The establishment of South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP) in 1982 as the regional environmental hub, facilitated the introduction of the Regional Seas Programme to South Asia. As a result, the 11th Governing Council of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) held in 1983 recommended the development of a Regional Seas Programme for South Asia in close collaboration with SACEP and the Governments in the region. As the first follow-up activity to this recommendation, SACEP called up a meeting of the National Focal Points of its five maritime states in March 1984, where the countries committed themselves to the development of an Action Plan to protect and manage the marine environment of the South Asian Seas.
The South Asian Seas Programme (SASP) is one of 18 such programmes & the South Asian Seas Action Plan (SASAP) was adopted in March 1995 by the region’s five maritime countries (Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka).
The South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme (SACEP) serves as the secretariat of SASP.
SASAP follows existing global environmental and maritime conventions and considers the Law of the Sea as its umbrella convention. SACEP is the Secretariat for South Asian Seas Programme (SASP) which facilitates the development and implementation of SASAP, which is agreed upon by the member countries at the Inter-governmental Meetings of Ministers (IMM). The Consultative Committee provides the secretariat with policy guidance on the implementation of the decisions taken at the IMMs. Each country has designated a National Focal Point for co-ordinating SASP activities. The costs of running the programme is provided by the member countries as annual contribution and donors support is obtained to implement specific projects.
The South Asian Seas Region can be categorised into two distinct geographical groups: Mainland and island nations. While Maldives and Sri Lanka are island nations, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan are situated on the Asian mainland. The SAS Region is comprised of the marine and coastal waters of Bangladesh, India, Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and is physically divided by the Indian subcontinent into three distinctive areas: two large marine ecosystems – the Arabian Sea in the west and the Bay of Bengal in the east; and a large area of the open Indian Ocean to the south of India and Sri Lanka. Because of the diversity of the prevailing hydrographic conditions, the region hosts an extensive system of river deltas and diverse marine and coastal habitats, encompassing mangroves, sea grass beds and coral reefs that support some of the richest concentrations of biodiversity in the world. South Asia’s coastline harbours around 10 percent of the world’s mangroves and they are mainly located in the alluvial deltas of major river systems of the region. The vast flood plains of Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna river deltas between Bangladesh and India harbour the Sundarbans, which is the largest continuous mangrove forest in the world. The delta extends over one million hectares, with a dense mangrove cover of over 6,000 km2. In Pakistan, a large stretch of arid mangroves occurs in the Indus delta.
The SAS region contributes to over six percent of the world’s coral reef area, which include some of the most diverse, extensive and least disturbed reef areas in the Indian Ocean. Distribution of coral reefs is a mirror image of that of mangroves. While the major mangrove areas are recorded from the north, the most extensive and diverse reefs are found in the south of the region. All three major reef types (atoll, fringing and barrier) are represented in the region to varying degrees. The Lakshadweep, along with the Maldives and the Chagos of the British Indian Ocean Territory, form an interrupted chain of coral atolls and reefs on a contiguous submarine bank covering a distance of over 2,000 km. There are also extensive reefs around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands as well as in the Gulf of Mannar between India and Sri Lanka.
These coastal and marine ecosystems represent some of the most important habitat for the survival of more than hundred globally threatened species. Available information indicates that the cetacean community of the region is diverse with around 30 species; accounting for two thirds of the recorded cetaceans worldwide. The region falls within the Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary, established in 1979 to encourage conservation and research of cetaceans. Further, five out of the seven marine turtle species that are globally threatened feed in the open marine waters and nest in the sandy beaches of the region. The single largest breeding ground of Olive Ridley is found in Orissa on the east coast of India, where mass breeding occurs in three nesting beaches; Gahirmatha, Deviriver mouth and Rushikulya. The nesting at Gahirmata at the mouth of the river Maipura near Dhamra, is the largest sea turtle rockery in the world with 100,000 to 500,000 turtles nesting there each year.
Located alongside these coastal resources are some of the most densely populated cities in the world (Karachi, Bombay, Madras, Calcutta and Dhaka). The entire population of Maldives can be considered as coastal, while in Sri Lanka more than 32% of the population is found within the coastal belt. Demographic and economic changes have increased the demands on marine and coastal resources across the region and many people are dependent on these resources to generate at least part of their livelihoods. In addition to food production, tourism, recreation, ports and harbours as well as coastal protection comprise other important goods and services obtained from these ecosystems and they, therefore, have great economic, social and cultural importance to individual countries and to the region as a whole.
|Country||Coastal length (km)||Area of EEZ (km 2 )||Population 2001 (Million) and Annual growth rate for 2001-2015 (%)||Population within 50 km from coast (%)||Human Development Index value, 2002|
|Sri Lanka||1,585||233,000||18.8 (0.7)||33||0.60|