The Nairobi Convention

A: Overview

The Western Indian Ocean region is characterised by high biodiversity, both in terms of species and ecosystems, with a young and growing human population, especially in coastal urban centres. Over 65 million people along the region’s coastline depend on the goods and services of the marine ecosystem to sustain their livelihoods. Invariably, many of the coastal communities rely on the sea for their economic, social and cultural security.

The Western Indian Ocean region contains diverse coastal and marine ecosystems that support local and national economies. The critical coastal and marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass also provide valuable ecosystem services, including sequestration of carbon. They also provide habitats for marine biodiversity and are some of the most valuable ecosystems in the world. These ecosystems have also been of great benefit to coastal communities, particularly as sources of livelihood, food and energy.

The biodiversity of the marine and coastal areas is increasingly threatened. Key threats include over-exploitation of resources to feed the growing population, pollution from land and marine sources, unregulated development, tourism, introduction of alien species and climate change.

The Nairobi Convention is a partnership between governments, civil society and the private sector, working towards a prosperous Western Indian Ocean Region with healthy rivers, coasts and oceans. It pursues this vision by providing a mechanism for regional cooperation, coordination and collaborative actions. It enables the Contracting Parties to harness resources and expertise from a wide range of stakeholders and interest groups and helps to solve inter-linked problems of the region’s coastal and marine environment.

The Convention’s Contracting Parties are:

(ComorosFranceKenyaMadagascarMauritiusMozambiqueSeychellesSomaliaTanzania and the Republic of South Africa ).

Nairobi Convention
Western Indian Ocean region

B: History

Recognizing the exceptional environmental properties of the coastal and marine environment of the region, the threats that it faces and the need for remedial action, the countries of the Western Indian Ocean region requested the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to create a regional seas programme for the region. The Governing Council of UNEP created the Eastern Africa Regional Seas Programme by decision 8/13C of 29 April 1980, in which it requested the Executive Director to include the East African and South-west Atlantic regions within the regional seas programme, and further requested UNEP to assist the Governments of the region to formulate and implement a programme for the management and conservation of marine and coastal resources. Following the eighth session of the Governing Council in 1980, UNEP supported the development of the Eastern Africa Action Plan and the Convention on the Protection, Management and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Eastern Africa Region (Nairobi Convention).

The countries of the region met in 1985 to adopt an action plan for the protection, management and development of the marine and coastal environment of the Eastern African region. In addition, they signed the Convention and two protocols, on collaboration in combating pollution in cases of emergency and on protected areas and wild fauna and flora. The Convention and its two protocols entered into force on 30 May 1996 and, by 2002, had been ratified by all the signatories. In 2010, the Conference of Plenipotentiaries came together again to amend the Nairobi Convention to a) incorporate emerging issues such as climate change, coastal zone management, and the vulnerability of small island developing states (SIDS), b) prioritize management land-based sources and activities of pollution (LBSA) through a new Protocol, and c) reaffirm their commitment to cooperate in protecting and managing the WIO region.

The Conference of Parties (COP) is the main decision-making body of the Convention, composed of experts from each country. The COP is convened every two years to review the implementation of the Convention and the Protocols (a smaller group, the Bureau of Contracting Parties, meets between COP meetings to address issues related to implementation of the Convention).

Organizational structure

  1. National Focal Points: They are the main line of communication between Contracting Parties and the Secretariat.
  2. Secretariat: Serves as the central administrator for the Convention and implementation of the work program.
  3. Partners of the Convention: They support the Nairobi Convention in carrying out the activities of the work programme.
  4. Expert groups/Task forces address emerging issues in the region. These are –
    • Expert groups - Forum for Academic and Research Institutes (FARI), Legal and Technical Working Group, Marine Spatial Planning Technical Working Group, Working Group on Marine Litter, etc.   
    • Task forces - Critical Habitats; Water quality; River flows; Coral Reef; Marine Turtle Task Force
  5. Regional Coordinating Unit (RCU) - The central coordinating body of the Nairobi Convention.

D: The Convention and its related legal instruments

  1. The Nairobi Convention was signed on Friday, June 21, 1985 and came into force on May 30, 1996. In 2010, the Nairobi Convention Secretariat held the Conference of Plenipotentiaries and the Sixth Conference of Parties (COP6)  which considered and adopted the Amended Nairobi Convention for the Protection, Management and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Western Indian Ocean.
  2. Protocol for the Protection of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Western Indian Ocean from Land-Based Sources and Activities (Adopted March, 2010)
  3. Protocol Concerning Protected Areas and Wild Fauna and Flora in the Eastern African Region.
  4. Protocol Concerning Co-operation in Combating Marine Pollution in Cases of Emergency in the Eastern African Region.
  5. Protocol on integrated coastal zone management (Upcoming).

E: Areas of work

The Nairobi Convention is progressively strengthened by the development of a biennial work programme. The latest, for the period 2018–2022, builds on four priority areas, namely: Under the 2018-2022 Nairobi Convention Proposed Programme of Work, the Convention has four priority areas:

  1. Assessments and capacity building: under this area, new information is generated on marine and coastal management to inform planning and decision-making. Ecosystems and resources are assessed, including on areas such as sources of pollution, marine litter, economic valuations of the marine and coastal environment, and the impacts of climate change.
  2. Management: the main objective under this area is the effective management, sustainable use, and protection of the Western Indian Ocean region—including through developing ecosystem-based management approaches and activities.
  3. Coordination and legal aspects: this area strives to strengthen the coordination structure of the Convention, including through implementing and updating the Convention and its protocols, developing new protocols, and supporting governments as they negotiate new, marine-related national, regional and international conventions, policies, and legislation.
  4. Information and awareness: under this area, the Convention generates and distributes easily accessible information to assist governments in their decision-making processes and to raise awareness among the public of the importance of the Western Indian Ocean region.

F: Partnerships 

In addition to engaging with governments, the Secretariat works closely with collaborating partners such as the Consortium for Conservation of Coastal and Marine Ecosystems in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO-C), other regional NGOs and various national and research institutions. Established in 2006, the WIO-C is a partnership between major NGOs in the Western Indian Ocean. WIO-C is designed to improve information exchange, synergy and coordination between NGOs working on coastal and marine environment issues in the Western Indian Ocean region and to move towards a joint programmatic approach in addressing these issues.

G: Ongoing projects

  1. Implementation of the Strategic Action Programme for the protection of the Western Indian Ocean from land-based sources and activities (WIOSAP)
  2. The Western Indian Ocean Large Marine Ecosystems Strategic Action Programme Policy Harmonisation and Institutional Reforms (SAPPHIRE)
  3. African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) Countries Capacity Building of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) project: Effective implementation of the Nairobi Convention
  4. A Partnership project for Marine and Coastal Governance and Fisheries Management for Sustainable Blue Growth in the Western Indian Ocean
  5. Integrated Management of the Marine and Coastal Resources of the Northern Mozambique Channel (NoCaMo) Project

H: Key achievements

  1. Finalization of negotiations for a Protocol on Integrated Coastal Zone Management
  2. Ratification of the LBSA Protocol by four of the ten countries of the Western Indian Ocean region (Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles and the United Republic of Tanzania)
  3. Creation of a science to policy framework for the Western Indian Ocean region for informed decision making
  4. Partnership between the Governments of Kenya and Tanzania, Nairobi Convention and WIOMSA on a transboundary protected area between the two countries (2016).
  5. Support to the Northern Mozambique Channel as a good example of integrated ocean management approach.
  6. Support for sustainable fisheries management and biodiversity conservation of deep-sea living marine resources and ecosystems in the areas beyond national jurisdiction.
  7. Regional oil and gas development capacity building programme in the Western Indian Ocean region (2016).
  8. Launching of the following publications:

Recent achievements under its two flagship projects WIOSAP and SAPPHIRE  

  1. Strengthening the Science to Policy interface in Western Indian Ocean region – The projects have supported the Nairobi Convention’s convening of science to policy forums in the region.
  2. Partnership building – The projects have carried out various activities and workshops that are aimed at promoting governance and regional collaborations. Click here for details.
  3. Ocean governance – The SAPPHIRE project has carried out various activities and developed products aimed at strengthening ocean governance in the region. These include the updating the Marine Ecosystem Diagnostic Analysis (MEDAs).
  4. Implementation of 20 demonstration projects under the WIOSAP project on restoring critical habitats, improving water quality, or on sustainable river management.

I: Interesting Facts (About the WIO region and its Contracting Parties)

Nairobi Convention

  1. The largest seagrass beds in the world are found in the Mascarene Plateau.
  2. More than 2,200 species of fish, 300 species of hard coral, 10 species of mangrove, 12 species of seagrass and 1,000 species of seaweed, as well as hundreds of species of sponges, molluscs and crabs, are found in the coastal and marine environment of the countries of ComorosFranceKenyaMadagascarMauritiusMozambiqueSeychellesSomaliaTanzania and the Republic of South Africa 
  3. The coral reefs in the northern Mozambique Channel are the second most biodiverse in the world, after the Coral Triangle.
  4. The total area of mangrove cover in the WIO region is estimated at 1.0 million hectares; representing about 5.0% of global mangrove coverage.
  5. The WIO region includes the dwelling sites of one of the earliest residents of Earth, evidenced by the most significant and oldest paleoanthropological finds in the world.
  6. 15% of the total number of the world's recorded species can be found in South Africa alone
  7. A report found that the ocean assets of the Western Indian Ocean region are valued at US$333.8 billion, and annual output at US$ 20.8 billion – 4th in line after the 3 largest economies of the region.
  8. A new pygmy seahorse has been discovered in South Africa
  9. In Kenya, single-use plastics, like straws, bottles, and cups, are now banned from national parks, beaches, & conservation areas.
  10. Seychelles has more coral reefs than its entire landmass.
  11. In Mauritius, the blue economy already represents over 10% of the GDP.
  12. 5 of the world’s 7 species of sea turtles can be found in Kenya (the Green, Hawksbill, Loggerhead, Olive Ridley, & Leatherback).

Contact us: 

Nairobi Convention Secretariat
UN Environment Programme
Tel: +254 20 7622022