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Western Indian Ocean's Pristine Ecosystems, Valued at US $25 Billion Annually, Under Threat

Growing Urbanization, Unsustainable Fishing and Resource Extraction among Main Pressures on Ecosystems

Mahé, Seychelles, 23 June 2015 - Growing populations and economies in the Western Indian Ocean region are increasing risks to the world's least ecologically disturbed coasts, where ecosystem services are conservatively valued at US$25 billion annually, according to a new report by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released on the 30th Anniversary of signing of the Nairobi Convention.

Urbanization and unsustainable fishing and extraction practices are driving the depletion of natural resources and a decline in biodiversity in the region, affecting livelihoods, says the Regional State of the Coast: Western Indian Ocean.

Stretching from Somalia to South Africa, the Western Indian Ocean coastal area is home to over 60 million people, largely dependent on marine ecosystems for food and jobs. The region's ecosystems are one of the world's richest in terms of biodiversity, with over 2,200 species of fish and over 350 species of corals, and provide a wealth of goods and services to the population.

The report, launched at the 8th Conference of Parties to the Nairobi Convention, examines the environmental threats in the region and calls for stronger transboundary cooperation, integrated coastal management, and a surge in marine conservation areas to protect its pristine ecosystems.

"From fisheries to tourism, to energy, oceans support approximately 350 million jobs worldwide. When about half of the population of African countries along the West Indian Ocean will live in the coastal zone by 2020, this region has the capacity to drive employment and economic growth for countries up and down and off the coast," said said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

"But as coastal centres urbanize, maritime resources are being stretched and stressed. Crustacean stocks in the region, for example, are mostly fully exploited or overexploited as countries endeavour to feed growing populations."

"The way forward is toward a healthy West Indian Ocean that drives sustainable growth along its shores, improving human well-being and social equality along the way. This is what we term the Blue Economy. The Blue Economy advocates for long-term prosperity for coastal peoples through the long-term plenty of their greatest resource," he added.


Population growth and the associated demand for ecosystem goods and services is one of the main drivers of the decline in marine resources in the region. The ensuing urbanization results in lifestyle changes, characterized by intense resource use and waste generation.

In 2040, the urban population in Eastern Africa is projected to be five times higher than it was in 2010, adding to environmental pressures from cities, such as water quality degradation, a decline in marine resources and biodiversity, and the destruction of vital habitats such as mangrove forests.

Unsustainable Fishing Practices

The region's coastal population relies heavily on fishing for food and livelihoods. The report estimates that 400 700 thousand people are engaged in marine fishing in the region, with fish being a main protein source for 50 per cent of Mozambicans and tuna contributing 95 per cent of the Seychelles' domestic exports.

Unsustainable and destructive practices, such as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, undermine local economies by depleting fish stocks and destroying key ecosystems. UNEP's report suggests that fish production from wild stocks in the region may already be approaching its maximum harvest potential of about 4.3 million tonnes annually.

The report recommends promoting alternative livelihoods, strengthening integrated coastal zone management, creating adequately enforced national policies, and establishing networks of protected areas to safeguard the region's ecosystems and fisheries.

Currently, marine protected areas are estimated to cover some 130 000 km2 in the region, representing around two per cent of its countries' exclusive economic zones. Recently, the Seychelles committed to conservation based management of 30 per cent of its exclusive economic zone, with Madagascar and the Comoros also making strong commitments.

Extraction of Natural Resources

The report estimates the presence of fossil fuels in the region at 27,632 million barrels of oil, 441,051 billion cubic feet of gas, and 13,772 million barrels of natural gas liquid. Successful extraction of these resources would boost the region's economy by ending some countries' dependency on oil imports.

However, offshore extraction of oil and gas can have serious environmental impacts. Accidental oil spills during exploratory drilling pose the most significant threat, potentially affecting mangrove forests, seagrass beds, lagoons, fishing grounds and tourist facilities. Fossil fuel extraction also contributes to climate change, and consequently to higher ocean temperatures, acidity and levels, affecting key organisms and ecosystems.

The region's countries are therefore increasingly turning to renewable energy sources. The Seychelles is planning for renewables to cover at least 15 per cent of its power needs by 2030. The French island of Reunion is targeting 50 per cent of renewable energy in its energy mix by 2020, and a further goal of 100 per cent renewable energy by 2030. Mauritius is planning to use deep sea water to cool the airport in Port Louis, saving about 20 megawatts of energy in the short term.

For more information, please contact:

Shereen Zorba, Head of UNEP News and Media, +254 788 526000, email:

Michal Szymanski, UNEP News and Media, +254 715 876 185, email:

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