UNEP Regional Seas Programme


The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Regional Seas Programme is an international collaborative approach to protect the marine environment and its resources. Launched in 1974 by UNEP, the main aim of the Regional Seas Programme is to address the degradation of the seas by engaging neighbouring countries in a collaboration to support the achievement of international environmental and development targets (e.g. the Aichi Biodiversity Targets and the Millennium Development Goals). The UNEP Regional Seas Programme now supports more than 140 countries in marine resource management through their participation as Contracting Parties to 18 regional level programmes around the world 1. These regional consortia of contracting party countries are referred to as Regional Seas Programmes or, where applicable, Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans, which is the mechanism by which the programmes deliver their activities.


  1. Management and Marine Protected Areas
  2. Convention Context
  3. Supported By
  4. Year of Creation
  5. Coverage
  6. Governing Structure
  7. Action Plans and Convention
  8. Summary of UNEP Regional Seas Programmes

Management and Marine Protected Areas

The aim of the UNEP Regional Seas Programme is to address key marine issues such as coastal management in the face of accelerated development, land- and sea-based sources of pollution and litter, environmental pressures on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and the future of marine ecosystems and biodiversity. In each region, these issues are dealt with on the ground by the individual Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans (RSCAP). Regional Seas Conventions and Action Plans often have a remit to establish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), working with their Contracting Party countries to set up national MPAs. Some Regional Seas Conventions and Action plans, such as OSPAR and the Barcelona Convention, also have a mandate from their Contracting Parties to establish MPAs beyond national jurisdiction. 

Convention Context

Following a strategic partnership initiated in 2004, NOAA's Large Marine Ecosystems (LME) are used as units for ecosystem-based management within each Regional Seas Programme 2. Furthermore, the UNEP Regional Seas Programme is partnered with key global conventions, including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). As part of these partnerships, the Regional Seas Programme aims to contribute towards reaching the international targets set by the CBD, such as reaching at least 10% coverage of important marine and coastal habitats within MPAs and controlling or eradicating priority alien invasive species (AIS) by 2020 1

Supported By

United Nations Environment Programme, with 143 countries participating in 13 Regional Seas Programmes and 5 partnering programmes

Year of Creation



There are 18 Regional Seas Programmes, with programmes in all the world's oceans. 

Governing Structure

The status of each Regional Seas Programme varies, as each can be governed in one of the following three ways 1:

  • UNEP administered- These have been established by UNEP and are directly administered by UNEP. As such, UNEP has the responsibility for secretariat functions through a Regional Coordinating Unit in the region. Other duties of UNEP include managing finances and providing technical assistance to Contracting Parties. 
  • Non-UNEP administered- These have also been established under the auspices of UNEP but another regional organisation provides the Secretariat and administrative functions. However, they are still part of the global Regional Seas Programme and continue to participate in all cooperative activities. 
  • Independent - These programmes have not been established under the auspices of UNEP, but they participate in the global Regional Seas Programme meetings and support other developing programmes where possible. 

Each Regional Seas Programme is governed through one or more Regional Activitiy Centres (RACs) and a Secretariat or a Regional Coordinating Unit (RCU). RACs carry out the activities agreed by the Contracting Parties through action plans or conventions, usually at sub-regional or national levels. They report directly to the RCU, which has the overall responsibility for implementing the decisions of Contracting Parties, along with other administrative and political functions. Each Programme can have several RACs depending on its activities, but only has one RCU. 

Action Plans and Convention

The activities of each Regional Seas Programme are organised through Action Plans or Conventions 3. Action Plans outline the strategy for the programme, and are based on the region's specific environmental concerns. Common topics in Action Plans include the need for environmental assessments, management plans, financial agreements and institutional arrangements. Although Action Plans are agreed upon by the participating governments, they are not legally-binding. 

Action Plans become legally-binding if accompanied by a Convention which established the legal framework for the Regional Seas Programme. Some, but not all, Regional Seas Programmes have adopted Conventions through which Contracting Parties commit themselves legally to the agreements mentioned in the Convention. Usually, each Convention is accompanied by more specific protocols which address individual problems such as oil spills, pollution or particular ecosystems. 

Summary of UNEP Regional Seas Programmes

Table of UNEP Regional Seas Programmes
Region Administration Governing Instrument Secretariat/Regional Coordinating Unit (RCU) Participating Countries
Action Plan Convention
Antarctic Independent Programme No Action Plan CAMLR Convention 1982
The Antarctic Treaty 1961
Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty 1998
CAMLR Commission Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Namibia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States of America, Uruguay, Vanuatu, European Community
Arctic Independent Programme Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy (AEPS) 1991 No Convention Arctic Council Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russian Federation, Sweden, United States of America
Baltic Independent Programme Baltic Sea Comprehensive Environmental Action Programme 1992 Helsinki Convention 1974/1992 HELCOM Denmark, Estonia, European Union, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russian Federation, Sweden
Black Sea Non-UNEP Administered The Revised Strategic Action Plan for the Environmental Protection and Rehabilitation of the Black Sea 2009 Bucharest Convention 1992 Black Sea Commission Bulgaria, Romania, Russian Federation, Georgia, Turkey, Ukraine
Caspian Independent Programme Caspian Environment Programme 1992 Tehran Convention 2003 Conference of the Parties and Secretariat Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation, Turkmenistan
Eastern Africa UNEP Administered East African Action Plan 1986 Nairobi Convention 1996/2010 Eastern Africa Regional Coordinating Unit Comoros, France, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania, Republic of South Africa
East Asian Sea UNEP Administered Action Plan for the Protection and Development of the Marine and Coastal Areas of the East Asian Region 1981/1994 No Convention Regional Coordinating Unit for East Asian Seas (EAS/RCU) Australia, Cambodia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam 
Mediterranean UNEP Administered Mediterranean Action Plan 1975 Barcelona Convention 1978/2004 Coordinating Unit for the Mediterranean Action Plan (MEDU) Albania, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, European Community, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Monaco, Morocco, Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey
North-East Atlantic Independent Programme OSPAR Action Plan 1998-2003 OSPAR Convention 1998 OSPAR Commission Belgium, Denmark, European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom
North-East Pacific Non-UNEP Administered Plan of Action for the Protection and Sustainable Development of the Marine and Coastal Areas of the North East Pacific 2002 Antigua Convention 2002 North-East Pacific Programme Columbia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama
North-West Pacific UNEP Administered Northwest Pacific Action Plan (NOWPAP) 1994 No Convention NOWPAP Regional Coordinating Unit China, Republic of Korea, Japan, Russian Federation
Pacific Non-UNEP Administered No Action Plan Apia Convention 1990
Noumea Convention 1990
Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, Australia, Cook Islands, Palau, Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Pitcairn Islands, French Polynesia, Soloman Islands, Guam, Tokelau, Kiribati, Tonga, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Nauru, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Wallis and Futuna, New Zealand, Western Samoa, Niue, France, United States of America
Red Sea and Gulf of Aden Non-UNEP Administered Action Plan for the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden 1982/1995/2005 Jeddah Convention 1985 Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (PERSGA) Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Palestine (PLO), Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen
ROPME Sea Area Non-UNEP Administered Action Plan for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Areas of Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates 1979 Kuwait Convention 1979 Regional Organisation for the Protection of the Marine Environment (ROPME) Bahrain, Iran, Iraq,Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates
South Asian Seas Non-UNEP Administered South Asian Seas Action Plan (SASAP) 1995 No Convention South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP) Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka
South-East Pacific Non-UNEP Administered South-East Pacific Action Plan Lima Convention Inter-agency Cooperation between the Permanent Commission for the South Pacific (CPPS), UNEP and some two dozen agencies, programmes and Convention Secretariats Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Panama, Peru
West and Central Africa- WACAF UNEP Administered West and Central Africa (WACAF) Action Plan 1984 Abidjan Convention 1984 UNEP acts as Secretariat to the Action Plan Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mauritania, Namibia, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, South Africa
Wider Caribbean UNEP Administered Caribbean Action Plan 1981 Cartagena Convention 1986 Caribbean Regional Coordinating Unit Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, French Caribbean Territories, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, the Netherlands Caribbean Territories, Nicaragua, Panama, St Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom Caribbean Territories, United States of America, Venezuela

References & Websites


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