The three-year project, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Government of Norway, will help eight East African countries devise action plans to curb sewage, chemicals and other pollutants coming from the land into the region’s rivers and coastal waters. The Western Indian Ocean – one of the most wildlife-rich in the world with important mangrove forests, seagrass beds, lagoons and coral reefs – is thought to hold more than 11,000 species of plants and animals including such creatures as the dugong, a marine mammal believed to be the inspiration for sea-farers tales of mermaids; the coelacanth, a fossil fish; and more than a fifth of the world’s tropical inshore fish species. According to UNEP, some 30 million people in the five mainland countries of Kenya, Mozambique, Somalia, South Africa and Tanzania and on the islands of the Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Reunion and Seychelles, depend upon the area’s marine and coastal resources for food, livelihoods and recreation. The project was announced at the Fourth Conference of the Parties to the Nairobi Convention for the protection, management and development of the marine and coastal environment of the eastern African region. The meeting is taking place through Thursday in the Madagascan capital of Antananarivo. The treaty is a regional mechanism established by UNEP through which global treaties and agreements, including the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from land-based activities (UNEP/GPA) and those relating to the UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO), can be implemented. The GEF is a multi-billion-dollar fund that invests in projects in developing countries. UNEP, along with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank, play key roles in managing the Fund’s projects on the ground.