Feature Story

Protecting Benguela together

July 23, 2015

Swakopmund, Namibia
The cold Benguela current laps the shores of Nambia, sustaining the rich marine ecosystem of the country, shared with South Africa and Angola

The Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem

The meeting point between Namibia’s hot desert sands and the cold Benguela ocean current harbours rich biodiversity and some of the most abundant marine life concentrations in the world. The Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem (BCLME) stretches northwards from South Africa, along Namibia’s entire coastline, into Angola.

The BCLME is one of the richest ecosystems on earth, with ecosystem goods and services worth an estimated US$54.3 billion annually. But this valuable ecosystem is vulnerable to destruction from human activities such as fishing, marine transport, mining,and land-based pollution that destroys habitats.

Three Countries, One Ecosystem, One Goal

Until recently, the sustainable management of the BCLME and its resources was not integrated, neither within the individual countries nor the broader region.

To remedy this, government leaders from Angola, Namibia, and South Africa inaugurated a co-operative venture to improve management of the BCLME, which established the transboundary Benguela Current Commission (BCC), the world‘s first commission based on the Large Marine Ecosystem approach to ocean governance.

Today, the BCC promotes a co-ordinated regional approach to long-term sustainability for the BCLME. Safeguarding this valuable ecosystem realises benefits to the economy society, achieved without damage to the environment. 


A pelican flying over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Swakopmund, Namibia.

Three Countries: Joint Action

As a shared resource between Namibia, Angola, and South Africa, management by stakeholders across all three countries is of fundamental importance.

UNDP, through a series of projects funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), has been assisting the governments of the three countries in managing these precious ocean resources amidst various competing economic activities and interests.

“…between Namibia and Angola, they started negotiating a joint management plan to manage a shared stock, which is socio-economically important to both countries. In South Africa, we supported the development of an oceans policy, which integrates all the sectors and brings them all under one framework for the country to address ocean issues,” Nico Willemse, Head of Energy and Environment, UNDP Namibia.

At the heart of the Benguela Current Convention is a long-term perspective that prioritises the sustainable use of ecosystem goods and services, while recognising that human livelihood is an integral consideration. 

Human Livelihoods, on Land and at Sea

The three countries, with UNDP and GEF support, are working together on a novel approach to safeguard ecosystem sustainability across multiple marine sectors.

“If you’re not caring about the environment, the operation of the fishing industry will collapse because fishing and fisheries need a good ecosystem. We’re all neighbouring countries, and we have a common goal. The way we’ve been managing and running it is to really have a long term vision in thinking about tomorrow and not only about today,” Matti Amukwa, Namibian Hake Association.

Fish processing factory in Walvis Bay, Namibia

Newly enacted policies and regulations include measures to ensure sustainable fisheries (such as suspending fishing to let stocks replenish), protective measures (such as establishing a marine protected area for threatened species and habitats), and oil spill contingency plans.

By working in tandem and cross-sectorally, Angola, Namibia, and South Africa are taking critical steps to ensure the long-term future of their shared ocean-based economies and societies.

“It’s very important for us to have a long-term business. If we can think that we have to overfish like they have done in many places during the last 20 years, then we don’t have a business the day after tomorrow,” Tomas Kjelgaard, Managing Director, Melrus Seafood Processors.

Crossing Boundaries: Working towards a Sustainable Future

Remedying decades of fragmented management and over-exploitation of resources in the Benguela ecosystem will require a substantial co-ordinated effort and consistent action in the years ahead. This task will require careful planning, not only by the government agencies in the three Benguela countries, but also by local stakeholders and the international community. Community and private sector participation is integral to implementing the integrated approaches to ocean and coastal resources management required to ensure the BCLME will continue to support the peoples of Angola, Namibia, and South Africa far into the future. For more information on the Benguela Current Commission and its activities, please visit: www.benguelacc.org