Main Issue

Many small island nations share similar sustainable development challenges such as rapidly growing populations, limited resources and fragile environments. The discharge of untreated wastewater into coastal waters, for example, has significantly damaged coastal ecosystems and coral reefs.

The resilience of many fragile island ecosystems is also threatened by climate change, which makes management of shared marine resources more complex. Climate change intensifies existing threats to the coastal and marine environments in the region and further threatens economic, environmental and human security.

This is particularly true in low-lying atoll nations where sea-level rise and extreme weather events are putting coastal and freshwater resources under even greater stress. However, many still lack the systems and the technical support they need to effectively manage their vital coastal and watershed resources.

What We Do

The GEF is a financial institution with the ability and experience to confront the challenges facing shared marine and coastal ecosystems. We are working with island nations in the Pacific, Caribbean and Africa to help them develop practical and cost-effective solutions to sustain the natural resource base that underpins life in these fragile islands. 

Many small island developing states are the custodians of huge marine territories with resources and biodiversity of significant global value. Many share sustainable development challenges such as rapidly growing populations, limited resources, and fragile environments. The discharge of untreated wastewater into coastal waters has contributed significant damage to their coastal ecosystems and coral reefs.

Few states around the world are more dependent upon healthy and spatially concentrated natural environment resources for socio-economic development than the Pacific Island countries (PICs). The GEF works with 14 countries — Cook Islands, Fiji, Micronesia, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Palau, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Samoa. 

The 14 Pacific Islands Ridge-to-Reef Program (PICs R2R) covers several focal areas, including Biodiversity and Climate Change Adaptation, to deliver multiple global environment benefits. The program is built on country priorities and lessons from successes and failures of all partners in the region. 

To that end, it aims to help countries maintain and enhance ecosystem goods and services through integrated approaches to land, water, forest, biodiversity and coastal resource management. These, in turn, contribute to poverty reduction, sustainable livelihoods and climate resilience. On-the-ground efforts are complemented by mainstreaming biodiversity and sustainable land management into national policy and regulatory frameworks.


In the Caribbean, the “Integrating Watershed and Coastal Areas Management (IWCAM)” project helped participating countries to implement an integrated approach to the management of watersheds and coastal areas. With projects focused on improvements in integrated freshwater basin-coastal area management on each island of the regional groupings of Caribbean SIDS, the project was able to introduce the Ridge to Reef concept in the management of natural resources in the Caribbean islands. 

This, in turn, catalyzed the Protocol Concerning Pollution from Land-Based Sources and Activities (LBS Protocol) under the Cartagena Convention to enter into force. In addition, the project played a central role in the formulation of a water management plan for the Basseterre Valley Aquifer.

The GEF in Action

Composting Toilets Protect Tuvalu’s Water Systems

Some 1,000 km north of Fiji, the nation of Tuvalu consists of eight small coral islands with a total population of just 12,000. Over 4,000 people live on the capital island of Funafuti, a community regularly affected by long droughts. Rainwater is the only cheap and reliable source of potable water. Despite the best efforts of donors and environment agencies, the local community viewed composting toilets as no better than the old unhygienic pit toilets. As a direct result of GEF demonstration projects, however, there has been a remarkable increase in community demand for composting toilets.

Strategic Action in the Caribbean

The Caribbean Large Marine Ecosystem (CLME) and the present project CLME+ is helping the region shift from a national-focused fisheries and marine resources management approach to a more collaborative, ecosystem-based approach necessary for sustainable development. A Joint Action Plan by the subregional fisheries bodies of Central America (OSPESCA) and of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) has targeted a number of economically important fisheries such as the spiny lobster, queen conch and large pelagics. By June 2014, 31 ministers from 22 different countries had endorsed the Caribbean and North Brazil (CLME) Strategic Action Program — the largest number of endorsement for such a programme in the history of the GEF.

With GEF support, the Strategic Action Plan for the Caribbean and North Brazil Shelf included key achievements for the countries that will lead to sustainable management of the fisheries resources in the CLME+ region, namely:

  • Developed the first Regional Fisheries Management Plan for the four-wing flying fish, and ensured its adoption
  • Worked with Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama to implement the joint seasonal closed period on lobster fishing during the breeding season along the entire Caribbean coastline of Central America
  • Established a Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation between OSPESCA and the Central American Commission for Environment and Development
  • Promoted exemplary collaboration among several UN agencies, academia, and regional governance bodies
  • Fostered enhanced coordination and collaboration among fisheries and environment sectors in several CLME+ countries.