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Integrated coastal zone management: a specialist highlights the needs, benefits and techniques

Dr. Peter R. Burbridge is a well-known advocate of integrated coastal zone management (ICZM). In a recent Coastal Challenges interview he explained what integrated coastal management is and why it is needed. Here are some of the comments made by Dr. Burbridge, Emeritus Professor of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in the U.K.:

“The development challenges facing humanity are most complex in the coastal regions. Why? Partly because the richness and diversity of the coastal resources’ opportunities to support economic and social development are much greater than in the terrestrial environment or the purely marine environment. It is that interface between the sea and the land where we find the most complex, the most rich and the most diverse forms of natural resources. And they sustain many different forms of economic development. And that means that there is much competition for access to and often exclusive use of the coastal area and coastal resources. Now, the challenge we face as managers is trying to maximise the potential use of these resources without damaging the very resource base which creates those resources in the first place.”


Dr. Burbridge being interviewed on integrated coastal management in Helsinki. Photography and copyright (c) 2012 Erkki Siirila.

“You need integration in the sense that there are different economic and social groups wanting to have access to the coast. And what you have to do is to try to treat them equitably, so that everybody has an equal chance of access to the resource but without damaging the resource for other people to enjoy and use in effective ways.  And that means that you have to get the different economic sectors to try to coordinate their activities so that they don´t disrupt the potential flow of benefits from the coast – without destroying the natural systems. And that’s the challenge. And that’s why we talk about integration. It is integration of different economic sectors, different social demands from the coast and different political systems trying to coordinate the development process more effectively.  We are talking about development planning here. We are not talking about environmental conservation. The environmental conservation is one tool to manage the natural systems.”

“Integrated coastal management is a set of principles to guide development planning. It is meant to create a working environment where people see that there are ways of doing things that are less environmentally damaging and more economically responsible, and create a greater social benefit. And that’s difficult, to get people to think of the environment, the economy and social aspects in the same sentence. And that’s what coastal management is trying to do. We are not purely trying to protect the environment, we are not trying to maximise the economic activities at the cost of social equity.”


Coastal zone activities in Helsinki, Finland, in April 2012. Photo copyright (c) 2012 Erkki Siirila.

“One of the problems we have is getting any political system to understand how complex the coastal resource pressures are, but also the great value of the coast, the strategic value of the coast in meeting social and economic pressures. And those pressures have to be managed. And the economic rationale behind that is that you can get greater social and  economic benefits by wise management than you can by totally unregulated free-for-all development. And that’s the challenge, this convincing people that the strategic value of the coast is important enough to invest in managing the coast effectively.”

The interview (“Dr. Peter Burbridge and Integrated Coastal Zone Management” on Youtube) addresses more coastal management topics than those mentioned above. Here is the direct Youtube link:

Coral conservation in Honduras: building on local roots is important

“We have got one of the best coral reefs in the Caribbean”, says Nelbin Bustamante from the Prolansate Foundation and Amatela reef conservation group of the Town of Tela, Honduras.  More in detail, Mr. Bustamante summarises the good news of a recent underwater study on the Tela reefs in the following words: “The live coral cover on our reefs is nearly 70 per cent per square metre”. This high number was registered on the Capiro Reef just seven kilometres from the city centre.


An offshore reef near Tela, Honduras. Photographer and copyright (c) 2012 Erkki Siirila.

Nevertheless, all the evaluation results were not positive. Mr. Bustamante says: “It could also be observed that the number of herbivorous and commercial fishes had reduced. Their biomass had gone down.”

As regards the threats, two main threats were identified in the study. One was the loss of forest cover. The other one was the lack of wastewater treatment. The Tela wastewaters flow directly into the sea and coral reefs. In addition to soil, the runoff contains many chemicals including fertilizers. The nutrients in the runoff may facilitate algal growth on the reefs as, at the same time, the levels of herbivorous fishes consuming the algae are lower than normal. Overfishing is an additional threat which needs to be controlled in Tela.

In any case Tela is a good and encouraging example in a world where the coral reefs are threatened by high fishing pressure, global climate change and other side effects of the growth of human societies. Off Tela, fairly healthy coral reefs can still be found and new awareness is creating motivation to protect the reefs.

Mr. Marcello Dicunta Servellón, who operates a dive centre in Tela, is satisfied: “Healthy coral reefs represents incredible opportunities. One of the most obvious ones is recreational diving. A well-managed dive industry on healthy reefs can result in high economic growth for the community.”

A Spanish-speaking documentary (Corales para amar – Tela protege sus arrecifes) with the above-mentioned content can be watched on Youtube:

Important progress in shark conservation

In the past, sharks were not appreciated because their importance as ecosystem top predators was not understood. As a result of that and global over exploitation of marine fauna, most shark populations declined to low levels. What contributed to the decline of sharks specifically, were their reproduction levels, which are much lower than those of other fish, i.e. from 2 (two) to 300 (three hundred) juveniles per pregnancy and female shark. Several other fish species produce hundreds of thousands of eggs. Of course, all of these eggs do not get fertilised.

Lately, shark conservation has been slowly advancing, as the value of sharks, approximately 400 species in total, has been understood. Finally, real steps to save the remaining sharks are being taken. Especially the cruel fishing of sharks for fins only, up to 73 million sharks annually, had resulted in a lot of bad publicity. This negative publicity together with pressure from environmental groups made governments and inter-governmental bodies speed up shark conservation measures. Now there is new hope for the sharks worldwide.

As the global species conservation agreement CITES only prohibits the international trade (not fishing) of three shark species, i.e. the white, whale and basking shark, there has been much need for more efficient protection measures. For example Shark Conservation Trust has done a lot of lobbying lately to improve the management measures at the national and international levels. The Trust is a cooperation body of more than one hundred conservation organisations.

Finally there is new hope for the declining shark populations. The image is from Namibia, photographer and copyright (c) 2011 Erkki Siirila.

The recent advances include the following:

Palau, Honduras, Colombia, Mexico, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, the Bahamas, and the Federated States of Micronesia signed during the UN General Assembly in September 2011 a declaration in which they promise to establish shark conservation areas in their national waters.

In China and Taiwan, where shark fin soup is a highly regarded speciality of the local kitchen, progress also took place. In September a campaign against shark finning started in China. It features Yao Ming, a local basked ball hero, and Richard Branson, a British millionaire. As to Taiwan, towards the end of 2011, the country passed a law which will end shark fishing for fins only at the beginning of January 2012.

In the U.S., the legislative loop holes in the management of shark fisheries were eliminated in 2011. This followed the example given by Australia, where the legislation had been tightened earlier. The Australian observation has been that when the law forces the fisherman to bring to port the entire shark with the fins attached, the interest in shark finning nearly disappears.

Positive news have been heard also from the European Union countries. On 21 November, the European Commission proposed to prohibit, with no exemptions, the practice of shark finning aboard fishing vessels. Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki said: “I very much look forward to the Council and the European Parliament accepting our proposal, so that it becomes law as soon as possible.” The proposal strengthens the existing EU legislation banning shark finning: member states will not be able to issue special fishing permits, which earlier have made the continuation of shark finning possible.

Days of Eastern Caribbean reefs are numbered

The West Indies’ coral reefs will disappear in a few decades. This is the shocking result of a new scientific study. Individual coral colonies will survive in the region even in the future, but the coral reef ecosystem as we currently know it will disappear. All this will lead to significant economic losses, particularly for island and coastal people whose livelihoods are closely linked to coral reefs and the ecosystem services they provide.

Global climate change is the main reason for the dramatic changes. The powerful adverse effects were shown in the Eastern Caribbean already in 2005, when the health of the region’s reefs weakened and live cover dropped during an extensive coral bleaching.

The study by Buddemeier et al. tells that it is already too late to stop the reef death. The big changes in the coral reef environment will take place even if substantial emission cuts of greenhouse gases are implemented in the coming years.

Coral reefs of the Caribbean are facing difficult times: efficient conservation measures are needed urgently. In addition to global emission cuts of greenhouse gases, innovative local conservation actions would be important. Photo copyright (c) 2011 Erkki Siirila.

The study published in the journal Climate Change in 2011 focuses on Eastern Caribbean reef health and especially the Virgin Islands’ area. The COMBO (COral Mortality and Bleaching Output) model was used for the predictions. Three realistic emission scenarios for greenhouse gases were the basis for the simulation.

The results indicate that future bleaching episodes will be followed by the reduction of live coral cover on the reefs. (Most of the damage will be caused by the warming of sea waters and related bleaching. The decline in reef condition will take place even if the adverse effect of ocean acidification is calculated as minor.)

If there is no adaptation by the corals to the elevated mean water temperatures, the live coral cover on the West Indies’ reefs will decrease to less than 5% already by the year 2035. In a scenario where corals develop an additional 1–1.5 degrees Celcius of heat tolerance (through a shift in the symbiotic algae that live in the coral tissues) coral cover above 5% could last until 2065.

The researchers did not include reefs which are located more than 30m underwater. Live coral cover between 5 and 10% was considered a limit where the reef would not be able to regenerate itself and could not be called a real coral reef any more. For several of these modeling scenarios, the researchers used starting levels of coral cover of 7%, 15%, and/or 30%. These values are realistic values in the Eastern Caribbean.

Buddemeier et al. summarise their study by saying that “coral reef communities are likely to be essentially gone from substantial parts of the Southeast Caribbean by the year 2035, given the current low cover values following the 2005 event” and that “the conversion of coral reefs to fundamentally different systems will have large implications for the provision of ecosystem services”. The authors add: “Given the modeling results presented here, urgent efforts are needed to identify and protect what appear to be the most resilient coral reefs in the Caribbean.”

The whole study (R. W. Buddemeier, Diana R. Lane and J. A. Martinich, Modeling regional coral reef responses to global warming and changes in ocean chemistry: Caribbean case study, Climatic Change, 2011, DOI: 10.1007/s10584-011-0022-z) can be found here: Study by Buddemeier et al.

Human wastewaters infect elkhorn coral

A human pathogen has been shown to contribute to the degradation of elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata) colonies in the Caribbean Sea. The pathogen Serratia marcescens is known to be present in human wastewaters, which enter the coastal marine areas untreated in many parts of the Caribbean. In the recent study by K.R. Sutherland et al., strain PDR60 of the pathogen was shown to cause disease signs in A. palmata colonies in as little as four or five days, when the surrounding waters were polluted with S. marcescens.

In the Caribbean the lack of wastewater treatment is a common problem. This colony of elkhorn coral looks healthy in spite of the fact that raw sewage enters the sea 100m from the reef. Photo taken in Utila, Honduras, copyright (c) 2011 Erkki Siirila.

In 2003 there was an outbreak of this coral disease called acroporid serratiosis (APS). During the episode, the corallivorous snail Coralliophila abbreviata and stony coral Sideastrea siderea were noticed to be play a role in the development of the disease. Now, in aquaria experiments, wastewater has been demonstrated to be a definitive, direct source of the disease, while C. abbreviata and S. siderea are known to act as vectors and reservoirs, which may also to contribute to the infection of A. palmata.

The research results by K.R.Sutherland et al. published in 2011 demonstrate for the first time that a human pathogen can be passed from us humans to marine invertebrates and infect them. The authors of the study “Human Pathogen Shown to Cause Disease in the Threatened Eklhorn Coral Acropora palmata” say that “these findings underscore the interaction between public health practices and environmental health indices such as coral reef survival”.

A direct link to the article is here:  Elkhorn and sewage

Coastal zone of Chile: ten management recommendations

Chile is a country with thousands of kilometres of coastline (the exact length of the coast depends on the definition applied). Naturally, moving towards integrated coastal zone management benefits a country like that.

The Coastal Challenges editor did a consultancy in the Fourth Region (Coquimbo Region) of Chile a few years ago. One of the results was a set of general guidelines for integrated coastal management in that region. In the ten conclusions/recommendations the local experiences were combined with the lessons learned in coastal management internationally.

A powerful tsunami in 2010 made Chileans aware of the need for sound coastal management. This Chilean government fax indicating there was a tsunami risk was not enough to result in massive coastal evacuations. As a result, lots of human lives were lost.

The conclusions and recommendations for integrated management of the Coquimbo coastal area are listed below:

  1. Integrated management of the coastal zone is a learning process with incremental implementation, feedback and adjustment mechanisms.
  2. At all levels of action, it is important to build the integrated management on a sustainable  financial and economic base, for example through self-funding.
  3. It is important to incorporate in the process the opinions of all the involved and interested parties, for example by applying conflict resolution mechanisms.
  4. It is essential that the actions keep focus on just a few issues which are understood by all the participants in the process. The focus on the issues means that an exact definition of the coastal zone is not a precondition for the action to begin.
  5. In general, construction on the local institutional roots is the safest option. E.g. the existing management systems, which are politically supported, can be modified instead of building totally new management institutions. Also in this case, the application of innovative ideas for real integration is important.
  6. A long-term vision is essential, and as part of this, opportunities should be left open for the future generations.
  7. The management should be based on good knowledge of the laws of nature. Implementation would need to be proactive instead of retroactive.
  8. It is important that the decision-making system is just and efficient.
  9. It is essential to understand that combining sustainable management with the poverty of resource users is difficult. Because of this, development of economic alternatives for the least favoured groups is needed.
  10. In sustainable coastal zone management, integration mechanisms are only one element. Specific action is needed also in the management of key species and habitats, pollution control, land use planning and environmental impact assessment. In addition to integration, sectoral activities in these and other action fields need to continue. (Naturally, sector-specific work needs to go on, but the sectoral actions should no more be implemented in isolation from other coastal zone activities.)

Key considerations for integrated coastal zone management, part 3

The third part of this Coastal Challenges’ article continues summarising conclusions presented in Lessons from the European Commission’s Demonstration Programme on Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM). The original text is often cited directly – this is in harmony with the publishing conditions of the EU report.

The ICZM process: legal issues

Legislation has an impact on all of the phases of an ICZM initiative, from information collection to policy implementation. Law has the potential to facilitate the process of ICZM, but it also has the capacity to limit or impede it. A diversity of legal systems exists, but analysis reveals a similarity of legal problems in the countries. Although ICZM is a modern development, it must inevitably function within a complex legal framework, most of which pre-dates the concept of ICZM and was created for different purposes.

The coast has traditionally been regarded as a jurisdictional boundary between land-based  laws and marine laws, and has rarely been recognised as an integral zone of legal competence. – There is no common practice on the definition of the coastal zone, although restricted concepts of the seashore have arisen within the legal system of some states (in the context of land ownership), by reference to selective tidal criteria. These criteria are too restrictive for ICZM.

There is no common practice on the definition of the coastal zone, although restricted concepts of the seashore have arisen within the legal system of some states. Photo from Panama, (c) 2011 Erkki Siirila.

It is probably not desirable to have an exclusive legal definition of the coastal zone for general purposes, but preferable to include all areas where land and sea exert mutual influence. However, specific boundaries need to be defined at the stage when management is applied to particular places. These boundaries should be flexible enough to embrace the dynamic nature of the coast. In particular, the boundaries should not subdivide natural areas that ought to be managed as a whole.

The coastal zones of most coastal states are governed by a complex framework of laws, which are usually sectoral, uncoordinated and unsuited for ICZM. Sectoral laws may unintentionally work against the objectives of ICZM. Sectoral laws may also be inadequate in that they may not cover both the land and sea components of the coastal zone.

In order to promote integrated management, there is a need for a thorough review of these laws, to identify overlaps, lacunae, and inconsistencies, at each level of administration and between levels. As far as possible, these inadequacies should be corrected to harmonise the legislation relevant to the coastal zone, even if consolidation is not possible.

If the parameters of each government agency´s responsibility are not clearly defined, conflicts may arise due to “vertical overlap” and “horizontal overlap”. – Relevant sectoral legislation should be amended or replaced by provisions that explicitly define the responsibilities of each authority, and explain the relationship between them.

Where coastal land is privately owned, the legal rights of individual landowners may conflict with the public needs of management. Another type of concern is caused by the fact that the market system is inefficient or inequitable in allocating the coastal zone benefits (recreational, socio-cultural, etc.) among users, with overexploitation and degradation as the result. This implies a need for government leadership in defining public and private rights and obligations. – Public rights of access to near-shore waters have often been the first purely coastal issues governed by specific coastal legislation. In offshore areas, rights are affected by principles of international law.

The Lysekil coast in Sweden is an area where the public demand for marine-related recreation is high. Photo (c) 2011 Erkki Siirila.

In many countries, the shorefront is public or state property, but inland from this point most land is privately owned. In contrast, the sea is usually in the public domain as far as the limit of territorial waters (up to a maximum of 12 miles). Beyond the territorial limit, states have rights of exploitation rather than ownership in their continental shelf or exclusive economic zone (200 miles).

Where law has traditionally given unsustainable rights to private landowners, the public acquisition of coastal land by negotiation or compulsary purchase provides the opportunity to manage it. Acquisition is an important method of safeguarding sensitive sites, however it is only feasible if corresponding funds are available; it is also not politically feasible everywhere. – Military ownership of land is particularly problematic, due both to strict access limitations and to confidentiality of activities on the property. These issues make it difficult to even assess the impact that the activities are having.

As an alternative approach to better management of private coastal lands, public authorities may be able to enter into contractual agreements with private landowners who accept restrictions or undertake positive measures on their own land in return for compensation.

In some countries, e.g. Finland,  “everyman´s right” entitles the public to go where they like on land and water in the countryside, including shore zones, provided they behave responsibly. Everyman´s rights should be well thought out, in order to avoid additional conflicts among resource users.

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Lessons from the European Commission Demonstration Programme on Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM), ISBN 92-828-6471-5, can be downloaded from here: EU report. The reproduction of the publication is authorised provided the source is acknowledged.