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Sustainable development in the Caspian Sea region

International scientists joined forces to develop an information service for the Caspian Sea region. Access to standardised data should facilitate economic development with low environmental impact.

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The Caspian Sea is the largest land-locked body of water on Earth. It has a unique marine ecosystem that is facing growing pressure from over-fishing, pollution, and oil and gas-related activities. The five countries bordering the Sea are Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan. They are characterised by different political and social systems facing a similar struggle to re-establish effective administrative and economic systems. Importantly, they also share a desire to protect the natural heritage of the Caspian Sea. A major consortium of concerned scientists initiated the EU-funded project 'Caspian environmental and industrial data & information service' (CASPINFO). Their aim was to strengthen the data building and management capacity required by stakeholders to meet the region's challenges by producing a definition of the system requirements. For this purpose, scientists formed a network of stakeholders including marine environmentalists, policymakers, the gas and oil industry, and international organisations. Excellent cooperation resulted in the creation of repositories with up-to-date socioeconomic, legal and scientific data and metadata. It also led to mutual understanding and respect between industry and environmentalists regarding practices for reducing negative impact on the environment. Ensuring compatibility with other marine projects and data systems is a major boon for international research as well as local communities. Protocols, standards and formats followed those of the EU Framework Programme (FP) projects SEADATANET and BLACK SEA SCENE to include the Caspian Sea. However, this project is unique as it also includes non-environmental information. The locations of gas and oil installations, legal aspects such as licensing and socioeconomic data from public and private entities all relevant to marine ecosystem management set a paradigm certain to be of interest to other areas. CASPINFO has provided a critical and up-to-date data repository of information relevant to the Caspian Sea, and created a viable and productive network of stakeholders. Stakeholders are now able to face the growing challenges of preserving a fragile ecosystem, while maintaining competitiveness of associated industries important to regional economies.

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