Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA).


By Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida, FL


Created in 1995, the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (GPA; GPA) is part of the United Nations’ Environmental Programme. The purpose of the agreement is to prevent further degradation of marine environments from land-based activities, limiting the extent of marine pollution produced by land-based contamination. The GPA contains policy guidance materials individual nations can implement to control land-based pollution of marine ecosystems. The UN plays a role in assisting individual governments in meeting standards and policies recommended in the GPA.

The GPA begins by acknowledging that the “major threats to the health and productivity and biodiversity of the marine environment results from human activities on in-land coastal areas and further inland. Most of the pollution load of the oceans, including municipal, industrial and agricultural waste run-off, as well as atmospheric deposition, emanates from such land-based activities and affects the most productive areas of the marine environment, including estuaries and near shore coastal waters. These areas are likewise threatened by physical alteration of the coastal environment, including destruction of habitats of vital importance for ecosystem health. Moreover, contaminants which pose risks to human health and living resources are transported long distances by watercourses, ocean currents and atmospheric processes” (Intro text GPA). The document goes on to note that the bulk of the human population lives in coastal and near coastal areas, and that preserving marine health therefore has important implication for the health of human populations.

The document contain sections detailing the duty of State to protect the marine ecosystem, referring to specific international agreements that include, but are not limited to: the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter; Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal; Convention on Biological Diversity; United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; Regional Seas Conventions; International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL); Montreal Guidelines for the Protection of the Marine Environment Against Pollution from Land-based Sources; and Agenda 21 from the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992.

The GPA marks further efforts to facilitate implementation of Agenda 21. To do so, GPA seeks to provide financial assistant to developing countries to expand the use of environmentally sound technologies in those nations. Of special concern in the GPA is addressing food security issues and the loss marine life important to food security in developing nations.

The GPA proposed that nation engage in an analysis of their national programs consistent with preserving marine ecosystems and preventing the pollution of marine systems from on-land activities. This recommendation specifically targeting the least developed nations.

The GPA calls attention to addressing the following on-land based forms of marine pollution: sewage; persistent organic pollutants; radioactive substances; heavy metals; oils; nutrients; sediment; and litter. The origins of those pollutants from the following sources should be addressed: point sources; non-point sources; and atmospheric deposition. The GPA also calls attention to areas of concern: critical habitats (coral reefs, wetlands, seagrass beds, costal lagoons and mangrove forests); endangered species habitats; sea life spawning areas, nurseries and feeding grounds; shorelines; coastal watersheds; protected coastal and marine areas; and small islands.

The GPA suggests implementation of general strategies to address on-land contamination of marine systems. These strategies include: best available techniques and best environmental practices; clean production technologies; best management practices; environmentally sound management practices; and product substitution. Post-production responses should include: waste recovery; recycling and waste treatment. Efforts to control marine ecosystem pollution from on-land sources should include the use of “polluters pay” regulatory policies.

Article IV of the GPA addresses the need for international cooperation in attaining GPA objectives. This includes development of an international clearinghouse for relevant information.

The GPA notes that funding for these initiatives should be provided by internal sources of funding. Nevertheless, nations should endeavor to assist in project development that facilitates the objective of reducing on-land pollution of marine ecosystems. As part of this funding process, the GPA established the Global Environmental Facility or grants.

The GPA also lays out recommended approaches for addressing sources of contamination (Section V). These recommendation set out objectives for each type of pollutant. Those recommendations should be consistent with those found in Agenda 21 for each form of pollution.

A list of participation nations and programs from the most recent , 2013, GPA session can be found HERE.

Further Reading

Cicin-Sain, Biliana, and Stefano Belfiore. “(2005). Linking marine protected areas to integrated coastal and ocean management: a review of theory and practice.” Ocean & Coastal Management 48, 11: 847-868.

Osborn, David, and Anjan Datta. (2006). “Institutional and policy cocktails for protecting coastal and marine environments from land-based sources of pollution.” Ocean & Coastal Management 49,9: 576-596.

VanderZwaag, David L., and Ann Powers. (2008). “The protection of the marine environment from land-based pollution and activities: gauging the tides of global and regional governance.” The International Journal of Marine and Coastal Law 23, 3: 423-452.


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