Source: UNEP

Geneva, 12 August 2010 - Renowned for its caviar among the world's epicureans, the Caspian Sea boasts much more wildlife than its famous sturgeon fish. The world's largest enclosed body of water is a unique ecosystem and home to over 400 endemic species. But for the last two decades, the Caspian Sea is increasingly exposed to the threat of pollution from agricultural run-off, oil and gas exploitation and industrial waste.

Today, five countries are celebrating "Caspian Day" to highlight the environmental risks faced by the sea and their effect on the wider region.

Beach-cleaning activities, conferences, thematic workshops, and concerts will be held throughout the day in Azerbaijan, Islamic Republic of Iran, Kazakhstan, Russian Federation and Turkmenistan. The events aim to show that protecting the marine environment of the Caspian Sea is essential for improving the living conditions of the 15 million people living in the region.

The celebrations will also mark the contribution made by the protection of the Caspian Sea environment to peace and stability in a region of global importance for oil and gas exploration, exploitation and transport.

Caspian Day marks the entry into force of the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea. Known as the Tehran Convention, the agreement was concluded on 4 November 2003 and is still the only legally binding agreement between the five states.

The first two protocols of the Tehran Convention have already been negotiated and are ready for adoption. They will introduce cooperation on preparation and response measures for oil spills, as well as common rules for dealing with the environmental impact of activities with potential trans-boundary effects.

It is expected that the protocols will be ready for signature when the Contracting Parties to the Tehran Convention meet for the third time in Kazakhstan in November 2010.

Caspian Day is also meant to raise awareness and solicit public engagement in conserving biodiversity and reducing pollution from land based sources. Binding protocols on these issues are in the process of being finalised.

In addition, cooperation between the environment community and the fisheries sector will address declining fish stocks and promote ecosystem resilience as a way to sustain the 140 species of fish living in the sea, sturgeon being one of the most important.

UNEP is proud to provide the secretariat services of the Tehran Convention pending the decision of the Contracting Parties on the location and arrangements for these services in the region. Such a decision was already called for by the presidents of the Caspian countries when they met in Tehran in October 2007 and is now urgently needed, in order to seal the ownership of the Convention process by the Caspian States. The issue will be high on the agenda of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention when it convenes for the third time on 24 - 26 November 2010, in Astana, Kazakhstan.

"Increased oil and gas production and transport, decline in fisheries and biodiversity, impacts of climate change - all these environmental threats that the Caspian Sea is facing have a strong impact on the daily lives of the people around the Sea", said United Nations Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. "UNEP is proud and honoured to provide the secretariat services to the Framework Convention on the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea, the Tehran Convention, which aims to assist the Caspian States to counter these threats and promote sustainable development. Sustainable development, however, is a matter for everyone. Caspian Day is held to inform the public of the unique and sensitive environment of the biggest inland water body on Earth. It is only when all stakeholders take responsibility and when they are involved in decision-making and environmental protection efforts, that the Caspian region can prosper in a truly sustainable manner".

At 1000km long, the Caspian Sea is the largest enclosed body of water on Earth. It is a remnant of the ancient ocean Tethis, which connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans around 50 million years ago. Around 130 rivers feed into the Caspian Sea, the largest being the Volga.

Today's celebrations will mark both the achievements and the challenges of an ongoing process which should keep the Caspian environment safe for generations to come.

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