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Coastal and marine areas: Africa

Africa's coral reefs - an important source of tourist revenue - are under threat from both coastal development and from potential global warming

Source: UNEP, David Fleetham, Still Pictures

Africa's 40 000 km of coastline are characterized by a diversity of ecosystems and an abundance of natural resources. The ecosystems include mangrove swamps, estuaries, rocky shores, coastal wetlands and coral reefs; they moderate storm impacts and protect coastal features, recycle nutrients, absorb and break down wastes, provide human and wildlife habitat and maintain biodiversity, and present opportunities for recreation, tourism, transport, trade, and employment.

Coastal and marine resources include fish and shellfish, seaweed, wood and fibre, and oil and gas. Mangrove forests extend from Mauritania to Angola on the west coast and from Somalia to South Africa on the east coast, supporting a diversity of species, many extensively used by local communities. Commercial fisheries contribute significantly to GDP and employment (particularly in small islands). Oil and gas reserves, and other mineral deposits, are also important resources for coastal countries. The growing population and its demands on these resources, however, is causing widespread degradation and pollution of marine and coastal habitats and resources. An additional cause for concern is the threat of sea level rise.