Africa has some 40 000 km of coastline, extending over 32 countries. Coastal areas are the locus of rapid urban and industrial growth, including tourism, the development of oil and gas resources, and port development. The seas surrounding Africa are endowed with rich fisheries and varied coastal ecosystems, including wetlands, coral reefs and mangroves. Coastal areas host a wealth of historic sites and the western and northern parts of Africa are well endowed with oil and gas resources, some of which are offshore. The rich biodiversity, the historic heritage, and the fisheries and energy resources, coupled with an amenable climate, are key assets for the development of opportunities to improve the economic and social well-being of the population.

However, coastal and marine resources are under considerable threat from degradation. The main concerns are the loss of habitats and the modification of coastal ecosystems, leading to species loss. These adverse impacts are due primarily to the pressures of human activities, both land-based and marine. The pressures include: urbanization and industrialization resulting in pollution, eutrophication and loss of habitats; damming and agricultural irrigation leading to coastal erosion and saline intrusion; and the overexploitation of marine fisheries. There is also ongoing concern about the potential impacts of climate change and the anticipated sea-level rise, particularly with regard to coastal erosion and the inundation of coastal lowlands (IPCC 2001). Another concern is the introduction of IAS from ballast waters of marine vessels. Oil and gas development will lead to an increased problem of marine and coastal pollution from terminals, tankers and offshore wells.

A number of initiatives have been put in place, at different levels, to address the environmental issues and threats to the marine resources in the region. Many of these are based on the integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) programme. Cooperation through MEAs is an important aspect of sub-regional response to the challenges faced:

  • Countries in Northern Africa are party to either the Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution (the Barcelona Convention) or the Regional Convention for the Conservation of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Environment (the Jeddah Convention), or, in the case of Egypt, both.
  • Eastern African countries are party to either the Convention for the Protection, Management and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Eastern African Region (Nairobi Convention) or the Jeddah Convention.
  • Countries in Western Africa are party to the Convention for Cooperation in the Protection and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the West and Central African Region (Abidjan Convention).

The Cape Town Declaration on an African Process for the Development and Protection of the Coastal and Marine Environment, adopted in 1998, committed Africa’s leaders to promoting cooperation and supporting the implementation of the existing global and regional agreements. The African Process identified coastal erosion, pollution, sustainable use of living resources and management of key habitats, ecosystems and tourism to promote sustainable economic development as important areas for future action.

The NEPAD-EAP programme area on coastal and marine resources builds on these MEAs and identifies six priority focuses: pollution, physical changes to the coastal and marine environment, biodiversity, integrated management approaches, environmentally sustainable economic development, and climate change.