Continued over-fishing in the face of scientific warnings, fishing down food webs, destruction of habitat, and accelerated pollution loading—especially nitrogen export—have resulted in significant degradation to coastal and marine ecosystems of both rich and poor nations. Fragmentation among institutions, international agencies, and disciplines, lack of cooperation among nations sharing marine ecosystems, and weak national policies, legislation, and enforcement all contribute to the need for a new imperative for adopting ecosystem-based approaches to managing human activities in these systems in order to avoid serious social and economic disruption. The global environment facility (GEF) has been approached by developing countries in overwhelming numbers for assistance in securing the futures of their shared large marine ecosystems (LMEs). This paper describes GEF supported processes being used to assist them in adopting a science-driven, ecosystem-based approach to the management of human activities affecting coastal and marine ecosystems and linked freshwater basins. At risk are renewable goods and services valued at $10.6 trillion per year. A total of 10 LME projects involving 72 countries have been approved by the GEF Council, and another 7 LMEs involving 54 countries have GEF international waters projects under preparation. A five-module assessment and management methodology is being tested that moves the countries toward adopting practical joint governance institutions through place-based management. This LME approach engages stakeholders, fosters the participation of the science community, and leads to the development of adaptive management institutions. Comprehensive initiatives in four LMEs are described. The importance is underscored for establishing and coordinating partnerships between the North and South for specific LMEs and their linked watersheds. These coordinated North–South partnerships significantly augment catalytic interventions made by the GEF leading to reforms and investments that are helping make the transition to sustainable development.
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