Thursday, October 05, 2006

New UNEP Report Evaluates State Of The Marine Environment

Oct 4: A new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) indicates that a rising tide of sewage is threatening the health and wealth of far too many of the world’s seas and oceans. The report, State of the Marine Environment, was compiled by UNEP’s Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Sources (UNEP/GPA). In many developing countries between 80 per cent and nearly 90 per cent of sewage entering the coastal zones is estimated to be raw and untreated. According to the report the pollution -- linked with rising coastal populations, inadequate treatment infrastructure and waste handling facilities -- is putting at risk human health and wildlife and livelihoods from fisheries to tourism. There is also rising concern over the increasing damage and destruction of essential and economically important coastal ecosystems like, mangrove forests, coral reefs and seagrass beds. According to the report, the problems contrast sharply with oil pollution. Globally, levels of oily wastes discharged from industry and cities has, since the mid 1980s been cut by close to 90 per cent. Other successes are being scored in cutting marine contamination from toxic persistent organic pollutants like DDT and discharges of radioactive wastes.

The study says overall good progress is being made on three of nine key indicators, is mixed for two of them and is heading in the wrong direction for a further four including sewage, marine litter and ‘nutrient’ pollution. Nutrients, from sources like agriculture and animal wastes, are ‘fertilizing’ coastal zones triggering toxic algal blooms and a rising number of oxygen deficient ‘dead zones’. The report also identifies new areas in need of "urgent attention." These include declining flows in many of the world’s rivers as a result of dams, over-abstraction and global warming; new streams of chemicals; the state of coastal and freshwater wetlands and sea level rise linked with climate change. Researchers are also calling for improved monitoring and data collection on continents like Africa where the level of hard facts and figures on marine pollution remains fragmented and woefully low.

The findings of the report will be given to governments attending an intergovernmental review of the 10 year-old GPA initiative taking place in Beijing, China, from October 16-20. The UNEP/GPA was adopted by governments in 1995. It is tasked with assisting governments in combating nine key coastal problems which the new report assesses. The nine key issues include: Persistent Organic Pollutants; Radioactive Substances; Oils; Heavy Metals; Sediment Mobilization; Sewage; Nutrients; Marine Litter; and Physical Alteration and Destruction of Habitats. Currently more than 60 countries across Continents including Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean are now part of this global effort.

Access a lengthy release with extensive links to report documents and related information (click here). Access links to the report by parts (click here). [*Water]