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Benguela Current Ecosystem Project

Case Authors

Dave Gershman, Julia Wondolleck and Steven Yaffee, University of Michigan


The Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem runs along southwestern Africa and the coastline of Angola, Namibia and South Africa. While each nation had its own laws and management systems governing marine resources, they were not compatible and the countries lacked the resources, expertise and legal tools to promote effective management.

This evolving transboundary initiative began in 1995 as the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem Programme (BCLMEP), implemented under the United Nations Development Programme. The focus area extended from the shoreline high-water mark to at least the 200-mile limit of the Exclusive Economic Zone of the three nations.

It provides advice to the governments of the three nations to move towards a cooperative, ecosystem-based approach to management of their marine resources and was granted $15 million in funding by the Global Environment Facility, a fund managed by the World Bank.

In 2002, the initiative began supporting projects in the region, focusing on the need to averting a greater collapse of economically and ecologically important fisheries. It also focused on transboundary matters related to mining, oil and gas exploration, and marine- and land-based sources of pollution.

Accomplishments included generating key ecological and socio-economic data, identifying areas in which national policy could be harmonized or strengthened to protect the ecosystem and eliminate threats, and assisting in the development of human and institutional capacity for the nations to sustain effective resource management practices.

In 2007, the partnership was strengthened through the agreement on an interim structure for a Benguela Current Commission, which replaced the BCLMEP as funding expired. The commission will continue to oversee implementation of national commitments and provide a more formal mechanism for collaboration on an ecosystem-based management approach.

MEBM Attributes

  • Scale: Focus on an ecosystem across political boundaries.
  • Collaboration: Development of high-level, consensus-backed commitments to improving that ecosystem.
  • Complexity: Commitment to integrating the best possible science in advising management of the ecosystem.

Mission and Primary Objectives


The mission of the initiative is to create sustainable, integrated management of the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem using an ecosystem approach across political boundaries.


The Strategic Action Programme developed by the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem Programme and being carried out by the Benguela Current Commission committed the nations of Angola, Namibia and South Africa to the establishment of the following principles:

  • The need to adopt a concept of sustainable development within the Large Marine Ecosystem (LME) using appropriate economic and policy instruments.
  • The application of the precautionary principle to all matters appertaining to the LME.
  • The adoption of anticipatory and cooperative actions and agreements.
  • The use of clean technologies and phasing out of high waste-generating processes.
  • The integration of ecosystem approaches and environmental/human welfare into all relevant policy and sectoral planning and implementation.
  • Transboundary cooperation between states and within the private sector.
  • The encouragement of full participation and transparency with and between all LME stakeholders.
  • Compliance with the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.


Key Parties

Lead Organizations

  • Governments of Angola, Namibia and South Africa
  • Global Environment Facility of the World Bank
  • United Nations Development Programme

Key Parties

  • United Nations Environmental Programme
  • United Nations Office for Project Services
  • Multiple government agencies of Angola, Namibia and South Africa
  • External governments, including Norway
  • Non-governmental organizations
  • Fishing industry organizations


Program Structure

Initial Program - Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem Programme

The Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem Programme (BCLMEP) was steered by a small management committee, composed of representatives of the Angola, Namibia and South Africa, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and donor organizations. It appointed a project coordinator, who was based in Namibia, which provided logistical and administrative support through its Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources. The UNDP also provided assistance from its office in Namibia.

Activity centers were established in the three nations, and advisory groups were appointed in 2002 and 2003, consisting of two members from each nation. Each advisory group formed task forces to develop project proposals. After receiving the endorsement of the advisory group, a project was forwarded to the management committee for final approval. 

The activity centers were located as follows:

  • The Living Marine Resources Activity Centre in Namibia
  • The Biodiversity, Ecosystem Health and Pollution Activity Centre in Angola
  • The Environmental Variability and Predictability Activity Centre in South Africa

Current Program – Benguela Current Commission

The Benguela Current Commission (BCC) builds on the work of the BCLMEP to provide a more formal mechanism to advance an ecosystem-based approach to resource management in the region and monitor efforts by the nations to implement their agreements in the Strategic Action Programme developed by the BCLMEP. The following is an interim structure; a treaty is anticipated.

  • Ministerial Conference. The BCC is guided by a Ministerial Conference, which includes high-level delegates from the three nations, who can approve changes to the Strategic Action Programme and develop broad policy.
  • Management Board. The Management Board includes a delegate from each nation and is charged with promoting coordinated regional approaches to dealing with resource management issues, coordinating the implementation of the Strategic Action Programme, ensuring adequate stakeholder consultation, and interpreting and applying policy from the Ministerial Conference. The position of chairman will rotate among the three nations.

The Management Board receives advice from three advisory committees: marine living resources, minerals and oils committee, and ecosystem health and environment committee. The Management Board may establish working groups to involve persons with particular expertise or who represent groups of people with interests in the subject matter being dealt with by the working group.

  • Secretariat. An executive secretary is appointed by the Management Board to oversee the Secretariat, which conducts administrative functions, prepares reports and assessments, and draws up work plans.
  • Ecosystem Advisory Committee. The Ecosystem Advisory Committee includes experts named by the three nations to provide the best available scientific, management, legal and other information, and to build the capacity within the three nations to provide expert advice.

Motivations for Initiating Effort

Political changes and the end of internal conflicts allowed the nations of southwest Africa to focus in the mid-1990s on what were highly evident marine environmental concerns.

In 1995, a workshop on fisheries resource dynamics in the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem was held in Namibia. It led to the agreement of Angola, Namibia and South Africa to create and jointly manage the Benguela Environment Fisheries Interaction and Training Programme (BENEFIT). The program was designed to develop scientific capacity and training, and improved understanding of the ecosystem, though it did not focus on transboundary issues. Its creation also coincided with two major research surveys of a portion of the large marine ecosystem.

Conversations at the workshop also sparked creation of the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem Programme (BCLMEP), though the program would take longer to develop. A proposal for a grant from the Global Environment Facility was written in 1995 and refined through the United Nations World Development Programme. Funding was made available beginning in 1998.

Formation of the more formal collaborative mechanism provided by the interim Benguela Current Commission was a goal of the BCLMEP. The commission also absorbed the activities of BENEFIT.


Ecosystem Characteristics and Threats

The Ecosystem

The Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem is an extraordinarily productive ocean area that runs along southwestern Africa. It contains one of the four major coastal upwelling ecosystems of the world, supporting an important global reservoir of biodiversity and biomass of zooplankton, fish, sea birds, and marine mammals. Off-shore sediments contain rich deposits of diamonds and other precious metals, as well as oil and gas reserves. Commercial fisheries are important to local economies. The area’s natural beauty also is being discovered by tourists, although it is still regarded as relatively pristine by global standards.


Threats to the ecosystem, however, are becoming more pressing and rapid degradation of coastal habitat has been observed. Several fish stocks collapsed due to overfishing and ecologically destructive fishing practices following the rapid expansion of fisheries in the 1960s and 1970s and their heavy exploitation by foreign fleets. Regional conflict has driven more people to live along the coast, where development and industry were poorly-planned, resulting in declines in the coastal habitat. Alien species have been introduced through ballast water. The location of the ecosystem also makes it more susceptible to impacts of climate change.


Major Strategies

The Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem Programme sponsored about 100 projects in the region to support the following strategies:

Capacity Strengthening

Opportunities for scientists and researchers in the region needed to be improved to develop the human capital that would allow the governments of Angola, Namibia and South Africa to execute scientific monitoring and research to maintain effective management of the marine resources.

Policy Development and Harmonization

Advice and recommendations were needed to assist the three nations in developing and harmonizing policy, and developing management tools to improve the ecosystem. Targeted areas included:

  • Management policies for shared fish stocks and fishery conservation measures.
  • Development of a regional structure to conduct transboundary fish stock and ecosystem assessments.
  • Coordination of efforts to control marine- and land-based pollution.
  • Ensure oil spill contingency plans are complimentary.
  • Development of a regional consultation framework to mitigate mining impacts.

Regional Assessments and Monitoring

Shared knowledge of the ecosystem was critical to developing management approaches and information that would support transboundary management approaches to the ecosystem.

Monitoring, Assessment and Evaluation

The Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem Programme (BCLMEP) and its successor, the Benguela Current Commission (BCC), were developed with an emphasis on ecological monitoring and program evaluation.

Under the BCLMEP, ecosystem monitoring projects were undertaken, and periodic independent and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-facilitated evaluations were commissioned to measure progress in meeting program goals.

Under the BCC, environmental and socio-economic indicators of progress were to be established, and each nation was expected to collect baseline data of the ecosystem. A schedule was to be designed for annual tripartite reviews, and the UNDP was expected to conduct periodic monitoring of the program.


Increased Cooperation

The nations of Angola, Namibia and South Africa have developed an increased sense of trust and established cooperative relationships through the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem Programme (BCLMEP). One example is the interim agreement on a more comprehensive structure for recommending ecosystem-based management approaches, the Benguela Current Commission. Through the evolving initiative, representatives of the three nations have agreed that new conservation and management measures are needed. The signing of the Strategic Action Programme committed the governments to work together to coordinate and harmonize the surveying, assessment and management of shared fish stocks, and improve the predictability of environmental events within the large marine ecosystem. Joint transboundary fish stock and pollution surveys, for instance, were carried out.

Information Provision

Scientific information has been produced to provide the nations with a fuller understanding of the stresses and health of the ecosystem, focusing on fisheries and pollution impacts. The BCMLEP identified potential environmentally-driven changes in the ecosystem, for instance. Projects have been undertaken to strengthen the scientific community and provide research and training for scientists; computers, monitoring equipment, and two ski boats were purchased to facilitate research, and major commitments were made to refurbishing an Angolan research vessel to conduct environmental monitoring surveys.

Policy Development

A number of policies have been developed to address transboundary issues, and, while some of them remain to be implemented, progress has been made in creating important management tools. Policies include regional measures that were adopted to quantify, assess and reduce fisheries by-catch and the number of sea birds killed through long-lining fishing methods. Draft regional water quality guidelines were adopted. And transboundary contingency plans were developed to address oil spills.


Website Links

Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem Programme:

Benguela Current Commission:

Global Environment Facility: