The issues facing the coastal Eastern African countries are erosion and pollution of coastal and marine environments, as well as harvesting pressures resulting from rapid population growth in the coastal zone and expansion of the tourism industry. Rises in sea level and in temperature resulting from global climate change are also emerging as issues of concern.
The Eastern African coast supports a diversity of ecosystems including dry coastal forests, coastal dunes, floodplains, freshwater and saltwater marshes, mangrove forests, coral reefs, lagoons, sandy beaches and rocky shores. These support a rich and diverse resource base, including fish and seafood, construction materials, energy sources, wildlife habitat and tourism opportunities, as well as industrial and transportation activities.
The Red Sea coral reefs off the coasts of Djibouti, Eritrea, and Somalia are in good, often pristine, condition with 30-50 per cent live coral cover and the richest diversity of coral and other reef species in the entire Indian Ocean (Pilcher & Alsuhaibany 2000).
Rich mangrove forests not only protect the shoreline from storm surges and buffeting by ocean swell, but are also breeding grounds for many species of waterbirds. Along the coast of Kenya and southern Somalia, mangroves support commercial crab, oyster, and mullet fisheries, as well as artisanal harvesting of these and other species. These are extremely important to local economies and to many communities where fish is almost the sole source of animal protein (FAO 1997).
The natural assets of the Eastern African coast make it an ideal tourist destination. Kenya's tourism industry is the country's second largest earner of foreign exchange, contributing 19 per cent to GDP (World Bank 2000). In addition, the larger scale fisheries and associated industries provide a valuable source of foreign exchange and make a significant contribution to GDP.