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A Strategy for the Seas


In the decade since the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (Stockholm, 5-16 June 1972), the United Nations Environment Programme has made its Regional Seas Programme an indispensable part of the international environmental scene. It has stimulated the adoption by participating Governments of a series of unique legal agreements designed to protect shared environmental interests. Its monitoring and assessment programmes have provided a scientific basis for determination of regional priorities and policies. And the sound environmental management promoted by UNEP has come to offer our best hope of protecting marine life and coastal resources in areas threatened by hasty and ill-conceived development. The fate of the Regional Seas Programme rests ultimately in the hands of Governments. UNEP can co-ordinate activities but it is up to Governments to carry out the pledges they make. That, as with most questions of environmental protection and management, requires a continuing commitment, and is likely to remain an unfinished story.

My thanks go to Dr. Stjepan Keckes, Director of the Regional Seas Programme Activity Centre, for encouragement and advice, to his staff for information and assistance, and to Ms Jacqueline Tawil for her editorial contribution in producing this booklet.

peter hulm

Geneva, 12 April 1983


Why a strategy for the seas? For an answer we need look no further than the Mediterranean. The pollution of its waters led many to fear that this age-old crossroads of civilization could be dying, that its regenerative powers had been so abused they would simply collapse. French marine explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau was one of the first to sound the alarm and awaken more than the scientific community to the dangers of pollution for all the countries around the Mediterranean Sea.

In the words of Dr. Mostafa K. Tolba, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and an Egyptian microbiologist:

"The Mediterranean, once a symbol of the sea's beneficial impact on man, has now become a symbol of man's destructive impact upon it."

"The Mediterranean," he said, "is under attack from pollution from land and sea, and from unsustainable demands of tourists who visit the area by the million every year, from over-fishing ‑ in short, from development that destroys."

Destructive development is by no means unique to the Mediterranean, but over the past decade the world's nations have become more conscious of the dangers they face from misusing the planet's resources.

Luckily, few of the world's seas are under as much stress from human activities as the Mediterranean. In many regions Governments are acting preventively to make sure that they do not face the Mediterranean's problems of uncontrolled development.

The story of this growing awareness and expanding commitment to rational management of our marine resources is the story of UNEP’s Regional Seas Programme.


The earth we abuse and the living things we kill will, in the end, take their revenge, for in exploiting their presence we are diminishing our future. -- Marya Mannes, “More in Anger”

Pollution and its causes

From the Mediterranean to the Seychelles, from the Caribbean to West Africa, holidaymakers have found their favourite beaches cloaked in oil and tar. The culprits? Often the vacationers themselves -- you and I -- indirectly, at least.

Few people in the developed world would be willing to renounce the standard of living achieved through relatively cheap fuel and petroleum-based synthetics, drugs, fertilizers and insecticides.

Oil spills

As in the past, ships remain the cheapest form of long-haul transport. So tankers in their thousands ply the world’s oil routes to keep people in the industrialized nations in the style to which they have become accustomed; and every now and then a holiday beach clogss with tanker discharges, spillages and sometimes a whole cargo of oil if a ship runs aground.

As an oil slick spreads and tar-blackeneddsf birds are washed dying onto the sands, it is perhaps too much to expect a tourist whose holiday plans have been ruined to reflect: “I am partly to blame.” A more probably reaction is a hasty departure towards some still untainted stretch of coastline.

Untreated wastes

The visitor has a choice. Most people do not. “High season” can be a perfectly accurate description of a resort when peak holiday business overloads the sewage system. But most of our wastes -- from homes, factories and farms -- flow untreated, via our rivers and drains, into the world’s coastal waters.

Pollution and its consequences

The results of such pollution include contaminated drinking water, filthy coastlines, severe local damage to fisheries -- and worse. In contrast to oil tars, much of this pollution is invisible. Nineteen people in the Italian city of Naples died from cholera in 1973 during an epidemic blamed on contaminated mussels.

Why save our coasts?

Keeping our coastal waters safe is important: so many of us depend on their continued health. Seven out of 10 people around the globe live within 80 kilometres (50 miles) of the coast. Almost half the world’s cities with a population of over one million are sited in and around the tide-washed river mouths known as estuaries.

One reason for their popularity is obvious: coastal zones provide all but 10 percent of the world’s fishing catch. In many countries fish are the major source of animal protein, accounting for 55 percent in Asia, for example.

Dependent on the sea

Even from a strictly predatory viewpoint, we have an interest in preserving life in the sea zones near the coast. It is where we find most of the 20,000 known varieties of fish, the 30,000 species of mollusc and almost all the crustaceans. Apart from ourselves, many birds and animals rely on the sea’s coastal harvest.

Yet industrial wastes and agricultural run-off were estimated to have caused 70 percent of fish kills in the United States in 1969. Sludge from domestic sewers has almost completely stifled once-productive and valuable shellfish beds in the waters near several North American cities.

Coastal zones, however, are precisely where human beings put most pressure on the marine environment. We use the coastal areas for our settlements, as our food store, as a playground and our garbage dump. It has been calculated that something less than 10 percent of all the material entering coastal waters reaches the open ocean. The rest remains, for good or ill, in the coastal sediment.

Friends and neighbours

The problem is to find the balance. How dangerous is an oil spill? The current scientific opinion is that most marine life recovers within weeks. It seems birds and intertidal organisms are most at risk, and fish stocks relatively free from danger.

But what should we do about our wastes? They have to go somewhere. How poisonous are they? We have to consider our neighbours as well as ourselves: DDT traces have been found far from anywhere the pesticide has been used, in Antarctic penguins and Arctic seals. As yet there are no reports of any harmful effects on human beings. By contrast, scores of people in the Japanese village of Minamata died when they ate fish contaminated by the wastes from a nearby industrial plant.

People and problems

How fast can we develop without endangering the environment, the life around us and ourselves? It is not just a question of industrial development. The world population today is about six times higher than it was 200 years ago on the eve of the Industrial Revolution. All these people need to be housed, fed, kept healthy if possible, and employed. A hungry family can hardly be expected to put wildlife conservation at the top of its priorities.

The paradox of progress

There is no escaping the environmental paradox that life on earth depends on its most fragile systems. Coral reefs and tropical rain forests—the world’s storehouse of animal and plant diversity—are among the most threatened habitats, endangered by humanity’s economic myopia and thoughtlessness. Mangrove swamps have been cleared by developers and estuaries heedlessly polluted, though they act as nurseries for many important species. The tides and currents that make coastal waters the ocean’s most biologically productive regions also render them exceptionally vulnerable to pollution.

Rational conservation

To be sure that we are living in balance with the environment, we first need to know how bad the pollution is: how much we produce and how toxic its effects. We need to learn how to manage our environment to make sustained use of its resources and how best to legislate to protect these resources. Any rational conservation programme must provide for both scientific assessment of the problems and environmental management; and this can be achieved effectively only through international co-operation.

Joint problems

Environmental problems rarely affect one nation alone, particularly in coastal areas and the marine environment. Each country’s pollution, whether from land or offshore, can degrade the environment of neighbouring States. Within a region fishing grounds are normally shared by several nations.

Most of the seas’ environmental problems show up in coastal waters and are often specific for a particular region. Therefore, as UNEP planners saw, regional co-operation is needed to protect the coastal environment and the sea’s resources, whether the problems are oil spills, pollution from land or destruction of animal habitats under pressure from human settlements.

Unequal development

Again, take the problem of pollution from land-based sources such as industrial waste, municipal sewage and agricultural run-off. Together they account for four-fifths of all pollution reaching coastal waters. In the present unequal state of world development -- where highly industrialized nations can contend with dirt-poor agricultural countries for the same markets -- it would appear impossible to unite all countries in a global programme to control such pollution.

Common interest

Within individual regions it has proved feasible. Governments can see clearly their common interest in holding down such hazards to the marine environment when they all share the same water resources.


The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past and every sinner has a future. -- Oscar Wilde

Stockholm Conference

UNEP’s spiritual father was the 1972 Conference on the Human Environment, organized in Stockholm by the United Nations. The Stockholm Conference underlined the “vital importance for humanity of the seas and all the living organisms which the oceans support.”

UNEP founded

The United Nations General Assembly created UNEP by a resolution on December 15 of that year and UNEP’s first Governing Council session set the health of the oceans as one of the priority concerns. Since 1973 priorities have changed, but oceans have always remained among the (now seven) major areas of concern.

Regional approach

In its Action Plan of 109 recommendations, the Stockholm Conference also stressed the need for regional co-ordination in controlling pollution of the seas. Recommendation 92 said Governments should take “effective national measures for the control of all significant sources of marine pollution, including land-based sources, and concert and co-ordinate their actions regionally and where appropriate on a wider international basis.

First major activity

UNEP’s Governing Council endorsed the regional approach to controlling marine pollution several times before UNEP started its Regional Seas Programme in 1974. In its first major regional activity, UNEP brought together a task force of scientists and officials to shape a plan of action for the Mediterranean, adopted in its final form at Barcelona in February, 1975.

The Regional Seas

UNEP decided at first to concentrate on four regions: the Mediterranean, the Kuwait (Gulf) Region, the Caribbean and West Africa. Over the next five years UNEP added four more regions: the East Asian Seas, the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, the South-East Pacific and the South Pacific. In 1980 the Governing Council expanded the programme to include East Africa and the South-West Atlantic. Consultations are under way to initiate a programme for the South Asian Seas as well.

International co-operation

There are now 10 Regional Seas, involving 120 States, 14 United Nations agencies and 12 other international organizations in UNEP’s efforts to protect the marine environment in these regions. A Regional Seas Programme Activity Centre, set up in Geneva in 1977, co-ordinates the work carried out under the Programme.


Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed. -- Francis Bacon

UNEP strategy

For each region UNEP has adopted a similar strategy aimed at tackling the causes as well as the consequences of environmental damage in coastal areas.

This strategy encompasses:

·         an Action Plan setting out activities for scientific research and co-operation, including assessment and management;

·         a legally binding Convention embodying general commitments;

·         technical and specific Protocols to deal with individual issues such as dumping, co-operation in pollution emergencies, land-based pollution sources, and conservation;

·         financial and institutional arrangements that provide the back-up for the other three parts.

Getting all this together can take several years. The latest Mediterranean protocol, to establish protected areas, was signed in March, 1982, seven years after the Action Plan was adopted.

Invited to act

UNEP acts only at the invitation of Governments in putting together a regional programme and involves Governments from the beginning in formulating an action plan. Once the plan is adopted, national institutions including marine laboratories are nominated by their Governments to implement the programme.

Regional responsibility

UNEP and other international and regional organizations provide the seed money for the programme. As a programme develops, it is expected that Governments in the various regions will take over financial responsibility. Financially, the programme for the Kuwait Region and the Mediterranean activities are already both essentially independent of UNEP.

Four pillars

Regional Seas Action Plans usually contain four parts: assessment, environmental management, legislation, and support measures.


In these interdependent areas of activity, first priority goes to assessment and evaluation of the sources, amounts and effects of pollutants, the state of living and material resources, and analysis of development practices which make a direct or indirect impact on the environment. The results are designed to help national policymakers in managing their natural resources in an effective and sustainable manner: development without destruction is the motto here.


Environmental management projects aim to help managers improve their ability to make decisions on their own and to develop integrated plans for coastal area development. These can include projects on rational exploitation of living marine resources (as in the Mediterranean), co-operation in cases of oil spills (Kuwait Region and the Mediterranean), management of watersheds (Caribbean), and control of coastal erosion (West and Central Africa).


The legislative section includes the regional conventions and protocols, often adopted at the same time as the Action Plans, or within a year or two. The plans can also help Governments bring their national legislation on the environment and natural resources into line with regional partners.

Support measures

Even in the Mediterranean Programme the Member States are mainly developing countries. So support measures are usually required to enable all countries in a region to take part fully in an action plan. Scientists and policymakers may require technical assistance. Marine laboratories may need help to install fairly sophisticated equipment. Supervision may also be needed to ensure information gathered is standardised and comparable - an objective of prime importance to UNEP.

Global programme

The programmes’s aim is to enable national institutions to eventually take over responsibility for even the most technically demanding aspects of an action plan. At the same time, common elements are closely co-ordinated and will eventually lead to a global ocean programme; so UNEP is keen to obtain internationally as well as regionally usable data.

Not covered

Some major waters are not covered by the Programme: the northern Asian Seas, the Baltic, the North Atlantic and the Antarctic. Nor does the Regional Seas Programme concern itself directly with fisheries. These are usually controlled through separate fishing councils.

The North Atlantic and the Baltic have their own organizations outside UNEP, while the major seas project in the southern polar region is the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.


The sea is your mirror: it reflects your soul. -- Baudelaire

Miniature ocean

A miniature ocean bordered by 120 cities with a coastal population of at least 100 million, the virtually enclosed waters we call the Mediterranean Sea have been the well-beaten crossroads of European, Asian and African civilizations for at least 4,000 years of recorded history.

But even today an estimated 80 percent of municipal waste dumped into the Mediterranean floods in untreated or inadequately processed. Apart from municipal sewage, pollutants from land-based sources have included mercury, lead, pesticides, used motor oil, non-biodegradable detergents and radioactive and cancer-causing substances.

Between 20 and 40 percent of the world’s oil traffic crosses the Mediterranean, carrying with it a proportionate risk of pollution from spills and accidents. Yet it takes 80 to 100 years for the Mediterranean waters to renew themselves with the waters of the Atlantic through the Straits of Gibraltar.

Early concern

International concern about the state of the Mediterranean was voiced in the early sixties by the well-known ocean explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau, who was among the first to capture the attention of the general public.

As part of the preparatory work for the 1972 Stockholm Conference, the general principles control of marine pollution for assessment and were worked out. Mediterranean countries asked for their early application in the region.

Talks in 1974

In response to this request, in 1974 the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) convened in Rome an intergovernmental consultation which adopted the idea of a regional convention on the protection of the Mediterranean environment against pollution.

Mediterranean Action plan and convention

UNEP broadened the concept developed at the Rome consultation and helped the Mediterranean countries to adopt in February 1975 an action plan for the protection and development of their common sea. Twelve months later in Barcelona the legal framework of the action plan, known as the Barcelona Convention, was signed by the Mediterranean States, together with two protocols -- against dumping from ships or aircraft and on co-operation in pollution emergencies. They came into force in record time only two years later, in February of 1978. Today it has been ratified by all Mediterranean States (except Albania) and by the European Economic Community (EEC).

Protocol against dumping

The anti-dumping protocol spelled out a “black list” of banned substances: mercury, cadmium, DDT, PCBs, some plastics, used lubricating oils and radioactive wastes. A “grey list” of less noxious materials placed under strict controls included lead, zinc, copper, arsenic, cobalt, silver, cyanide, fluorides and pathogenic micro-organisms.

Pollution from land

The third and most important Mediterranean protocol, against pollution from land-based sources, signed in Athens by 12 States and the EEC in May 1980, also had a black and grey list of substances.

It is expected to cost the Mediterranean Governments US$10-15 billion to implement this protocol over the coming decade and a half. The regulations will require putting anti-pollution devices into all factories (old and new), inspections, and installing pipelines to take sewage out to sea beyond bathing and shellfish-breeding waters.

Water quality targets

By setting water quality targets rather than strict effluent controls on individual sources, the protocol won quick adoption from the Mediterranean’s developing countries, which saw they were getting a fair deal. Uniform source control measures would have penalised the southern Mediterranean States which are only now building up their industrial capacity. France, the most developed of the Mediterranean States, and Tunisia -- one of the least developed -- were the first to ratify the protocol.

Protected areas

The 1982 protocol on protected areas will eventually expand the 15 or so marine parks and reserves in the Mediterranean to a network of around 100.

Some protected zones will safeguard endangered species such as monk seals, marine turtles and pelicans, or serve as habitats for migratory birds. Others will combine bathing beaches with sites of architectural or historic interest, including underwater archaeological remains. Breeding grounds of commercially important fish and shellfish will also be protected.

Scientific tests

Under the Mediterranean Action Plan 84 marine laboratories in the Member States tested the sanitary quality of coastal waters, monitored the levels of metals such as mercury and lead in tuna, swordfish and other marine organisms, and assessed pollution sources in city sewage systems and industrial complexes.

Pilot phase

This pilot phase of the Co-ordinated Mediterranean Pollution Monitoring and Research Programme (MED POL) ran until the end of 1981. Among the scientists’ findings were that most States probably had stricter laws than needed on mercury in seafood and bacteria from sewage outfalls in bathing waters. The problem was not in the laws but in their enforcement.

Phase II

MED POL-PHASE II, from 1981 to 1991, is a long-term monitoring and research programme covering pollution, coastal areas including estuaries, selected offshore regions, and atmospheric pollution of the Mediterranean.

Project centres

A Regional Oil Combating Centre (ROCC) opened in Malta in 1976. The Mediterranean Blue Plan, a study using projections

for the next 30 years, started in 1979, is carried out from Sophia Antipolis on the French Riviera.

A Priority Actions Programme of field projects on sound environmental practices has its centre at Split in Yugoslavia. The centre encourages development projects such as mariculture, desalination plants and solar energy devices. Tunisia is to be the site for the office dealing with specially protected areas.

Paying for it

The 17 Mediterranean States and the EEC agreed to set up a trust fund to cover the cost of their action plan starting from 1979. Close to US$8 million were paid into the fund by the Governments to date. UNEP’s Co-ordinating Unit for the Mediterranean Action Plan moved from Geneva in 1982 and inaugurated its offices in Athens on October 1.


Learn to behave from those who cannot. -- Sufi saying

Oil wealth and the environment

For the countries of the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden and Arabian or Persian Gulf, two centuries of industrialization have come all at once. Oil wealth has brought both the benefits and problems of fast economic growth to two of the world’s most fragile environments.

Gulf water problems

The waters of the Kuwait Region are shallow and virtually landlocked. They receive almost no rain and hardly any fresh water except through the Shatt-el-Arab waterway. Sea water comes through the Straits of Hormuz but much is lost through evaporation. This means that pollution is not flushed away easily.

Fast growth

Yet eight of the fastest-developing countries share its shores. Migrants crowd into the towns, some of which are doubling in size every four years, and in many countries nearly everyone lives on the coast. Existing sewage and waste disposal systems cannot cope and it will be some years before the States of the region all have modernised systems in operation. In some places 75 percent of the sewage pours untreated into the coastal waters.

Some 20 major industrial centres are being developed, almost all on the coast. Investment has been estimated at US$20-30 million per kilometre of coastline. But no States so far have well-established integrated programmes of pollution control.

As for oil, almost two-thirds of all the petroleum carried by ships is exported from the Kuwait Region, and the level of oil pollution in its waters has been calculated at 47 times the average for a marine environment of its size.

Red Sea riches

On the other side of the Arabian peninsula, the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Region is just feeling the effects of new wealth. Today oil is the fuel for development, but the promise for tomorrow is that onshore and offshore mineral mining will provide even more earnings.

Though the Red Sea region is relatively free of pollution and unaffected by population pressures, cities and industries are growing fast, along with oil exploitation and shipping.


Life in the sea faces threats from oil lost by ships, from dredging and construction, and from the wastes produced by the big industrial plants being built in the coastal zone.

A new ocean?

What makes the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden of particular interest to geologists and biologists is that it seems to be a new ocean in the first stages of formation. It has some of the world’s most northerly coral reefs, with numerous endemic species of animals and plants.

In both regions, what looks like a treasure chest could turn out to be a Pandora’s Box of environmental curses, unless States co-operate.

Political tensions

It is impossible to gloss over the political tensions which have divided countries in the two regions, if only because the Governments have had to put aside often long-standing hostilities simply to sit at the same negotiating table.

Unique successes

Nevertheless, they have already recorded some unparalleled achievements in environmental co-operation. Despite the pressures for fast development, the 1982 Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Action Plan is unique in the Regional Seas Programme for putting its main emphasis on conservation. The Kuwait Region’s Convention and Action Plan, adopted in 1978, entered into force in just two years, and has never lacked for money.

The Red Sea and Gulf of Aden: Second Action Plan

The States of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Region approved their Action Plan just after the Mediterranean programme was launched. The 1976 plan, which later evolved into the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Environment Programme (PERSGA), provided mainly for training the region’s marine scientists and strengthening of marine science institutions through seminars, study tours and workshops.

Strong on management

A remodelled Action Plan was approved in February 1982. Its strong environmental management chapter is supported by projects on rational exploitation of living marine resources, public health, co-ordination of water management policies, development of oil spill contingency plans and drafting of guidelines for coastal area development schemes.

Jeddah convention

The 1982 (Jeddah) Convention for the Conservation of the Red Sea and gulf of Aden Environment was signed by six coastal States and Palestine represented by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). At the same time they signed a protocol on co-operation to combat pollution emergencies.

ALECSO secretariat

The Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO) is providing the interim secretariat for PERSGA until a Regional Organization is set up, with UNEP acting mainly as an adviser. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is helping to establish a regional centre to combat oil spills. PERSGA is directed by ALECSO from its Jeddah headquarters.

Kuwait Region

Regional Organization

The eight Governments of the Kuwait Region adopted a Convention and Action Plan in April, 1978. The Convention provided for a Regional Organization which was established in 1981 in Kuwait. UNEP acted as interim secretariat until then and was asked to continue its association by co-ordinating United Nations assistance for the Kuwait Action Plan.

Co-operation projects

The Plan covers co-operation between Iran and the seven Arab States of the Arabian peninsula on oil pollution, industrial wastes, sewage, fisheries resources, and the environmental impact of coastal engineering and mining. Projects range over public health, fish-farming, marine parks, port pollution, freshwater management, and the development of a mathematical model describing the physical oceanography of the Gulf.

Emergency Aid Centre

A Marine Emergency Mutual Aid Centre has been established in Bahrain with a multimillion dollar budget under an agreement signed in July, 1982.


Whatever befalls the earth befalls the Sons of the earth. -- Sealth, American Indian Chief

Cultural variety

From earliest times Central and Southern America has presented a kaleidoscope of cultures. Today’s States are just as varied, with one factor in common: most still bear the legacy of colonialism. Whether their populations speak Spanish, English, French or Dutch, the ex-colonies, along with independence, have inherited the burdens of underdevelopment.

Environmental differences

The growing pains of the newer States have been intensified by environmental problems. The Wider Caribbean with its 19 islands covers a complex of fragile tropical and sub-tropical ecosystems. The South-East Pacific Region, encompassing tropical, sub-tropical, temperate and sub-Antarctic ecological systems, takes in the entire length of the Pacific coast of South America from Panama to Cape Horn.


This ecological diversity might seem to preclude environmental co-operation. However, the Peruvian or Humboldt Current, the basis for one of the world’s richest fisheries, provides an important ecological link for the Pacific States. The countries of the Wider Caribbean recognized that they share a common body of water and face many of the same natural and man-made hazards.

Overall view

The Wider Caribbean States have also made a virtue out of their diversity. The Action Plan adopted in 1981 by 23 States, territories and islands—in itself a landmark in regional co-operation—was the first to treat the environment in a comprehensive fashion, rather than taking a piecemeal approach to specific problems.

The Caribbean is noted for two extremely valuable, and vulnerable, ecosystems: coral reefs which support a wide variety of marine life, and mangrove swamps, the nursery for many species of fish and invertebrates. The reefs and mangroves also help protect the land behind them from the buffeting sea.

Coral collectors, chemical run-off from agriculture, siltation and careless boaters are all destroying the Caribbean reefs. Mangroves are vanishing to make way for marinas, tourist beaches and hotels.


Tourism is a major money-spinner in the Caribbean, bringing with it the problem of coping with the pressures and wastes of tourism development. For many Caribbean countries shrimp fisheries are important for the economy, but the productive coastal areas are also where development is concentrated.

The Caribbean is also likely to turn into one of the world’s largest oil-producing areas. Off-shore rigs are already common, and there are periodic spills and blow-outs.

S.E. Pacific problems

Oil is not such a problem for the five South-East Pacific coastal States, although Panama has a very large oil tanker force. Oil pollution is ranked by experts behind food processing wastes, city sewage and mineral pollution in large ports in their list of environmental problems facing the region.

S.W. Atlantic problems

The United Nations’ international advisory panel known as the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution (GESAMP), has listed seven major causes of pollution in the South-West Atlantic, the East coast waters shared by Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. These potential trouble sources are: sewage, oil from tankers, petroleum from exploration and exploitation, food processing wastes, metal industries, thermal effluents and dumping of radioactive wastes. An exploratory UNEP mission is due to report on which sources pose the greatest danger to the coastal marine environment.

The Wider Caribbean

Priority projects

The Caribbean Action Plan, approved in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in April 1981, set out 66 environmental projects. The Caribbean States chose eight for immediate action. These projects include: watershed management, oil spill control, public awareness campaigns and environmental impact assessments. Work on them started in 1982, and experts of the region have listed another 25 high priority activities of common interest.

Cartagena Convention

A framework Caribbean Convention and a Protocol on Co-operation in Combating Oil Spills were adopted in Cartagena, Colombia, in March 1983. High representatives of seventeen States, including Mexico, the United States, Cuba, Colombia, France, Nicaragua, the United Kingdom, Grenada and Venezuela, approved the treaties, and thirteen signed immediately, signifying that concern for the environment can override their often divergent political and economic interests.

UNEP provides the secretariat and co-ordination of the Action Plan for the Wider Caribbean. Funds for its implementation come increasingly from the Governments of the region through a special trust fund set up by them.

South-East Pacific

Lima Convention

The five countries of the South-East Pacific Region signed a Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and Coastal Areas and adopted an Action Plan in Lima in November 1981. They also signed an agreement on regional co-operation in pollution emergencies, particularly from hydrocarbons.

The Action Plan foresees pollution monitoring and research to aid controls through appropriate management techniques.

Two protocols

A meeting is scheduled to take place in Quito, Ecuador, in June 1983, to adopt a protocol on land-based sources of pollution and a complementary protocol to control pollution in emergencies. The work programme includes co-ordinated monitoring of waste from domestic, agricultural and industrial sources in the region.

There are also plans for a series of base-line ecological studies on the effect of heavy metals, selected organic chemicals and pollution on coastal marine communities deserving special protection.

A draft contingency plan for emergency co-operation, which provides for immediate action against pollution, is also being drawn up.

CPPS co-ordinator

In preparing the Action Plan, the countries of the region used the Permanent Commission for the South Pacific (CPPS) as their co-ordinator and selected CPPS as the secretariat of the Action Plan and Convention. UNEP was associated with CPPS in the preparatory phase and continues to support the Action Plan through close co-operation with CPPS.

South-West Atlantic

At the request of Governments, UNEP’s Governing Council added this region to its Programme in April 1980.

Mission visit

A UNEP mission is planned which will visit investigate its environmental problems. The findings of this mission will be presented to the three Governments of the region, and in further consultation with them the elements of the action plan will be defined.


This river and that river, it is the sea which is their king. -- Dahomey song

African wisdom

Even though Africa seemed a “Dark Continent” to European colonialists and explorers, they recognized from the start that it had much to teach them about the lore and wisdom of a life in harmony with the environment. African poetry, folk tales and customs embody a respect for nature and knowledge of the delicate balance humanity must keep with the world around in order to survive.

Fast strides

When they joined the Regional Seas Programme, African States quickly found an effective formula for working together to protect their shared environment. East Africa became part of the Regional Seas Programme only in 1980 but is already striding fast towards adoption of an Action Plan. The West and Central African Action Plan is more comprehensive than was originally envisaged. It was originally to take in only the Gulf of Guinea, but was later extended south to Namibia, encompassing 21 countries from Mauritania to Namibia.

Strong support

In signing their Convention, the West African States gave unexpectedly strong backing to the fight against oil pollution -- a major menace in the offshore shipping corridor between the Indian Ocean and Europe. The States all approved a declaration giving naval vessels a right of “hot pursuit” against dumpers, even if this means entering a neighbouring country’s national waters.

West and Central Africa

A Conference in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in March 1981, adopted the Action Plan, a Convention, a Protocol on co-operating in fighting pollution emergencies, and the ‘hot pursuit’ resolution.

More protocols

The Convention also provides for development of more protocols, particularly on controlling pollution from various sources and management of resources. Apart from oil pollution, major problems in the region are wastes from developing industries, from sewage and agricultural run-off, and erosion from coastal engineering projects.

Knowledge network

In its earliest phase the Action Plan concentrates on building up a stock of scientific knowledge on marine pollution in the region from its present scanty base. This will be achieved, it is planned, by assisting in the development of a network of national marine research centres.

Contingency plans

The establishment and co-ordination of national contingency plans to deal with threats from major oil spills, and for emergencies associated with industrial installations, has been successfully initiated.

Erosion research

Research on coastal erosion in the region has been intensified. It is hoped that this will lead to development of appropriate technologies and their application to remedying the serious problems currently being caused by erosion.


UNEP, as the secretariat of the Action Plan and the Convention, co-ordinates these projects in close co-operation with the Governments of the region.

East Africa

Convention planned

East African Governments are expected to adopt their Action Plan early next year, along with a convention and two protocols. One is to cover co-operation in pollution emergencies, the other specially protected areas and endangered species.

Rich life

The East African coast is rich in varieties and numbers of marine life forms. Extensive coral reefs fringe its shores and mangrove swamps provide a living for East Africa’s oyster gatherers and mullet catchers, as well as acting as nursery grounds for many species.

Under threat

But a UNEP mission to East Africa found damaged coral reefs, ruined mangrove swamps, oil pollution, erosion, pollution from fertilizers and threats to precious marine animals (as major environmental problems in the region). Dugongs and turtles are declining. Fishermen catch the dugongs in their nets. Turtles are killed for their meat and decorative shells, or their eggs are stolen.

First draft

A recent meeting of experts selected by their Governments (Seychelles, September 1982) prepared the first draft of an action plan, identified problems to be tackled as priorities, and invited UNEP to help in solving them without waiting for the formal adoption of the action plan.

The workshop participants named 10 first priority regional projects which UNEP and United Nations agencies were asked

to initiate during 1983. They include work on developing a network of environmental pollution laboratories, on providing training facilities for environmental control technicians, and on developing a network of oil pollution monitoring centres. Two other priority projects are concerned with assessment of the environmental impact of economic and social developments and a regional environmental education programme.

Experts nominated by their Governments are preparing country reports on the status of natural resources and conservation, environmental legislation and socio-economic activities.

A regional workshop was called during the year to discuss the reports. A training workshop organized jointly by IMO and UNEP was also scheduled on contingency planning and the control of pollution from ships. 1140 is drafting the protocol on combating pollution in cases of emergency.


… the ocean is not an isolator. People are separated by mountains, jungles, glaciers and deserts but are connected by oceans. -- Thor Heyerdahl, on a discovery in the Maldives

Asia’s varied scene

Asia’s astonishing variety of cultures and political, economic and social systems is matched by the diversity of its environments: ship-crowded straits, island groups, wide gulfs, peninsulas, shallow estuaries—and some of the most heavily populated countries in the world where millions rely on fish for much of their protein.

Oil pollution from offshore and onshore operations and tanker traffic, blast fishing in coral reefs, destruction of mangrove swamps by fish pond operators and loggers, and sewage in shellfish beds are problems found throughout the East Asian region.

In the Indian Ocean off the coast of South Asia, the sea is polluted with sewage, oil, food processing wastes, mine tailings, siltation from agriculture and coastal development, and contamination from sea salt extraction and thermal effluents.

East Asian Seas

Long preparations

Work on an Action Plan for the region took into account the spectacular diversity of the environment—and management problems. Scientific meetings began as early as April, 1976, but the Action Plan was not adopted until five years later—an exceptionally long preparatory phase—in order to incorporate into the Plan the results of several initial pilot projects.

These included research into the dangers to tropical and sub-tropical marine species from chemicals used to disperse oil, the impact of pollution on mangrove life, and a study of land-based pollution sources.

Manila Action Plan

Priority projects for the first phase of the Action Plan, approved in Manila in April 1981, cover 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. Work on these projects began in 1982.


At the moment the programme is sub-regional, involving the five countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). But the ASEAN countries state explicitly this is “without prejudice to its future extension” to all coastal States in the East Asian Seas. The Plan could then act as the core for a wider programme.

Vigorous work

UNEP provides, on an interim basis, the secretariat for this very vigorous Action Plan, and co-ordinates the technical work carried out almost exclusively by the national institutions of the region.


In May 1982, UNEP’s Governing Council set in motion the steps to launch a programme covering the coastal waters of Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Consultations with the Governments of the region are under way and their outcome will determine whether the States want to make this the 11th Regional Sea.


The palm-tree shall grow, The coral shall spread, But man shall cease. -- old Tahitian song

New stresses

In contrast with Asia, the people of the South Pacific live separated from each other by vast distances and they are only now having to cope with the environmental stresses of growing industry, booming towns and population pressure.

Environmental tradition

In the South Pacific, traditional culture has encouraged sound management of the environment, but today the people of these widely scattered islands face difficulties in managing limited natural resources, on land as in the sea, and in avoiding undesirable effects on the environment from new and existing development schemes. They are also united in opposing nuclear tests or radioactive dumping in their region.

South Pacific

Rarotonga Action Plan

A Conference on the Human Environment in the South Pacific adopted an Action Plan at Rarotonga in March 1982, after 18 States had compiled country reports. The 21 States and territories also signed a 14-point Declaration on Natural Resources and the Environment, stressing rational management and conservation goals.

The Action Plan outlines projects for analysing the state of the environment in the region, improving national legislation and encouraging regional agreements on environmental issues. It provides for development of management methods suited to the special needs of the region.

The Plan also aims to strengthen national and regional capabilities, acknowledging the present limited scientific expertise and infrastructure with regard to the environment.

New moves

Negotiations have already begun on three new legal instruments for environmental protection in the South Pacific. A meeting of experts took place at Noumea, New Caledonia, in January 1983, to open talks on an umbrella convention, a protocol on preventing dumping and another to co-operate in combating oil pollution emergencies.

The co-ordination of the Action Plan is in the strong hands of the South Pacific Commission (SPC). The South Pacific Bureau for Economic Co-operation (SPEC) and the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) are associated with the Action Plan, which UNEP supports as part of its Regional Seas Programme.


He preaches well who lives well. -- Cervantes

The UNEP philosophy

Though UNEP applies a common strategy in drawing up its regional action plans, it is not a strait-jacket. The approach recognizes that human civilization is a patchwork of different cultures and economic structures. It recognizes that people have differing demands on the world around them and differing aspirations, as well as widely contrasting physical environments. The UNEP philosophy is that each society has to learn to manage its own ecosystem.


Perhaps this is one reason the Regional Seas Programme has been so successful. Each action plan reflects a region’s particular priorities, needs and ability to cope with its special environmental problems.

Fast-developing and sparsely-populated, the Red Sea Region does not face the same environmental predicament as the Mediterranean, which has served as a dump for pollution of almost every kind for thousands of years.

Compared to the South-East Pacific, both the Mediterranean and the Red Sea have simple marine ecosystems. The west coast of Latin America ranges from tropical to sub-Antarctic oceanic systems.

The Caribbean provides another contrast: 19 island States which share the problem of extremely fragile ecosystems bounded by one of the world’s most highly industrialised coastlines—the southern Gulf of the United States—and by several fast-developing producers of oil (Mexico, Venezuela).


One off-the-peg batch of treaties could hardly be expected to suit them all, but UNEP’s strategy has proved flexible enough to cope with these varying regional demands. The Mediterranean Plan has proceeded step-by-step with agreements to remedy specific abuses or to deal with specific problems, while the Caribbean Plan from the first took an overall view of the regional environment and emphasises sound management of resources. The West and Central African Plan puts training, legislation, information exchanges and a public awareness campaign among its priority projects.

Differences aside

Certainly there are hardly any issues, aside from the protection of their shared environment, for which countries like Greece and Turkey, Israel and Libya, Iran and Iraq, and the United States and Cuba would put aside their political enmities and sit down around a table together to reach common solutions to problems, and not just once but regularly.


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