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The Challenge

Pollution is having a massive impact on our biodiversity, our ecosystems and our health. It affects all parts of our planet and impacts us through the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. The health of people and the planet is central to sustainable development, and pollution puts at risk our ability to meet global goals and targets relating to the environment and wellbeing.

At UNEP-WCMC we recognise the impact pollution has on our environment and on our lives. We’re supporting UN Environment’s #BeatPollution campaign, as well as working on a range of projects to find out how pollution is affecting biodiversity around the world.


Our solution & impact

UNEP-WCMC is working on a number of projects across the Centre to address the challenge conserving biodiversity in the face of increasing pollution.


Indicators of marine pollution

We are supporting UN Environment in developing a guidance manual – The Global Manual on Ocean Statistics - which can be used by countries to track progress towards some of the Sustainable Development Goal 14 (Life below water) targets. One of these targets is related to marine pollution: ‘By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution’. The suggested indicators for countries to track and report progress on this target are indicators for coastal eutrophication and marine plastic debris. At UNEP-WCMC, we’re identifying the methods that currently exist for implementing these indicators and selecting the most globally applicable approaches. We will then develop a step-by-step guide. This can then be used by countries around the world to use these indicators to successfully tackle marine pollution.

Coral reefs and Sustainable Development Goals

As part of our work with the International Coral Reef Initiative, we have produced briefing notes on how sustainable management measures for coral reef can support the Sustainable Development Goals. This includes reducing plastic and other pollution through responsible catchment management, which can improve reef health as well as the health of the local community.

Analysing the impact of land use on the ocean

We are working with the International Resource Panel on their first ever marine study on the impact of land based activities on marine resources. This includes considering how human development and resulting pollution, such as waste and plastic, affects the ocean, and marine resources and industry. The study seeks to bring together industries, scientists, conservation practitioners and policy makers in a shared understanding of the widespread sources and impacts of pollution, in order to improve global governance of the land-sea interface.


Mapping pollution threats

UNEP-WCMC has mapped the distribution of threats to biodiversity across the planet. This work follows on from a previous project where we analysed threats to IUCN Red List species. Using IUCN range map data, we have now mapped where those threats are occurring globally, and where they are affecting species. One such threat is pollution. The analysis revealed that pollution is having the greatest impact on species in Europe and North America. Available maps of pollution highlight the same regions of the world as having high levels of pollutants which have tangible impacts on multiple species on the Red List. We are now working on a web-based tool where data and information on threats to biodiversity can be accessed and downloaded. In the future, it is hoped that this analysis will be used to inform conservation decision-making.


Marine microplastics in the Mediterranean

UNEP-WCMC is one of 28 partners from 14 countries around the Mediterranean working on the ODYSSEA project. ODYSSEA is developing an online platform which will provide data and information services to policy makers, marine planners and managers, as well as commercial and recreational users, to support the sustainable development and conservation of the Mediterranean Sea. The platform will integrate data from a range of sources, as well as filling key gaps in data through a network of coastal observatories, in situ marine sensors, oceanographic modelling and citizen science apps. Three ODYSSEA partners, ALSEAMAR, Develogic and Leitat, are working together to deploy in situ marine sensors for microplastics and other marine variables.  By providing data on microplastics in the Mediterranean, the ODYSSEA platform can support countries in monitoring and reporting their progress against a range of environmental targets.

Expertise & Team

Our team comprises experts in biodiversity and ecosystem services for marine, freshwater and terrestrial environments, together with social scientists, ecological modellers, economists, lawyers, geographic information system specialists, policy analysts, data managers and software programmers. We are using our collective knowledge and experience to try and tackle the challenge of pollution. 


Partners & Donors

We have worked with many partners and funders on our pollution work, including: