Coastal and Marine

The IUCN Asia region includes the South Asian countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the Maldives and the Southeast Asia countries of mainland Southeast Asia;  the Indochina Peninsula; CambodiaLaosMyanmarPeninsular MalaysiaThailand, and Vietnam, and maritime Southeast Asia; the Malay Archipelago; the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (India), BruneiEast MalaysiaEast TimorIndonesia, the Philippines, and Singapore. The IUCN Asia region also includes China.

© James HardcastlePhoto: © James Hardcastle

Home to two of the world’s fastest growing economies (China and India), Asia has the highest growth rate in economic activities in the world, and with over 25% of the total global population (6,676 million people in SE Asia and 1.97 billion in South Asia) there is tremendous human pressure on marine and coastal resources, rendering these nations’ economies, most of which depend heavily on income from the oceans, highly prone to instability and downturn.

In addition to this the Asia region is well recognised to be one of the most vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change including sea-level rise, increased sea surface temperatures and extreme weather events.

The economic growth of India and China alone over the last 20 years has been profound, both countries removing government controls and increasing foreign trade to build strong export-based economies. This economic growth has had both positive and negative effects on people and on environment, and great focus has been placed on how increased development has negatively affected the environment.


Coastal and Ocean Resources

Ongoing degradation of the environment, resulting from coastal development, deforestation, desertification and over-harvesting, are a great concern, as floods and droughts occur as a result of this degradation. The Asia-Pacific region also includes part of the ‘Pacific Rim of Fire’ and is, therefore, vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis. Threats of global environmental change, such as climate change and sea-level rise, are exacerbating these problems calling for appropriate coastal management policies and interventions to address both the local and global trends.

Climate change and the associated changes in the atmosphere have serious implications for coasts, including sea level rise, increasing ocean acidity, sea surface temperatures, and de-oxygenation levels, along with reduced mixing of ocean water.

The Maldives effects of global climate change

The Maldives is a country of hundreds of islands and atolls in the Indian Ocean and symbolises the current and future effects of global climate change. Rising to only 2.3 meters (7.7 feet) above sea level at its highest point, Maldives has already felt the effects of rising sea levels. The 2004 Asian tsunami flooded the entire country, killing 82 people, displacing 12,000, and inflicting $375 million in damage. The effects of global warming on Maldives will be more widespread during the coming decades. Along with rising sea levels, the country will be susceptible to coastal erosion, higher storm surges, and loss of biodiversity. This will drastically affect the country’s tourism-based economy.

Increases in global temperature, in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and in the radiation from the sun that reaches the ocean have already had an impact on some aspects of the ocean and will produce further significant incremental changes over time.

The basic mechanisms of change are understood but the ability to predict the detail of changes is limited. In many cases, the direction of change is known, but uncertainty remains about the timing and rate of change, as well as its magnitude and spatial pattern.

Some factors for example that are contributing to the fall (or rise) of coastlines are beyond human control due to natural processes. But in addition to those natural processes, human activities, including groundwater withdrawal, oil and gas extraction, sand mining, and the construction of flood barriers in rivers and deltas also cause the ground to sink. Preventing river flooding, a good thing in itself, influences the sedimentation process that slowly rebuilds land.

Overexploitation of Resources, Resource Use Conflict and the Cumulative adverse impacts from multiple human activities – Reducing resilience of ecosystems and their capacity to cope with other impacts such as climate change

Adverse impacts on marine ecosystems come from the cumulative impacts of a number of human activities. Ecosystems, and their biodiversity, that might be resilient to one form or intensity of impact can be much more severely affected by a combination of impacts: the total impact of several pressures on the same ecosystem often being much larger than the sum of the individual impacts.

Where biodiversity has been altered, the resilience of ecosystems to other impacts, including climate change, is often reduced. Thus, the cumulative impacts of activities that, in the past, seemed to be sustainable are resulting in major changes to some ecosystems and in a reduction in the ecosystem services that they provide.


Increased use of ocean space, especially in coastal areas, create conflicting demands for dedicated marine space. This arises both from the expansion of longstanding uses of the ocean (such as fishing and shipping) and from newly developing uses (such as hydrocarbon extraction, mining and the generation of renewable energy conducted offshore).

In most cases, those various activities are increasing without any clear overarching management system or a thorough evaluation of their cumulative impacts on the ocean environment, thus increasing the potential for conflicting and cumulative pressures.

Poor integrated management of coastal and ocean resources, gaps in knowledge, skills and capacity, and resources to apply these

The sustainable use of the ocean cannot be achieved unless the management of all sectors of human activities affecting the ocean is coherent. Human impacts on the sea are no longer minor in relation to the overall scale of the ocean. A coherent overall approach is needed.

This requires considering the effects on ecosystems of each of the many pressures, what is being done in other sectors and the way that they interact. As the brief summary above of the many processes at work in the ocean demonstrates, the ocean is a complex set of systems that are all interconnected.

Such a coherent approach to management requires a wider range of knowledge about the ocean. Many of the gaps in the knowledge that such an integrated approach requires are identified in the present assessment. There are also widespread gaps in the skills needed to assess the ocean with respect to some aspects (for example, the integration of environmental, social and economic aspects). In many cases, there are gaps in the resources needed for the successful application of such knowledge and skills.

In some jurisdictions, various combinations of management measures, positive incentives and changes to governance have allowed those historical trends to be reversed, but they persist in others.

Where fisheries have imposed levels of mortality on fish stocks and wildlife populations above sustainable levels for some considerable time, those stocks have become depleted. Overexploitation has also brought about changes to ecosystems e.g. collapse of coral reef fisheries leading to algal smothering.

Overexploitation can also make fish stocks less productive by reducing the numbers of spawning fish. At the same time, reproductive success is also being reduced by pollution, loss of habitat and other forms of disturbance, including climate change.

All those factors result, more generally, in declining biological resources with important implications for food security and biodiversity

Threats to fisheries and food security

Fish products are the major source of animal protein for a significant fraction of the world’s population, particularly in countries where hunger is widespread.

Globally, the current mix of the global capture fisheries is near the ocean’s productive capacity, with catches on the order of 80 million tons.

Ending overfishing (including illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing) and rebuilding depleted resources could result in a potential increase of as much as 20 per cent in yield, would require addressing the transitional costs for rebuilding fisheries

Pollution and dead zones are also depressing the production of food from the sea.

Small-scale fisheries are often also a critical source of livelihoods, as well as of food, for many poor residents in coastal areas. Rebuilding the resources on which they depend and moving to sustainable exploitation will potentially have important benefits for food security.

The contribution of aquaculture to food security is growing rapidly and has greater potential for growth than capture fisheries, but it brings with it new or increased pressures on marine ecosystems.


Increasing inputs from human populations, industrial and agricultural production – Marine Pollution

The current, and growing, levels of population and industrial and agricultural production result in increasing inputs of harmful material and excess nutrients into the ocean.

Growing concentrations of population can impose, are imposing, levels of sewage discharge that are beyond the local carrying capacity and which cause harm to human health. Even if discharges of industrial effluents and emissions were restrained to the lowest levels in proportion to production that are currently practicable, continuing growth in production would result in increased inputs to the ocean.

The growing use of plastics that degrade very slowly result in increased quantities reaching the ocean and have many adverse effects, including the creation of large quantities of marine debris in the ocean, and negative impacts on marine life and on the aesthetic aspects of many ocean areas, and thus consequent socioeconomic effects.

Regional Initiatives:

Regional (multi-country/ transboundary governance):

  • Management of Large Marine Ecosystems: Bay of Bengal LME (Phase II Project Implementing Phase), South China Sea LME (Gulf of Thailand (GoT) Fish Project (PPG stage), Coral Triangle Region (CTI), Building Coastal Resilience – The Social- Ecological-Systems (SES), Ecosystems Based (EbA), Nature Based Solutions (NbS) Approaches e.g. Mangroves for the Future Programme, Building Coastal Resilience SE Asia, NbS for Coastal Resilience Trainings with ADB, AfD.

Thematic Areas of Coastal Management work in the IUCN Asia Region:

  • National Coastal Policy and Governance – Integrated Coastal Management/ Marine Spatial Planning (MSP)/ Blue Economy – Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives
  • Climate Change and Resilience Building/ Disaster Risk Reduction;
  • Marine Protected Areas/ Locally Managed Marine Areas/ OECMs/ IUCN Green List
  • Coastal wetlands / Blue Carbon/ coastal habitat restoration (mangrove), Nature Based Solutions
  • Fisheries Management – Ecosystems Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM), commercial fisheries (e.g. Hilsha – Ecosystems for Life, BOBLME);
  • Marine Pollution – Policy to practical action to improve recycling and circular economy - Macro-plastic, Micro-plastic, sedimentation, eutrophication/ land-sea runoff (Bay of Bengal, Vietnam, Thailand
  • Marine Species Conservation and Protection - Marine Megafauna – marine turtles (Vietnam), dugong (Thailand), whale sharks and rays (Maldives), Knowledge generation, management, research & capacity development (MFF website and knowledge management platform)
  • Gender integration and HRBA in coastal resources management– gender equality and women’s empowerment


Overall Unique Institutional Offer of the Coastal and Marine Programme

  • IUCN ARO has a unique position to support regional governance initiatives in relation to coastal and marine resources conservation due to the inherent structure of the union – working closely with state government, civil society and private sector – influencing both policy and the delivery of policy through practical actions/ interventions on the ground – network from global to regional to national to local – this is a unique structure and value of IUCN which allows IUCN to facilitate transformational change from policy to practice and to learn continue to learn and feedback ground truth realities into practical policy dialogues.


Additional Potential Targets for Expansion

  • For many years IUCN Asia has been indecisive as to how to engage with the Philippines and Indonesia (which together are home to over 25% of global mangrove cover and significant areas of coral reefs) in any strategic and meaningful way despite direct requests from the Philippines for support post-cyclone Haiyan. Despite this Indonesia was a member of the MFF programme and the regional programme benefitted significantly from this. There has also been some discussion on how pro-active we are in expanding our programme to include Timor Leste – and which region ARO or ORO is best positioned to lead on this. There has been support to Timor Leste through the PEMSEA partnership when Timor Leste was an Outreach country of MFF.


How have we generated and are making available a unique set of knowledge products/tools?

  • We are not as strong or strategic at this as we could be in the region and rely heavily on the IUCN website platform to present results from projects.
  • Having said that there was a lot of emphasis on knowledge generation and management under the MFF programme and a lot of discussions as to how to best achieve effective sharing of knowledge. Large amounts of information and knowledge products resulted from the MFF programme including the Integrated Coastal Management (ICM) Post Graduate Certificate Course – but very little is easily accessible/ available today and the MFF website (which resides on an independent (non-iucn) web platform) urgently needs investment to integrate the useful knowledge into the new IUCN website over the next year.
  • It is critical for the IUCN Regional Projects Communications Position to be reviewed, revised and put in place and that the relationship with the Regional Corporate Communications Officer is well defined and mutually supportive. Without investment in communications specialists (and for that matter PS engagement specialists) it is unlikely that this aspect of the regional programme can progress from where it is.


Which relevant constituents -- commissions and members? give us convening power for this programme area?

  • The relevant constituent’s – Commission members from WCPA, CEM, CEESP and SSC IUCN members include; state governments in most of the Asian countries, NGO members and non-members engaging civil society in all of the countries (see more under Section on Partnerships).