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 40 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.
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. 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.
At the ICRI creation, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) emphasised the importance of the Regional Seas Program to ICRI, and the key role they could play to achieve better coordination and cooperation at the regional level.
UNEP and several of its Regional Seas Programmes have been productive ICRI partners. Responding to the Regional Seas Strategic Directions 2013-2016, UNEP and the Regional Seas develop and implement coral reef activities jointly through a partnership approach. The purpose is to provide a support framework for national and regional actions to bring pressures on coral reefs and related ecosystems to a sustainable level, thereby providing a mechanism for implementing the ICRI Continuing Call to Action and Framework for Action through the Regional Seas.
The partnership will catalyse, enable and support an ecosystem approach to management of coral reefs and surrounding coastal and marine areas, under four programmatic themes:
- Management that builds resilience in the face of climate change, ocean acidification and other anthropogenic stressors;
- Ecosystem service assessment and valuation that supports policy development, use of economic instruments for coral reef management, and development of sectoral codes of practice;
- Knowledge for ecosystem-based coral reef planning and management; and
- Institutional mechanisms to enhance policy outreach, including partnership operations, communication, and support to ICRI and GCRMN.
Among UNEP-administered Regional Seas, tropical coral is found in:
- Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP)
- Coordinating Body on the Seas of East Asia (COBSEA)
- The Nairobi Convention for the Protection, Management and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Eastern African Region
- West and Central Africa (WACAF), Abidjan Convention
Some member countries of the North-West Pacific Action Plan (NOWPAP) have significant coral reef areas; however, the action plan and activities are focused on non-coralline ecosystems.
Non-UNEP administered Regional Seas with reefs:
- Programme for the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (PERSGA)
- ROPME Sea Area
- South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP)
- Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP)
- North-East Pacific (NEP)
- South-East Pacific (CPPS)
In total, 10 out of the 13 Regional Seas programmes are involved in the management of tropical coral reefs ecosystems.