Large marine ecosystems (LMEs) are regions of the world's oceans, encompassing coastal areas from river basins and estuaries to the seaward boundaries of continental shelves and the outer margins of the major ocean current systems. They are relatively large regions on the order of 200,000 km² or greater, characterized by distinct bathymetry, hydrography, productivity, and trophically dependent populations.
The system of LMEs has been developed by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to identify areas of the oceans for conservation purposes. The objective is to use the LME concept as a tool for enabling ecosystem-based management to provide a collaborative approach to management of resources within ecologically-bounded transnational areas. This will be done in an international context and consistent with customary international law as reflected in 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
LME-based conservation is based on recognition that the world’s coastal ocean waters are degraded by unsustainable fishing practices, habitat degradation, eutrophication, toxic pollution, aerosol contamination, and emerging diseases, and that positive actions to mitigate these threats require coordinated actions by governments and civil society to recover depleted fish populations, restore degraded habitats and reduce coastal pollution.
Although the LMEs cover only the continental margins and not the deep oceans and oceanic islands, the 64 LMEs produce 95% of the world's annual marine fishery biomass yields. Most of the global ocean pollution, overexploitation, and coastal habitat alteration occur within their waters. NOAA has conducted studies of principal driving forces affecting changes in biomass yields for 33 of the 64 LMEs, which have been peer-reviewed and published in ten volumes.
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