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Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs)

Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs) are regions of ocean encompassing coastal areas from river basins and estuaries to the seaward boundaries of continental shelves and the outer margins of the major current systems. These areas of the ocean are characterized by distinct bathymetry, hydrography, productivity and trophic interaction. They provide a flexible approach to ecosystem-based management by identifying driving forces of ecosystem change, within the framework of sustainable development. LMEs are located within Regional Seas areas.

In collaboration with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) the RSP engaged an expert from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), and has produced a report entitled, “Compilation and Analysis of Economic Data in Support of UNEP’s Regional Seas Programme and Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans”. The report compiles estimates of the direct output value of goods and services for each of the relevant marine sectors of countries bordering the world’s LMEs and Regional Seas. Two case studies are also included: one exploring the scale of economic rents in the Benguela Current LME and another surveying the scale of direct output impacts in the Yellow Sea LME. The results of these studies have been analyzed in relation to the management issues and sustainable development priorities of the regions and are targeted towards government policy and decision makers in order to highlight the economic value of goods and services within their regional marine sectors.

In addition and together with the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, UNEP/RSP and NOAA engaged an international expert in global ocean frontal processes to research and provide a report “Oceanic Fronts in Large Marine Ecosystems,” on the emerging pattern of temperature fronts affecting primary productivity levels of the world’s 64 large marine ecosystems with special attention to the LMEs located within the Regional Seas areas around the globe. Specifically, the expert calculated and mapped the long-term (1985-1996) frequencies of oceanic surface thermal fronts from Pathfinder satellite sea surface temperature (SST) data in order to produce frontal schematics and descriptions of frontal patterns for the world’s LMEs. The report has been finalized and is yet to be published.

In the Arctic region, NOAA in collaboration with UNEP/RSP, in particular the Secretariat for the Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME), commissioned an expert to compile key references for each of the 15 Arctic LMEs with regard to the four ecological criteria for LME boundary delineation: (i) bathymetry; (ii) hydrography; (iii) productivity; and (iv) trophic linkages. The expert produced a report, “Delineation of Arctic Large Marine Ecosystems,” finalized in October 2005, describing the boundary features for the Arctic LMEs, along with other pertinent information on LME productivity, socioeconomics, fish and fisheries, pollution and ecosystem health, and governance practices.

Also in cooperation with NOAA, UNEP/RSP produced a brochure that provides a map overlay of Regional Seas and LMEs, reflecting the 64 LMEs of the world and providing a list of GEF-LME projects within the RS. This joint initiative incorporates NOAA’s LME assessment and management approach, using LMEs as operational units for translating the RSP into concrete actions. This will assist the countries in the Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean and Eastern Europe to restore and sustain resources, coastal environments and linked watersheds.