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About Regional Seas Programme

The Regional Seas Programme, launched in 1974 in the wake of the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm, is one of UNEP’s most significant achievements in the past 30 years.

The Regional Seas Programme aims to address the accelerating degradation of the world’s oceans and coastal areas through the sustainable management and use of the marine and coastal environment, by engaging neighbouring countries in comprehensive and specific actions to protect their shared marine environment. It has accomplished this by stimulating the creation of Regional Seas programmes prescriptions for sound environmental management to be coordinated and implemented by countries sharing a common body of water.

Today, more than 140 countries participate in 13 Regional Seas programmes established under the auspices of UNEP: Black Sea, Wider Caribbean, East Asian Seas, Eastern Africa, South Asian Seas, ROPME Sea Area, Mediterranean, North-East Pacific, North-West Pacific, Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, South-East Pacific, Pacific, and Western Africa. Six of these programmes, are directly administered by UNEP.

The Regional Seas programmes function through an Action Plan. In most cases the Action Plan is underpinned with a strong legal framework in the form of a regional Convention and associated Protocols on specific problems. Furthermore, 5 partner programmes for the Antarctic, Arctic, Baltic Sea, Caspian Sea and North-East Atlantic Regions are members of the RS family.

All programmes reflect a similar approach, yet each has been tailored by its own governments and institutions to suit their particular environmental challenges.

The work of Regional Seas programmes is coordinated by UNEP’s Regional Seas Branch based at the Nairobi Headquarters. Regional Coordination Units (RCUs), often aided by Regional Activity Centres (RACs) oversee the implementation of the programmes and aspects of the regional action plans such as marine emergencies, information management and pollution monitoring.


The Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme endorsed the regional approach to controlling marine pollution several times before UNEP brought together a task force of scientists and officials to shape a Plan of Action for the Mediterranean, adopted in its final form in Barcelona in February 1975.

Since then, 13 regional Action Plans have been established under the UNEP auspecies: the Black sea, East Asian Seas, Eastern Africa, the ROPME Sea Area, Mediterranean, North-East Pacific, North-west Pacific, Red Sea & Gulf of Aden, South Asian Seas, Pacific, South-East Pacific, Western Africa and Wider Caribbean.

Similar independent agreements are in place in the Antarctic, Arctic, Baltic, Caspian and North-East Atlantic.

New Global Strategy

UNEP Governing Council
In response to a request by its Governing Council, UNEP is adopting a more structured approach to coastal and marine issues with the preparation of a Medium-Term Strategy (2010-2013), which incorporates an ecosystem management component. Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans (RSCAP), guided by their respective governing bodies, are major mechanisms for the realization of the Millennium Development Goals and the WSSD Plan of Implementation.

The new global strategic directions (2008-2012), as listed below, are formulated to continue and further enhance the strategic directions for 2004-2007, aimed at strengthening the Regional Seas Programmes at the global level. The links with economic and human development make it imperative that the Regional Seas adapt its strategic directions for the coming five years to an environment for development approach, contributing to the implementation of the MDGs.

1. Enhance the sustainability and effectiveness of Regional Seas Programmes through increasing country ownership, incorporating Regional Seas conventions and protocols into national legislation, promoting compliance and enforcement mechanisms, involving civil society and the private sector, building capacities, ensuring viable national and international financial arrangements, as well as developing assessment/evaluation procedures where appropriate.

2. Contribute to the implementation of the Beijing Declaration of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities, especially the provision related to the development and implementation of protocols addressing land-based pollution sources and activities.

3. Strengthen regional cooperation on preparedness and response to pollution from maritime accidents with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and promote the implementation, as pertinent, of the IMO conventions.

4. Contribute to the effective implementation of the 2010 biodiversity targets and the WSSD Plan of Implementation targets for promoting the establishment of networks of marine and coastal protected areas and planning of proper coastal land and watershed use by 2012 including the designation of important wetlands under the Ramsar Convention.

5. Emphasize the need to implement the ecosystem approach in integrated marine and coastal management (IMCAM) as an overarching management framework for addressing threats to the sustainability of regional seas.

6. Assess and address the impact of climate change on the marine and coastal environment, in particular, the potential social, economic and environmental impacts and consequences on fisheries, tourism, human health, marine biodiversity, coastal erosion, and small islands ecosystems. Promote cooperation for formulating regional climate change adaptation strategies.

7. Intensify regional activities in support of the WSSD Plan of Implementation and the Jakarta Mandate of the Convention on Biological Diversity, notably by identifying critical issues of marine biodiversity, protecting its major components, and promoting its sustainable use; more specifically, focusing on:

    a. Addressing the protection of i) marine biodiversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction; and ii) deep-sea biodiversity at the regional scale;
    b. Cooperation with FAO and regional fisheries management organisations (RFMO) to address environmental impacts of fisheries and promote an ecosystem management approach;
    c. Participation in the Coral Reef Initiative and the implementation of the SIDS Mauritius Strategy, as appropriate.

8. Recognize the need for economic valuation of marine and coastal ecosystem services for decision making and policy formulation.

9. Facilitating the mainstreaming of its activities within broader development and economic planning processes including the poverty reduction strategies in developing countries.

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