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The Atlas will provide continuously updated strategic data on the state of the oceans, together with maps, development trends and threats to human health from the deteriorating marine environment. This information is intended for a complete cross section of users – from schoolchildren, educators and the general public to policy makers, scientists, the media, NGOs, and resource managers, who need access to comprehensive databases.

Over-fishing, destruction of coastal habitat and pollution from industry, farms and households are endangering not only fish – the leading individual source of animal protein in the human diet – but also marine biodiversity and even the global climate. The Atlas will better spotlight these and the other most acute marine issues with links to real-time maps and tracking data.

It is hoped that UN Atlas will form an important informational foundation for future national and international policy development, setting research priorities and for intergovernmental negotiations on ocean issues.

The Atlas supports Chapter 17 of Agenda 21, the blueprint for sustainable development of the oceans adopted at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janerio and is funded by the United Nations Foundation along with six other UN agencies that are united by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD). The UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) led the initiative to compile the atlas.

Dr Jacques Diouf, the director general of the FAO said, “This is the first time a community of world scientific and academic experts has collaborated on an information product of this breadth and depth. It will allow us to monitor problems in a way that hasn’t been possible in the past.”

There are four main entry points in the atlas: about the oceans, uses of the oceans, issues and geography. More than 900 topics are currently covered with 17 founding editors. Further issues and several hundred designated topic editors will be added over time.

Amongst the issues relevant to the oceans are climate change, food security, human health and pollution and degradation.

Included in the atlas is information on the many different sources and types of marine pollution. Most marine pollution comes from land-based sources, reaching the seas by air and rivers as well as directly from land. Sewage, eutrophication and sediment mobilization are major global concerns among the UN experts, along with destruction of habitat.

Information is also provided in the atlas about toxic algal blooms and how to mitigate against them. The number of poisonous algal species identified by scientists has nearly tripled since 1984, increasing fish kills, beach closures, and economic losses.

The UN website will be supplemented by a CD-ROM and other media, co-published with Cinegram Media, to reach broader audiences and regions where internet access is difficult.

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