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Coasts are among the most important areas in the world to humans and one of the most sensitive to anthropogenic impacts at local to global scales. To detect, assess and manage coastal environmental change, there is a clear need for improved environmental and socioeconomic information on the coastal zone within the observing system framework.

The issues of the coast are varied and intricately related. The discontinuity between the land and ocean and the transboundary conditions of both source and receiving waters provide complexities that challenge the efforts of global observing systems. Coastal ecosystems and associated habitats and biota provide distinct combinations of valuable ecological goods and services and face intense pressures from human activities such as urbanization, commerce and recreation. Impacts to both human and natural resources come from habitat alteration, increased water use and pollution, erosion and sedimentation, and changing marine waters from storms, tsunamis and sea-level rise.

Coastal management programmes, political instruments, and research activities all require global and regional resource assessments. Information for these efforts comes from in situ and remote sensing data collection. But data collection is not enough. There must be an associated data management, model production, and communication infrastructure. This infrastructure needs to provide information freely and in a timely fashion to both developed and developing nations. Capacity is especially needed for the latter nations. The Coastal Module of the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS) is designed to support part of this infrastructure and aid in the capacity building. It is linked to other existing and planned international initiatives including the Coastal Module of the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS), the Coastal Theme of the Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS) and Coral Reef Sub-theme, and the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS).

This document presents a strategy for developing a Coastal Module of GTOS (C-GTOS), describing the design for a mature observing system and contributions to global observation needs. It identifies ways to implement that strategy during the initial phase of the programme through a series of well defined products that are achievable in a relatively short timeframe.

A mature and functioning Coastal Module of GTOS, integrated with other programmes, benefits many. Improved in situ and remotely sensed coastal observations and resultant products will provide information for individuals and organizations responsible for global, regional and even local policy-making and environmental management of coastal areas. Validated assessments of condition and change will be made with greater and prescribed accuracy, and the discontinuity of information from land and marine waters will be bridged.

Jeffrey B. Tschirley
Environment and Natural Resources Service,
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

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