Main Issue

Coastal waters often receive a wide range of urban, agricultural, and industrial wastes. Coastal pollution caused by land-based activities is one of the most serious threats to the world’s large marine ecosystems (LMEs) and productive river deltas and impacting human health, unique ecosystems, and economic prosperity. Today, 44% of the world’s population lives within 150 km of a coastline, and two-thirds of the planet’s largest cities are in low-lying coastal areas. 

Assuming that urbanization and demographic trends continue, the anthropogenic impact on coastal ecosystems will increase dramatically as the world’s population grows from around 7.5 billion to an estimated 9.2 billion by 2050. The predicted increase in the frequency and intensity of storm events together with sea-level rise associated with climate change will further heighten the risk of coastal water contamination and deteriorate the natural resources that many countries depend on for food security and economic growth.

One of the most alarming signs of the negative effects of land-based sources of pollution on marine environments is the rising number of ‘dead zones’ occurring throughout the world’s oceans. The number of dead zones has doubled in each of the last four decades: approximately 500 dead zones have been officially identified and this number is expected to rise as the oceans warm. 

What We Do

Efforts targeted at prevention, reduction, and control of coastal pollution caused by land-based activities are crucial to maintaining the ecological, social, and economic well-being of countries situated along the coasts of the world’s LMEs. The threat from nutrient pollution to coastal zones has historically been one of the priorities within the IW focal area, with a total investment to date of US$422 million leveraging a total of US$4.64 billion from other partners. 

The multitude of point and non-point sources of pollution, their predominantly transboundary origins, and the fact that tides and currents can carry pollutants vast distances combine to make coastal pollution a complex management issue. The IW focal area will continue to support investments to tackle the land-based sources of pollution challenge through a ‘ridge to reef’/”Source to Sea” management approach that is focusing on integrated and ecosystem-based  investments operating across multiple sectors, borders and scales. GEF 7 will also address increasing threats identified in agreed Strategic Action Plans with regard to land- and ship-based sources of pollution, including marine litter.  Reducing that pollution can be achieved by improving coastal management as well as supporting strategic regional investments to e.g. inform the transformation of plastic supply chains with substantial impacts on global marine plastic pollution and piloting and scaling-up innovative policy incentives and technologies to address point and non-point sources of pollution from domestic, municipal, industrial and agricultural sources.


Over the past decades, the GEF has supported several projects to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in some of the world’s most vulnerable water systems — from the Black Sea and Danube Basin to the Mediterranean Sea.

These engagements led to scaling-up of national investments in the Danube basin. The Agricultural Pollution Control Project in Călărași, Romania, for example, improved the health and economic situation of 26,700 farmers by introducing nonpoint pollution control devices and best practices, particularly on-farm and communal platforms to control pollution run-off from manure. Over a 2.5-year period, the project resulted in a 28% drop in levels of nitrate in drinking water. This substantially reduced the risk of blue baby syndrome due to acute nitrate poisoning. This project successfully demonstrated innovations and catalyzed scaling up at the national level in another 86 nutrient vulnerable zones, which was essential in order for Romania to meet international drinking water standards, as well as the EU Nitrate Directive.

The GEF also supports Innovative financing for wastewater management in the Caribbean, benefitting mainland and small island states in the region. It is estimated that 85% of wastewater entering the Caribbean Sea remains untreated. The degradation caused by this is of serious concern and has clear health impact on both populations and the coastal ecosystems, as well as seriously impact the region economically.  The Caribbean Regional Fund for Wastewater Management (CReW), established in 2011, provides sustainable innovative financing for the wastewater sector, support policy and legislative reform, and foster regional dialogue and knowledge exchange among key stakeholders in the Wider Caribbean Region.

Looking Ahead

The GEF-7 IW strategy will help countries identify and regionally prioritize sustainable public and private investments to fund collective management of freshwater, coastal, and marine systems and implementation of the full range of integrated policies and legal and institutional reforms. This will be done in tandem with catalyzing regional processes, such as the transboundary diagnostic analysis/strategic action program in order to advance cooperation in addressing Source to Sea pollution challenges.

GEF-7 provides an opportunity to assist countries in effectively addressing a suite of stressors including not just land-based sources of pollution but also overfishing and loss and damage of key coastal and marine ecosystems. Given the numerous initiatives around oceans in recent years that have emerged in the international community, there is a clear need to establish an overarching and integrated framework required to mobilize action, and support institutions in a cross-sectoral transition toward achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 14, which calls for a significant reduction in marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution