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Further Resources

Land-based Sources of Pollution

Municipal, industrial and agricultural wastes and run-off account for as much as 80% of all marine pollution. Sewage and waste water, persistent organic pollutants (including pesticides), heavy metals, oils, nutrients and sediments – whether brought by rivers or discharged directly into coastal waters – take a severe toll on human health and well-being as well as on coastal ecosystems. The result is more carcinogens in seafood, more closed beaches, more red tides, more beached carcasses of seabirds, fish and even marine mammals.

The first regional steps to deal with this widespread problem were taken in the Mediterranean, with the adoption of the Protocol on Land-Based Sources of Pollution in May 1980 after three years of difficult and delicate negotiations. Over the next two decades, this landmark agreement led to similar regional agreements in other Regional Seas.

To better address this world-wide problem, governments established the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA) adopted in 1995 at an intergovernmental conference in Washington, DC.

The GPA works to identify the sources of land-based pollution or harmful activities, and prepare priority action programmes of measures to reduce them. It concentrates not just on problems originating near the shores – such as discharges from megacities, other urban areas, harbours or industrial enterprises in the coastal zone – but targets pollution from entire catchment areas, taking in sources such as agriculture, forestry, aquaculture and tourism.

The GPA, although a global programme, addresses problems at regional, sub-regional and national levels, and thus helps to guide the efforts of the individual Regional Seas programmes to deal with land-based pollution.