The 1000km-long Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water on Earth. It is a remnant of the ancient ocean Tethis, which around 50 million years ago connected the Atlantic and Pacific, but today it has no connection to these oceans and its waters are only slightly saline.
Some 130 large and small rivers feed into the Caspian, the largest being the Volga. The long history and isolation of the Sea has left it with impressive biodiversity and more than 300 endemic species.
The Caspian seal is one of only two freshwater seal species in the world. Extensive coastal wetlands offer a popular stop-off during migrations for a profusion of birdlife and the avid eco-tourists who gather to watch it.
The Sea already suffers from an enormous burden of pollution from oil extraction and refining, offshore oil fields, radioactive wastes from nuclear power plants and huge volumes of untreated swage and industrial waste introduced mainly by the Volga River.
Concern over the threats of the sea's environmental health lead to the establishment of the Caspian Environment Programme (CEP) in 1999. CEP aims to halt the deterioration of the environmental conditions of the Caspian Sea and promote sustainable development in the area.
The first phase of CEP began in 1998 with the main goals being: creation of a regional coordination mechanism to achieve sustainable development and management; completion of a Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA) of priority environmental issues to guide the necessary environmental actions; formulation and endorsement of a Strategic Action Programme (SAP) and adoption of National Caspian Action Plans (NCAPs)
The participating countries demonstrated their commitment to protecting and restoring the Caspian environment by signing the Framework Convention on 4 November 2003 in Tehran, by approval of the Caspian SAP on the following day and by effectively pursuing the completion of the endorsement process of their NCAPs in accordance with the established procedures.
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