Marine Environmental Assessments

Background

The marine environment includes estuaries, coastal regions, continental shelves and the open oceans (UNEP-WCMC, 2003). These areas are fundamental to human prosperity for a multitude of reasons, and they are increasingly showing signs of stress and degradation. The international community has recognized both the importance of the marine environment, as well as the major threats to it, and has been developing and implementing a number of actions, agreements and programmes in response to this. Generally, the first step in addressing any problem involves an evaluation, or assessment, of the situation. Accordingly, the in an effort to actualize sustainable use and development of the marine environment, its products and services, many international organizations, institutions and governments are engaged in global and regional assessment programs. However, the enormity and complexity of the global oceans, coasts and associated areas make assessing the marine environment a monumental challenge. There are several themes of current assessments, including: fisheries and fish stocks, pollution, geophysical characterisitics, biodiversity, coral reefs, biogeochemical processes and ecosystems, to name a few.

Assessment Programmes

Recently, the agencies of the United Nations (led by the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP)), and their member states, have agreed that a global marine assessment must be undertaken. This agreement was taken a step further at the World Conference on Sustainable Development (WSSD)where the particpants resolved to establish by 2004, " ...a regular process under the United Nations for global reporting and assessment of the state of the marine environment, including socioeconomic aspects, both current and foreseeable, building on existing regional assessments" (WSSD Plan of Implementation, paragraph 34, 2002). Currently UNEP's Global Marine Assessment (GMA) includes an analysis of over 180 global and regionl marine environmental assessments being undertaken, or recently completed, by various organizations.
 

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