeria, São Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo and Zaire.


Originally planned with a huge geographical reach, including states bordering the Bay of Bengal, South China Sea, East China Sea, the Indonesian Archipelago’s coastal waters and northern Australia, the Action Plan adopted in 1981 covers only the marine environment and coastal areas of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singa­pore and Thailand. The East Asian Seas Program therefore adopted a sub-regional approach, with the five countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) taking the lead in the Action Plan’s early stages.

The Region’s most pressing problems are oil pollution from offshore and on­shore activities and from tanker traffic, coral reef destruction from blast fishing, destruction of mangrove swamps by fish pond operators and loggers, and sewage pollution in shell-fishing areas (18).

The priority projects of the Action Plan in its initial phase during 1982-3 cover all these issues and deal with basic oceanogra­phy to assess the effects of human activities on the marine environment, control of coastal pollution, protection of mangroves and coral reefs, and waste management. Implementation of the projects began in 1982.

Development of the Action Plan, first drafted in 1979, involved an unusually long preparatory phase so that the results of several initial pilot projects could be incorporated into the Plan.

At their December 1981 meeting, the five countries agreed to contribute $172 000 towards the Action Plan for the coming two years, in order to provide matching funds for UNEP’s financial contribution.

In approving the Plan, they also stated explicitly that the program’s initial geographic coverage is “without prejudice to its future extension” to all of the East Asian Seas coastal states. If successful, the Plan is expected to act as a nucleus for development of a wider program in the area.

The Plan does not provide for a Region­al Convention or protocols at this stage.

The participants include: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand.


The region stretches the entire length of the Pacific coast of South America from Panama to Cape Horn. It moves through tropical, sub-tropical, temperate and sub­antarctic systems, but the five countries are linked by the Peruvian Humboldt Current, and their ties to the sea have been close throughout history (19). A 200-mile belt marks the boundaries of the current, enclosing one of the globe’s richest fishing grounds.

The major environmental problems afflicting South America’s west coast in­clude: mineral pollution in large ports, sewage near big cities, food processing wastes, and oil pollution. Excluding Panama’s very large oil tanker force, the other four states have modest tanker fleets totalling only one million metric tons.

The Action Plan adopted in November 1981 capped six years of preparatory work by UNEP and the Permanent Commission for the South Pacific (CPPS). The meeting adopted a Convention for Protection of the Marine Environment and Coastal Areas. The states also signed an agreement on regional cooperation in pollution emergencies. The Action Plan calls for pollution monitoring and research, with controls through appropriate management techniques.

A meeting is scheduled for Quito, Ecuador, this June, when it is hoped Governments will adopt a Protocol on land-based sources of pollution and a com­plementary protocol to control pollution in cases of emergency. A program is also being drawn up to co-ordinate monitoring of waste from domestic, agricultural and industrial sources in the region. A series of base-line ecological studies will also be proposed to investigate the effect of heavy metals, some organic elements and pollu­tion on selected marine communities which inhabit coastal areas that deserve special environmental protection. A draft contingency plan for emergency coopera­tion against pollution is also being elaborated.

The CPPS acts as the secretariat of the Action Plan and the Lima Convention.

The participants include: Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Panama and Peru.


The sea is vital to the life and hopes of the people in the 21 states and territories of the South-West Pacific. The South-West Pacific Ocean is their major source of food; and their highway for transporting goods and people. The sea also affords these diverse island states further opportunities for exploiting minerals and providing unblemished recreational areas attractive to long-distance overseas tourists. The islands cover only 600 000 square kilometers, surrounded by 20 million square kilometers of ocean, counting only the area within 200-mile limits (20).

The culture of the Pacific peoples has traditionally emphasized wise environmental management, but industrialization, urbanization and unprecedented population growth are putting new stresses on their environment. The major environmental problems involve management of limited natural resources, both terrestrial and marine, and the avoidance of undesir­able environmental impacts from both new and existing development schemes.

A Conference on the Human Environ­ment in the South Pacific adopted the Action Plan after 18 states had drawn up country reports (21). The Plan provides for further assessment of the state of the en­vironment in the region, improved nation­al legislation and regional agreements on environmental issues, and development of management methods suited to the needs of the region. Another component strength­ens national and regional capabilities and institutional arrangements in a region with limited scientific environmental expertise or infrastructure.

The 21 states also signed a 14-point Declaration on Natural Resources and the En­vironment (22). This stressed rational management and conservation objectives, but included two paragraphs on controlling radioactive discharges. “The storage and release of nuclear wastes in the Pacific re­gional environment shall be prevented,” the Declaration stated. “The testing of nuclear devices against the wishes of the majority of the people in the region will not be permitted.”

The development of the Action Plan and its coordination is in the hands of four organizations: the South Pacific Commis­sion (SPC), the South Pacific Bureau for Economic Cooperation (SPEC), the Eco­nomic and Social Council for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and UNEP, with SPC acting as the Secretariat. UNEP provides the bulk of the funds for the initial stages of the program.

As one of the first follow-up activities, a meeting of experts was convened in Numea, New Caledonia in January to be­gin negotiations on three legal instruments -- an umbrella convention, a protocol on the prevention of dumping and another on combatting oil pollution emergencies. In order to facilitate discussion on the technical aspects, the coordinating group has commissioned two studies: a review of artificial and natural radioactivity in the South Pacific and a review of storing and dumping of hazardous waste in the region.

The participants include: American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Kiribati, Nauru, New Caledonia, Niue, Norfolk Island, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn Island, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Wal­lis and Futuna, and Western Samoa.


This Region includes nine states: Comoros, France (for Reunion), Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Somalia and Tanzania. Coral reefs fringe the narrow continental shelf along the East African coast and the inter-reef areas provide important fishing grounds for trawlers. The Indian Ocean contains 3000 to 4000 species of shore fish, and the beaches of East Africa are considered among the richest in tropical marine life. Extensive mangrove swamps provide the region with many commercial species, including oysters, the mangrove crab and mullet. The system serves as a nursery ground for penaed shrimp.

Oil tanker traffic is particularly heavy. Approximately 475 million metric tons of oil are transported through the Region every year. It has been calculated that on any given day there are as many as 224 tankers in the Region, 48 of them Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) of the Amoco Cadiz size.

East Africa became part of the Regional Seas Program in April 1980. Late in 1981 an exploratory mission visited the eight countries to sound out governments on an action plan.

The experts found oil pollution throughout the region, large-scale erosion, and evidence of land-based pollution from fertilizers and untreated sewage (23). Some coral reefs have been destroyed by fishing with dynamite and poison, although these methods have been outlawed in Kenya and Tanzania. Reefs are also hammered down to provide gift shops with tourist trinkets or for lime used in building homes. Man-groves are destroyed for building material or firewood. Marshes have been considered so unimportant by local inhabitants that no one hesitates to destroy them.

Some species of marine animals are already endangered as a result of human activities, particularly the dugong or manatee, which is often caught in fishing nets and drowned. Marine turtles continue to decrease in numbers as their eggs are poached and the adults are killed for their meat and decorative shells.

On the basis of the fact-finding mission’s results (24), a regional workshop on environmental problems convened by UNEP in the Seychelles in September 1982 (25) prepared a draft Action Plan for consideration by the respective governments. It is expected that the final plan will be adopted in early 1984, together with a Regional Convention with Protocols on cooperation in combatting pollution in cases of emergency and on specially protected areas and endangered species.


UNEP’s Governing Council in April 1980 recommended drawing up an Action Plan for the region, tentatively designated as the coastal areas of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. A marine pollution workshop organized in Montevideo by the Inter­governmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO considered background material on the region’s environmental problems. The first scheduled step is an exploratory mission. A draft Action Plan, it is hoped, will be ready for adoption by the end of 1984.

References and Notes

1.     For a summary of the situation and a controversial series of projections into the future, see the Global 2000 Report to the President, prepared by US scientists; GESAMP, has prepared a massive report on the ocean environment, The Health of the Oceans, (UNEP Regional Seas Reports and Stud­ies no. 16, 1982.)

2.     Ibid. The Global 2000 Report is particularly bleak on the future of fishing and its potential to provide mankind with more food.

3:     Peter Thacher, UNEP Deputy Executive Director, in A Master Plan for the Watery Planet, a special supplement on the Regional Seas Program published by UNITERRA, in 1981, p 6.

4.     The review, known as the Portmann report after its main author, is entitled UNEP: Achievements and Planned development of UNEP’s Regional Seas Program and comparable programs sponsored by other bodies, UNEP Regional Seas Reports and Studies No. 1. (UNEP, 1982). Citation from introduction.

5.     Report of the meeting of Government experts on Regional Marine Programs, UNEP/WG 63/4, January 29, 1982.

6.     Conference of Plenipotentiarics on Cooperation in the Protection and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the West and Central African Region. Final Act. UNEP/IG 22/7 March 31. 1981.

7.     Man and The Baltic, Finnish Baltic Sea Committee, 1977.

8.     Preliminary Report on the State of Pollution of the Mediterranean Sea, UNEP/IG 11/INF 4, 1977; see also Op cit 1.

9.     See A J and F C Southward, Journal of Fisheries Resources, Canada 35, 682 (1978).

10.   Development and Environment in the Wider Caribbean: A Synthesis; UNEP/CEPAL/WG 48/Inf 4 1980, p 16.

11.   R Golob, StatisticalAnalysis of Oil Pollution in the Kuwait Action Plan Region and the Implications of Selected Oil Spills Worldwide to the Region, KAP. WS/1/2, 1980.

12.   Intergovernmental Meeting on the Action Plan for the Caribbean Environment Program, UNEP/ CEPAL IG 27/3, April 16, 1981.

13.   Op cit 4.

14.   Proposals for Alternative Arrangements for the Management of the Mediterranean Action Plan, UNEP/IG 36/6, January 4, 1982.

15.   For a comprehensive review, see Ambios Special Issue on the Caribbean, 10, No. 6, 1981.

16.   Oil Spill Intelligence Report, 3, No 1, January 4, 1980.

17.   The Calypso Log, 1980.

18.   Edgardo Gomez in an interview, The Siren, winter 1981, pp 8-10.

19.   Interview with Juan Miguel Bakula, The Siren, fall 1980, pp 4- 6.

20.   Interview with Arthur Dahl, The Siren, fall 1981, pp 8-11.

21.   A report of the meeting is found in Conference on the Human Environment in the South Pacific (South Pacific Commission, Noumea, New Caledonia, 466/82, March 1982).

22.   Ibid, Annex 1.

23.   Interviews with mission team, The Siren, winter, 1982, pp 6-11.

24.   Environmental Problems of the East African Region, UNEP Regional Seas Reports and Studies series No. 12, UNEP, 1982.

25.   Report of the Workshop on the Protection and De­velopment of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the East African Region, UNEP/WG 77/44, October 5, 1982.

Ambio Vol. 12 No. 1, 1983, pp2-13