Protection of the oceans, of every kind of sea, including enclosed and semi-enclosed seas, and of coastal areas; and protection, rational use and development of their living resources.
Seventy-one percent of the Earth's surface is covered by salt waters referred to as oceans or the sea. They play a key part in the hydrological cycle, the chemistry of the atmosphere and the making of climate and weather. The sea contains the majority of the worlds biomass or living material with coastal waters containing the most vital ecosystems and providing about 95% of the living harvest of the sea. About 60% of the world's population lives within 100 kilometres of a coastal shoreline. Most of the waste created on land ends up in the sea, via rivers, and remains trapped near the shore, poisoning the marine environment. Much of the litter is long-lasting synthetic material. The destruction of the marine environment is further facilitated by problems including algal blooms, oil spills, overexploitation mainly in the forms of overfishing and overhunting by advanced unsustainable hunting methods, and increasing coastal erosion. Faced with these problems, the international community is advocating greater marine conservation measures.
This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in the mid-1970's addressed the most acutely affected marine areas with its Regional Seas Programme which ties coastal nations together in a common commitment to mitigate and prevent degradation of the World's coastal areas, inshore waters and open oceans. Nearly 140 countries as of 1992 are taking part in Regional Seas Programmes, covering the Mediterranean, the Kuwait region, the Red Sea, the wider Caribbean, the Atlantic coast of West and Central Africa, the Eastern African seaboard, the Pacific coast of South America, the Islands of the South Pacific, the East Asian region and South Asia. Action Plans for the Black Sea and the North-West Pacific are being developed. These programmes are tailored to the needs of its shoreline participants, but all include research cooperation, monitoring, pollution control, rehabilitation and development of coastal and marine resources, a legally binding commitments convention, and protocols on emergencies such as oil spills. UNEP has facilitated 8 international conventions and 18 protocols and agreements on the protection of regional seas.
The IMO/FAO/UNESCO-IOC/WMO/WHO/IAEA/UN/UNEP Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP) provides scientific advice concerning the prevention, reduction and control of the degradation of marine environment and other specific questions to the sponsoring organizations, to other organizations of the UN, and to member nations of UN organizations; prepare periodic reviews of the state of the marine environment as regards degradation of the marine environment and identify problem areas requiring special attention. There are 33 GESAMP Working Groups in which members and additional scientists investigate a diverse range of environmental issues affecting the marine environment.