What are Large Marine Ecosystems? 

Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs) are relatively large areas of ocean space of about 200,000 km2 or more, adjacent to the continents in coastal waters and extending out seaward to the break or slope of the continental shelf or out to the seaward extent of a well-defined current system along coasts lacking continental shelves. LMEs are characterized by their unique undersea topography, current and water mass structure, marine productivity, and food chain interactions.

The 66 LMEs are the most highly productive areas of the oceans. They harbor biodiversity and provide important ecosystem services and tangible benefits, including livelihoods, food security (producing about 80 percent of the world’s annual marine wild fisheries catch), shoreline protection, carbon sequestration and storage, and recreational opportunities. LMEs also provide less tangible benefits like spirituality, inspiration, and cultural and aesthetic connection to nature. Taken together, LMEs provide direct services approaching US$3 trillion annually, with a non-market value estimated at $US22 trillion each year.

These ecosystems are transboundary in nature by virtue of interconnected currents, pollution, and movement and migration of marine living resources. LMEs represent multi-country, ecosystem-based management units for measuring the changing states of these defined ocean spaces, and for taking remedial actions toward the recovery and sustainability of degraded goods and services.

What is the GEF LME:LEARN project?

GEF LME:LEARN is a project (2016-2019) funded by the Global Environmental Facility, implemented by the United Nations Development Programme and managed by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization). LME:LEARN is jointly implemented with IW:LEARN, the umbrella project for LEARN projects, with a common PCU.

Lead partners of the project include the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization, the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Conservation International. A project coordination unit sits at the headquarters of UNESCO-IOC in Paris, France and functions during the course of the project as a Global LME Secretariat. 

GEF LME:LEARN is to improve global ecosystem-based governance of Large Marine Ecosystems and their coasts by generating knowledge, building capacity, harnessing public and private partners and supporting south-to-south and north-to-south learning. The project aims to meet this through identifying the priority issues affecting governance of the LMEs, along with their associated coastal zones, and marine protected areas, as well as their underlying root causes, and by integrating these in a global ecosystem-based governance framework founded on global coordination and cooperation. A key element of this improved governance is thus mainstreaming cooperation between LME, MPA and ICM projects in overlapping areas, both for GEF and non-GEF projects.

The Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA) and Strategic Action Programme (SAP) development approach for the management of Large Marine Ecosystems is consistently used to develop management strategies for the Large Marine Ecosystems (LME). For more information, please read the recent UNDP publication Large Marine Ecosystems and Sustainable Development: A Review of Strategic Management Processes and Goals


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