The coastal waters of West, Central and Southern Africa - from Mauritania down to the tip of the continent in South Africa - are of vital importance to the region's economy. The marine ecosystems and coastal areas support rich fisheries and tourism and are also home to numerous busy ports.
But over the last three decades, rapid development, pollution and improper use of resources have had a damaging effect on coastal ecosystems. Erosion and flooding are also likely to be exacerbated by climate change.
The Abidjan Convention - administered by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) - is an umbrella agreement that addresses pollution, overfishing, dumping at sea, exploration of the sea bed and other activities that can impact on the health of marine and coastal ecosystems.
Now a new focus has been added to the work of the convention: reducing potential risks from oil spills.
Earlier this month, at the 9th Convention of the Parties (COP) to the Abidjan Convention in Ghana, governments from 19 of the 22 countries sharing the West, Central and Southern African coast of the Atlantic Ocean agreed to create an Oil Spill Contingency Plan and establish a regional centre for co-operation in case of oil spills and other emergencies.
Increased off-shore oil exploration is bringing significant revenue to Western, Central and Southern African states. But many countries expressed a strong desire at the COP meeting to work collaboratively to prevent oil spills, such as occurred in the Gulf of Mexico last year, from happening in the Gulf of Guinea or elsewhere in the region.
The Oil Spill Contingency Plan will complement existing national plans and allow countries to promptly report to each other oil spills or other pollution incidents occurring in their area of responsibility or that of another party. Member states were also encouraged to exchange information on combating oil pollution and to facilitate prompt, mutual assistance in the event of a major oil pollution incident.