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The World’s oceans and coasts are increasingly threatened by human activities on the land, according to a report by leading marine scientists from around the globe. Top priorities, it says, include stemming damage caused by sewage, the destruction of habitat, excessive input of nutrients and changes in sediment flows.

Protecting the Oceans from Land-based Activities — written to inform the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) meeting of environment ministers in Canada next week — warns that “the economic costs of failing to take action to control land-based activities are enormous”.
arial view of coastline

The report, produced by the UN-sponsored Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP), calls for “urgent action” from senior representatives of governments, non-governmental organisations and the private sector who are meeting in Montreal from 26 to 30 November.

“The oceans cover 71 per cent of our plant’s surface, regulate its climate, and provide its ultimate waste disposal system,” says Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s executive director. “And, yet, our species continues to treat them as our common sewer.”

In Montreal, ministers will review the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities (GPA), adopted by more than 100 governments at a meeting in Washington D.C. in November 1995.

The GPA called on countries to prevent, reduce and control land-based activities that damage the marine environment, such as sewage, heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants, radioactive substances, hydrocarbons, litter, nutrients, sediment and habitat destruction.

But the report says that, despite the commitments made six years ago in Washington, “marine environmental degradation has continued and in many places even intensified”.

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Photo credit: Warren Gretz