East Asias astonishing variety of political,
economic and social systems is matched by its environment: ship-crowded
straits, island groups, wide gulfs, shallow estuaries and
some of the most heavily populated countries in the world where
millions rely on fish for much of their protein.
The threats seem just as varied, and include erosion
and siltation from land development, logging and mining, blast fishing
in coral reefs, cutting and conversion of mangroves, overfishing,
unimpeded development and disposal of untreated wastes.
The Action Plan was approved in 1981 stimulated by
concerns on the effects and sources of marine pollution and was
initially sub-regional, involving only five countries of ASEAN.
Another five were welcomed in 1994, bringing to ten the number of
countries ready to face up to East Asias marine environmental
The Action Plan is steered from Bangkok by its coordinating
body, COBSEA. The Regional Coordinating Unit (EAS/RCU) serves as
Secretariat, and is in fact the lead agency of the United Nations
for marine environmental matters in East Asia, responsible for coordinating
the activities of governments, NGOs, UN and donor agencies, and
individuals in caring for the regions marine environment.
The Action Plan encompasses assessment of the effects
of human activities on the marine environment; control of coastal
pollution; protection of mangroves, seagrasses and coral reefs;
and waste management. Recently we have revised it to include, technology
transfer and environmental governance. And we have worked with the
Global Programme of Action for Land-based Activities (UNEP/GPA)
to address pollution from land-based activities, and prepared a
transboundary diagnostic analysis of the South China Sea.
Among the Regional Seas Programmes, East Asia has
steered a unique course. There is no regional convention; instead
the programme promotes compliance with existing environmental treaties
and is based on member country goodwill.
We have put in place a ten-year plan that takes into
account the Regional Action Plan for the GPA, the UNEP/GEF Project
Reversing Environmental Degradation Trends in the South China
Sea and Gulf of Thailand and the work of the International
Coral Reef Action Network. We are working to reduce habitat degradation
and to promote the treatment and re-use of waste pouring into the
sea. We are also seeking innovative ways to change peoples
behaviour and bring a halt to activities that destroy marine habitats.
As we contemplate the coming decade, our overriding
aim is to maximize Action Plans benefits to all our member
countries. Our favoured procedure is to work in close cooperation
with our regions non-government and government organizations
and the private sector. Our catchword, however, is flexibility:
we must be willing to fine-tune and perhaps even change our
course as circumstances dictate. For example, the condition of the
marine environment may improve in some ways and worsen in others,
our resources might be exploited in new and unforeseen ways, our
monitoring programme might reveal some unhappy surprises, while
accidents and catastrophes can occur at any moment.
As long as we stay alert and responsive, we can hope
to minimize the damage to our marine environment, and perhaps even
improve its prospects.
Hugh Kirkman is Coordinator of the
East Asian Seas Regional Coordinating Unit
Regional Coordinating Unit for the East Asian Seas
United Nations Building, 10th floor,
Bangkok 10200, Thailand
Tel: (66 2) 288 1860; Fax: (66 2) 281 2428