Marine and coastal biodiversity

Ranging from subtropical to subarctic zones, the Northwest Pacific is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world being home to tens of thousands of marine life species. However, the wealth of fauna and flora inhabiting Northwest Pacific seas and shores is increasingly threatened by non-indigenous invasive species, habitat destruction, over-fishing and climate change (IPBES Regional Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, 2018).

More than 140 marine life forms in the NOWPAP region are listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.


Alien species, introduced mainly by shipping fishing and maricultural activities, prey on native varieties, degrade breeding grounds and spread disease. For example, invasive species are estimated to cause annual losses worth RMB 120,000 million (equivalent to US$ 17,391 million) in the People’ Republic of China. Widespread aquaculture and nutrient overloading are also serious threats to biodiversity in the region. Climate change is an emerging concern for biodiversity with NOWPAP seas having warmed at rates 2-4 times higher than the global average. One of the most significant changes in the coastal areas of the NW Pacific is the explosion of medium- to large jellyfish resulting in significant impacts on ecosystem productivity, biological diversity, and leading to negative economic consequences.

While limited information on marine and coastal biodiversity for localized and smaller-scale studies conducted for specific habitats (e.g., coral reefs, estuaries and bays) is available, the synthesis at the NOWPAP scale is absent and remains a critical gap for developing policy and management response, particularly beacuse of the heterogeneity of coastal habitats that are under different pressures in different parts of the region.

What the NOWPAP response has been thus far?

NOWPAP maintains a database on IUCN red list species in the region and has assessed major pressures on marine biodiversity in the region.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are an important tool for protecting marine and coastal biodiversity. However, conserved coastal and marine areas in the NOWPAP region do not exceed 4 per cent of the total exclusive economic zone (EEZ), well below the 10 per cent targeted by Sustainable Development Goal 14 and the Aichi Biodiversity Target 11: By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape set by the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

NOWPAP, in collaboration with the North-East Asian Subregional Programme for Environmental Cooperation has launched the North-east Asia MPAs network.

NOWPAP supports Member States in protecting marine and coastal biodiversity guided by the following Ecological Quality Objectives (EcoQOs):

  • EcoQO 1: No significant effect on biological and habitat diversity from anthropogenic pressure
  • EcoQO 2: Alien species do not adversely alter ecosystems

Biodiversity conservation is a NOWPAP priority during 2018-2023 with a Regional Action Plan on Marine and Coastal Biodiversity Conservation to be prepared by 2023.

NOWPAP work on marine and coastal biodiversity conservation supports regional progress towards SDG Targets 14.2 and 14.5 as well as several targets of SDGs 6, 13, 14 and 15.

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