East Asia’s astonishing variety of political, economic and social systems is matched by its environment: ship-crowded straits, island groups, wide gulfs, shallow estuaries and some of the most heavily populated countries in the world, where millions rely on fish for much of their protein.
The threats to the region are just as varied, including erosion and siltation from land development, logging and mining, blast fishing in coral reefs, conversion of mangroves, overfishing, unimpeded coastal development and disposal of untreated wastes. Seven areas of focus were identified for the region:
- Develop and maintain a regional database (later changed to a regional metadata base).
- Promote, improve, network and maintain marine protected areas in the region.
- Implement activities to restore marine habitats.
- Assist with State of Environment reporting for agencies preparing such reports and marine and coastal assessment.
- Implement activities to reduce land-based sources of pollution.
- Encourage monitoring and environmental assessment including mapping in the region.
- Encourage and implement projects to build capacity in the member countries to counter environmental degradation and to educate all members of the community in caring for the marine resources of the region.
The Action Plan for the Protection and development of the Marine and coastal areas of the East Asian Region was approved in 1981 and was initially sub-regional, involving only five countries of ASEAN with five more welcomed in 1994. The Action Plan is steered from Bangkok by its coordinating body, COBSEA.
There is no regional convention but instead the programme promotes compliance with existing environmental treaties and is based on member country goodwill.
Long term strategies (1987-96) for the EAS Action Plan adopted 1987
Long-term strategy of the Coordinating Body on the Sea of East Asia (1994-2009) adopted 1994
Long-term plan “Vision and Plan – A Systematic Approach” adopted 1999
After the tsunami
The December 2004 tsunami came as a great shock to the environment of this region, in addition to its toll in human lives and livelihoods. Many corals were affected, particularly in the intertidal zone, and rubbish from run off continues to damage them in spite of the best efforts of clean-up teams.
The enormous rebuilding effort now under way offers an opportunity to plan the placement of roads, walls, resorts, hotels, houses and aquaculture installations more wisely. The replanting of mangroves is essential: coastal mangrove forests proved their worth by protecting thousands of people from the tsunami. Fishing fleets, instead of being rebuilt to former unsustainable levels, can be regulated and restricted to save the region’s endangered fish stocks.
The urgent need for an early warning system and improved disaster management to reduce the loss of human lives and property is now clear. But just as important to the long-term future of the region’s coastal communities is the rehabilitation of their damaged marine ecosystems.
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