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African countries move to protect marine life in Western Indian Ocean

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Ministers from the ten African countries sharing the Western Indian Ocean region convened from 29 March to 1 April 2010 in Nairobi to lay the foundation for the development of a common vision building on lessons learnt from the implementation of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) -administered Nairobi Convention according to a press release from UNEP.

The Sixth Conference of the Parties (COP-6) to the Convention for the Protection, Management and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Eastern African Region (the Nairobi Convention), which took place at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Headquarters, under the theme “Sustaining Progress” was organised by UNEP in close collaboration with the Government of Kenya as the host, and the Government of Mauritius as the Chair of the Bureau of the Convention.

During four days, Ministers responsible for the environment and other government delegates from all the 10 Contracting Parties to the Nairobi Convention together with international and regional experts, representatives of international, regional, national and local non-governmental organisations and members of the civil society were expected to discuss issues and lessons arising from the implementation of the Convention and related projects, the release said.

Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director and UN Under-Secretary-General, said: “The need for a regional approach in the protection of marine and coastal environment in the region cannot be overemphasised, particularly to address pollution from land-based sources and activities which impact on, among others, transboundary marine and coastal ecosystems.

“The Nairobi Convention Secretariat expects that the Sixth Conference of Parties will lay the foundation for the development of a common vision from the lessons learned through the implementation of Land-based Projects. With this new vision and approach, we anticipate increased efficiency relevance in the implementation of the Convention and enhanced visibility and in the contracting Parties,” he said.

As part of UNEP’s effort to demonstrate that it is possible to reverse degradation of the coastal and marine environment, several demonstration projects were initiated and piloted throughout the region. These focused on the implementation of cost effective solutions to waste management (solid waste, municipal wastewater, etc) and community participation in resource management, ecotourism, coastal ecosystem management and restoration.

The project “Addressing Land-based Activities in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO-LaB)” highlights some of the main environmental issues related to the degradation of the marine and coastal environment resulting from land-based sources and activities (LBSA) in eight countries in the WIO Region (Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Seychelles, Comoros, Madagascar and Mauritius). It is financed by the Global Environment Fund and Norway (US$ 8 million) and US$3 million from UNEP and participating countries in cash and in kind.

One of the key highlights of the COP-6 is the Conference of Plenipotentiaries, from 31 March to 31 April, which will, based on recommendations from the experts meeting on 29 and 30 March, consider and adopt two new legal instruments namely the Amended Nairobi Convention for the Protection, Management and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Western Indian Ocean (Amended Nairobi Convention), and the Protocol for the Protection of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Western Indian Ocean from Land–Based Sources and Activities (LBSA Protocol).

In addition, the COP-6 will also consider and endorse the Strategic Action Programme (SAP) for the Protection of the Marine and Coastal Environment in the Western Indian Ocean from Land-based Sources and Activities. A parallel NGO/Stakeholders’ Forum was held on 30 March 2010 to deliberate on the implementation of the Strategic Action Programme.

The COP-6 will also be used as a platform to share experiences and lessons learnt in the implementation of the South West Indian Ocean Fisheries Project (SWIOFP), the Agulhas and Somali Current Large Marine Ecosystems Project (ASCLME) and Sustainable Coastal Tourism in Africa Project.

The COP-6 was expected to witness the launch of two landmark initiatives on 1 April:

The new Protocol for the Protection of the Coastal and Marine Environment of the Western Indian Ocean from Land-based Sources and Activities

The agreement will bind the government towards a common objective of preventing, reducing, mitigating and controlling pollution from land-based sources and activities to protect and sustain the marine and coastal environment in the Western Indian Ocean.

The formulation of the Protocol is as a result of wide recognition by the governments in Eastern Africa that pollution from land-based sources and activities in Eastern Africa is a major threat to the marine and coastal environment.

The Strategic Action Programme (SAP) for the Protection of the Coastal and Marine Environment of the Western Indian Ocean from Land-based Sources and Activities

The Strategic Action Programme (SAP) will address the challenges faced by governments in the region in dealing with increasing pollution of coastal waters, the destruction and degradation of critical habitats, changes in freshwater flow as well as challenges resulting from global climate change.

The SAP is a renewed commitment of the governments to protect the Western Indian Ocean from further degradation through joint effort. The multi-million dollar programme formulated through a project financed by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the  Government of Norway entitled “Addressing land-based Activities in the Western Indian Ocean”, widely known as the “WIO-LaB Project” will be implemented within the framework of Nairobi Convention in the period 2010-2035.

The Convention for the Protection, Management and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Eastern African Region (the Nairobi Convention), which has been in force since 30 May 1996, consists of 10 countries sharing the Western Indian Ocean Region. These include Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Somalia, Comoros, Mauritius, Seychelles, Reunion, Madagascar and South Africa.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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