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1. The need for integrated coastal area management


Coastal areas are commonly defined as the interface or transition areas between land and sea, including large inland lakes. Coastal areas are diverse in function and form, dynamic and do not lend themselves well to definition by strict spatial boundaries. Unlike watersheds, there are no exact natural boundaries that unambiguously delineate coastal areas.

Geologically, continental margins are of two types: active margins where the edge of a continent happens to be at the edge of an oceanic plate (e.g. the west coast of South America); and inactive margins where the transition from continental lithosphere to oceanic lithosphere is within a plate rather than at a plate edge (e.g. the Atlantic). Coastal areas are therefore characterized by the vertical accretion of near-shore land. This depends on several factors: sediment supply from rivers or from the sea; the width of the shelf, or the proximity of a submarine canyon through which currents remove sediments; and the strength of longshore currents and incidence of cyclones, both of which transport and redistribute sediments along the coast. Sedimentation is the major geological activity that shapes coasts, but human-induced land subsidence is having an increasing impact on coastal morphology.

Nevertheless, for management purposes, a variety of landwards and seawards boundaries, ranging from fairly narrow and precise ones to much broader and more nebulous ones, have been utilized around the world. Management boundaries are pragmatic, being influenced by the geographic scope of relevant management concerns, including biophysical, economic, social, institutional and organizational aspects. Therefore, the boundaries of a coastal area may change over time for management purposes, as the issues to be faced become more extensive or complex and require more far-ranging solutions.

It has been suggested that a distinction be made between the terms `coastal zone' and `coastal area'. The term `coastal zone' would refer to the geographic area defined by the enabling legislation for coastal management, while `coastal area' would be used more broadly to refer to the geographic area along the coast that has not yet been defined as a zone for management purposes. In the United States, earlier attention to management in the coastal zone gave rise to the term `coastal zone management' (CZM). As experience was gained of the multifaceted character of many of the issues and the consequent need to adopt an holistic approach to management, the term was revised to `integrated coastal zone management' (ICZM). This term continues to be used by many authorities, including the World Bank.

The multifaceted approach to the management of coastal resources has become known as integrated coastal management (ICM). Pernetta and Elder (1993) have described it as meaning `the process of combining all aspects of the human, physical and biological aspects of the coastal zone within a single management framework'. However, they have preferred the term `holistic coastal management' to emphasize that `careful planning and management of all sectoral activities simultaneously will result in greater overall benefits than pursuing sectoral development plans independently of one another.'

In practice, laws concerning coastal management seldom unambiguously or precisely define the coastal zone. Thus, the boundaries of the relevant management area can, and usually do, change over time without regard to the enabling legislation. In addition, few nations have comprehensive coastal zone management policies. As a result, different coastal areas within the same nation can fall under the jurisdiction of different coastal management plans and their boundaries can be variously defined by prevailing management issues in the locality.

In these guidelines, the term `coastal area' is preferred to `coastal zone' to refer to the geographic entity covered by an integrated coastal management plan. Such coastal management takes place at two levels: the national, or subnational, level, where national goals, strategies, institutional arrangements and legislation may be determined and put into place; and the local, or area, level, where area-specific goals, objectives, plans and their implementation are the focus of attention.

The use of integrated coastal area management (ICAM) makes explicit the fact that degradation of coastal resources may result from activities outside the coastal zone, as defined at the beginning of these guidelines. Where issues are deemed to arise in a watershed, ICAM may, subject to the appropriate institutional arrangements, extend outside the coastal area.


Favourable biophysical and climatic conditions, together with the ease of communication and navigation frequently offered by coastal sites (by sea or up river valleys), have encouraged human settlement in coastal zones since prehistoric times.

The mouth of a river heavily polluted by sewers of overcrowded towns and cities, West Africa

Aerial photo of Saint Louis, Senegal

1.2.1 Economic role

Many of the world's major cities are located in coastal areas, and a large portion of economic activities, with the exception of agriculture, are concentrated in these cities. The coastal zone is an area of convergence of activities in urban centres, such as shipping in major ports, and wastes generated from domestic sources and by major industrial facilities. Thus, traditional resource-based activities, such as coastal fisheries, aquaculture, forestry and agriculture, are found side by side with activities such as industry, shipping and tourism.

The potential for economic opportunities in coastal cities is a strong attractive force, fuelling immigration, often from economically depressed rural areas. As a result, in the future much larger, younger populations can be expected in the coastal areas of developing countries. These future coastal residents will demand employment, housing, energy, food, water and other goods and services, thus presenting a substantial development challenge.

Against this demographic backdrop, coastal areas are extremely important for the social and economic welfare of current and future generations, as coastal resources support key economic and subsistence activities. The economies of most developing countries are currently very dependent on natural resources, for agriculture, fisheries and forestry subsectors, mining, oil and gas extraction, marine tourism and ocean transport. Many of the world's most productive agricultural areas are located in river deltas and coastal plains. In particular, the deltas' food productivity exceeds local consumption needs and eventual delta disturbance can result in national economic shock waves that reach far beyond the delta.

Although, in the future, coastal areas will become more urbanized, and the economies of developing countries will undoubtedly diversify to some extent through industrialization, dependence on coastal resources is likely to remain strong. Industrial development often entails the processing of agricultural, fishery and forestry products, together with oil refining and textile manufacture. These diversified economic activities are often also dependent on coastal resources and, as economic diversification increases and makes the component sectors more interdependent, conflicts over natural resources and the environment will tend to develop.

1.2.2 Environmental role

Coastal areas are also important ecologically, as they provide a number of environmental goods and services. The peculiar characteristic of coastal environments is their dynamic nature which results from the transfer of matter, energy and living organisms between land and sea systems, under the influence of primary driving forces that include short-term weather, long-term climate, secular changes in sea level and tides.

Marine, estuary and coastal wetland areas often benefit from flows of nutrients from the land and also from ocean upwelling which brings nutrient-rich water to the surface. They thus tend to have particularly high biological productivity. Moreover, coastal areas frequently contain critical terrestrial and aquatic habitats, particularly in the tropics. Such habitats together comprise unique coastal ecosystems, support a rich biological diversity and frequently contain a valuable assortment of natural resources. Examples of such habitats are estuarine areas, coral reefs, coastal mangrove forests and other wetlands, tidal flats and seagrass beds, which also provide essential nursery and feeding areas for many coastal and oceanic aquatic species.

It is estimated that 90 percent of the world's fish production is dependent on coastal areas at some time in their life cycle. In addition, these areas support large numbers of migratory and non-migratory waterfowl and shorebirds, and endangered reptiles, such as turtles and alligators. The advantages of maintaining their biological diversity have been formally recognized. Water quality is related in different ways to key coastal demands; some examples are illustrated in Figure A.1.

Demands on coastal waters

Note: Among the key water quality parameters are temperature, turbidity, primary productivity, biochemical oxygen demand and concentration of pathogens such as coliform bacteria. The distribution of temperature (along with salinity) provides information on patterns of circulation. In addition, temperature affects the growth rate and distribution of fish populations. The turbidity (like the biochemical oxygen demand) of the water not only determines its recreational value, but is also an indicator of the capacity of water to receive additional nutrients and particulate/dissolved organic wastes. The primary productivity of the water ultimately determines the productivity of commercial stocks of fish, crustacea and molluscs. The concentration of pathogens is, of course, a concern for humans as well as for farmed and natural populations of marine organisms.

Physical features of coastal ecosystems, such as reefs and belts of mangrove, are important for the mitigation of the effects of natural disasters, such as storm-tide surges, shoreline retreat or floods. These features also play an essential role in natural processes, such as land accretion, and help to control coastal erosion and other damage arising from wind and wave action.

Even when coastal areas do not provide unique biological ecosystems, their location at the sea/land interface has recreational and aesthetic values which, in many countries, support valuable tourism activities, as well as providing attractive sites for industrial development and human settlements. The recreational and aesthetic values of coastal areas are increasing in developing countries as coastal tourism develops and domestic demand rises with increasing real incomes. Unique and appealing vistas, sandy and rocky beaches, pristine blue water, wetlands and coastal forest, and the associated wildlife, coral reefs and multiple recreational activities supported by these areas are major attractions of coastal areas.


The most common problems of coastal areas, resulting from both natural and anthropogenic stresses, are illustrated in Figure A.2.

Coastal problems requiring an ICAM approach

Source: adapted from IOC-UNESCO, 1997.

The dynamics of alluvial landscapes and natural sedimentation patterns that determine the nutrient and energy flows in coastal areas are increasingly being modified by human activities, in particular those that affect water flows (dams, increased water extraction, deviation of rivers) and erosion, especially that caused by deforestation. This prevents or slows down vertical accretion, thus aggravating salt-water intrusion and impairing drainage conditions in riverine, delta or estuarine areas. It reduces or blocks sediment supply to the coast itself, which may give rise to the retreat of the coastline through wave erosion. Coastal areas are also prone to threats from natural causes such as tidal surges and sea-level rise.

The worst scenario projects a sea-level rise of 95 cm by the year 2100, with large local differences (resulting from tides, wind and atmospheric pressure patterns, changes in ocean circulation, vertical movements of continents, etc.) in the relative sea-level rises. The impacts of sea-level rise are therefore expected to be more local than global (Warwick et al., 1996). The relative change of sea and land is the main factor. Many cities, for instance, suffer land subsidence as a result of groundwater withdrawal. This may be compounded by sea-level rise, especially since rates of subsidence may exceed the rate of sea-level rise between now and 2100. Under the worst scenario, the majority of the people who would be affected live in China (72 million), Bangladesh (13 million people and loss of 16 percent of national rice production) and Egypt (6 million people and 12 to 15 percent of agricultural land lost) (Nicholls and Leatherman, 1995). Between 0.3 percent (Venezuela) and 100 percent (Kiribati and the Marshall Islands) of the population would be affected (Nicholls, 1993). Even more significant than the direct loss of land caused by the sea rising, are the associated indirect factors, including erosion patterns and damage to coastal infrastructure, salinization of wells, suboptimal functioning of the sewage system of coastal cities (with resulting health impacts), loss of littoral ecosystems and loss of biotic resources. In coastal areas, and particularly deltas, factors such as modified ocean circulation patterns (and their impact on building and erosion of the coast), climate change in the catchment basin and change in coastal climate, not to mention changes in the frequency of extreme events, should be taken into account.

While increased damage to coastal areas will certainly occur, it will be linked more to development (value of assets) than to increased fragility of populations or agriculture. Particularly in small islands, where development leads to a concentration of wealth, there is a risk of high damage being caused by natural disaster events. Where the extremes of one or more variables are involved at the same time, the risks will be very high. Such `time bombs' are to be found in highly vulnerable deltas (which are densely populated and normally feed a large hinterland) that may become very unstable over a short period of time (Gommes et al., 1997).

Wherever rising populations continue to be economically dependent on the primary producing sectors Ð agriculture, forestry and fisheries Ð and on other sectors directly dependent on natural resources, such as tourism and mining, the overexploitation of renewable and non-renewable resources, the degradation of ecosystems and the resulting loss of natural resource productivity are of primary concern. In this context, it is worth noting that marine pollution is derived mainly from land-based sources and the atmosphere (see Figure A.3), with river runoff and land-based discharges directly affecting coastal waters (GESAMP, 1990). More than 90 percent of all chemicals, refuse and other material entering coastal waters remains there in sediments, wetlands, fringing reefs and other coastal ecosystems.

Major sources of marine pollution

Source: GESAMP, 1990.


According to the 1994 distribution of population in relation to the distance from the nearest coastline, 20.6 percent of the world's population lives within 30 km of the coast, and 37 percent within 100 km (Gommes et al., 1997). As a result of migration to coastal areas, and in particular to coastal cities, the coastal population is growing at a faster rate than the world population; within the next 20 to 30 years, the coastal population is projected to almost double. At present, two-thirds of the world's cities with a population of 2.5 million or more are situated near tidal estuaries (IUCN/UNEP/WWF, 1991) and 220 million people live in the, mostly coastal, megacities. These urban developments are taking up fertile agricultural land and leading to pollution of rivers, estuaries and seas by sewage and industrial and agricultural effluents. In turn, this is posing a threat to coastal ecosystems, their biological diversity, environmental regulatory functions and role in generating employment and food.

Mangrove fuelwood transport fleet, Conakry, Guinea

Young boy entering mangrove forest to collect shrimp fry for shrimp farming, Sunderbans, Bangladesh

Poor people often migrate from inland rural areas and settle along the coast in search of better livelihoods because they cannot find employment elsewhere. They are drawn to coastal areas where resources still tend to be `open access', or freely available, and thus offer sources of income of last resort. One means of relieving the pressures on coastal areas is therefore to improve living conditions in more distant rural areas. Investments in natural resource conservation in inland coastal areas, often made up of hilly and fragile land, will have the double advantage of improving conditions for poor farmers and reducing erosion and siltation. The creation of non-agricultural employment and the introduction of appropriate management systems will further improve the situation.

The World Resources Institute developed an index of development-related threats to coastal ecosystems, drawing on 1995 digitized map data, and defined coastal zones as including the land area within 60 km of adjacent near-shore waters. The index is based on five globally available georeferenced indicators of potential anthropogenic threats:

It is important to note that, as the above indicators measure pressure rather than condition, the results do not imply that these areas have actually been degraded. In addition: the impacts of fishing, deforestation and agricultural activity are not covered; human activities beyond 60 km of the coast were not considered; the study did not include the relative sensitivities of different ecosystems to disturbance; data quality was better for some regions than for others; data modelling and mapping added additional uncertainty to the results; and pressures may have been underrepresented where they have a cumulative effect. The current study was also at too coarse a scale to guide national management and planning activities and the intention is to develop a set of more comprehensive, finer-resolution indicators.

Keeping in mind these limitations, Table A.1 shows that 86 percent of Europe's and 69 percent of Asia's coasts are at high or moderate potential risk of degradation.


Percent of coastlines under potential threat(a)


Low (b)


High (d)









North and Central America




South America








Former USSR













(a) Threat ranking depicts potential risk to coastal ecosystems from development-related activities in 1995.

(b) Low potential threat: coastal areas with a population density of less than 75 people/km2, a road network density of less than 100 km of road/ km2 or no pipelines known to be present.

(c) Moderate potential threat: coastal areas with a population density of between 75 and 150 people/km2, a road network density of between 100 and 150 km of road/ km2 or a pipeline density of between 0 and 10 km of pipeline/ km2.

(d) High potential threat: coastal areas falling within a city or major port footprint or having a population density exceeding 150 people/km2, a road network density exceeding 150 km of road/ km2 or a pipeline density exceeding 10 km of pipeline/ km2.


The coastal resource system is interdependent and interrelated and has direct and indirect connections with inland resource systems. For instance, production of fish may be dependent on the habitat for juveniles provided by mangrove swamps, and the health of a coral reef may be related to the filtering properties of the mangrove ensuring that only clear water reaches the reef. Conversely, a coral reef may die as a result of being covered with silt from soil erosion, perhaps occurring many miles upstream, caused by inappropriate forestry or agricultural practices. Mangroves, coastal dunes and reefs may protect coastal agriculture from erosion or storm surge, for example.

Ill-managed economic development in coastal areas is likely to create serious problems related to water pollution, degradation of critical habitats, depletion of natural resource stocks and other effects. When this occurs, the much publicized benefits of growth such as increased employment and rising nominal incomes will be undermined by increased costs in the areas of health, productivity and aesthetics.

Economic activities consist in changing resources or inputs into products or services. Thus, all activities directly or indirectly affect and interact with their environment (i.e. ecological, economic and social systems). For example, air and water temperatures determine the types of agriculture, forestry and fisheries that are possible and affect productivity, while market characteristics affect their viability.

Such interactions may be categorized as being synergistic, complementary, competitive or antagonistic (see Box A.1). Integrated coastal area management aims at maximizing synergistic and complementary interactions and minimizing competitive and antagonistic ones.


Basic interactions between economic activities

Two or more activities may be synergistic when their interaction results in an increase in economic activity (or well-being) or environmental benefits greater than the sum of their individual results. For example, tree conservation on land cleared for agriculture not only provides wood and non-wood products, stabilizes the soil and generates agricultural products, but also leads to a more rational and complete use of soil fertility and energy, enhances synergetic relations between species, minimizes the risk of pests and diseases and diversifies economic opportunities.

Complementarity between two activities exists when they share the same resource(s) or the same facilities without conflict and when one activity provides inputs to another. For example, there is complementarity when a forest industry supplies timber for boat building or wood for the smoking of fish or when agricultural by-products are used in the feeding of cultured fish.

In contrast, a competitive interaction most commonly occurs when two or more activities have a shared requirement for a resource in limited supply, resulting in conflict. A competitive interaction may be either reciprocal or one-sided. An example of reciprocal competition is when farmers and urban dwellers draw on the same groundwater supply, each suffering from the subsequent shortage of water or its increasing salinity. An example of one-sided interaction is where water is drawn off for irrigation upstream, thus affecting the flow of water downstream with the consequent damage to fishery habitats (e.g. the damage to the spawning habitat of Caspian Sea sturgeon as a result of diversion of water in the Russian Federation and the Islamic Republic of Iran).

An antagonistic interaction occurs when the output of one activity degrades resources or modifies the environment in a way that harms another activity. For instance, pollution resulting from urban, industrial or agricultural activity that affects fisheries (killing fish, destroying fish habitats and infecting fish with substances dangerous to human health). Antagonistic interactions, like competitive ones, may be one-sided or reciprocal. A reciprocal antagonistic interaction is when the overexploitation of a renewable resource leads to its depletion beyond an economic harvesting level with the consequent loss of livelihood of the former harvesters.


Ecosystem and natural resource damage in coastal areas, and hence reduced environmental goods and services, stem from increasing demands on resources (especially local demand arising from demographic pressure) and unsustainable management practices. The causes of ecosystem or natural resource damage in coastal areas can be analysed according to three interrelated `failures': market failure (of which a related issue is property rights); policy or intervention failure; and information failure (Turner and Jones, 1991).

Maribot Beach, Saint Lucia

Flooded farmland, Bangladesh

1.6.1 Market failure and property rights

Market prices frequently fail to reflect the true cost of a good or a service and so send incorrect signals to the marketplace; sometimes, putting a price on a good may be impossible. Such situations represent market failure.

An example of incorrect market signals is the lack of internalizing of the cost of conversion of mangrove forest to agriculture or aquaculture because the costs of the conversion do not internalize externalities. Mangrove may be taken over by landless rural people seeking to make a living. But where users (e.g. companies) pay the owner for the (use of the) land, it has often been seen that in future years productivity will decline, there will be saline intrusion and/or storm damage will occur inland because of the absence of the protection that the mangrove provided. None of these negative factors will be reflected in the purchase price. The cost of destroying the mangrove may well have to be borne, not by whoever destroys it, but by someone else; in this case, market failure is even more pronounced. Widespread destruction of mangroves can lead to siltation of estuaries and ports or eutrophication of coastal waters; such impacts, which originate outside the places they affect and are almost invariably negative, being referred to as negative `externalities'.

The term `property right' (see Box A.2) refers to a legally enforceable right that may arise from legislation or unwritten common law or customary law. A distinction should be made between property rights as such and de facto situations of access to a resource because it is not owned by anyone (for instance fish or wild animals prior to capture) or because the owner (who may be the state) does not exercise the right to exclude others from access to the resource. The issue of property rights arises most frequently when a good or service cannot be priced.


Market aspects of property regimes

From an economic perspective it is convenient to distinguish four main types of property regimes affecting natural resources.

State property refers to resources that are managed by the state, either directly or by delegating authority to local bodies. State property may consist of both resources that are owned by the state but that are capable of private ownership, and public resources that cannot be privately owned and that the state must manage in the public interest. The seashore and the territorial waters of most countries fall into the category of public resources and, in some countries, public resources also include freshwater and land. Indeed, it is generally believed that all societies originally treated land in this way. This concept is summed up in the remark of a West African chief that `Land belongs to a vast family of which many are dead, few are living, and countless numbers are still unborn' (cited by Simpson, 1976).

The state determines the rules of access to state property and, generally, a controlling agency ensures such access is respected. The state may lease the natural resource to groups or individuals under specified conditions and for a specified period. For example, grazers may have access to state pastureland, or a mining company have the right to mine minerals on state land. Where a long-term lease is granted, the regime might resemble private property. On the other hand, short-term leases provide no incentives to the concessionaire to practise conservation. Where rules of access are not enforced, because of a lack of personnel and finance, logistical problems or corruption, such resources become (factually though not legally) open access regimes.

Open access regimes refer to situations where no-one controls access to a resource and anyone can exploit it. No-one has rights to the resource but neither does anyone determine or enforce norms for its use. As a result, such resources tend to be used opportunistically and no-one manages them since there is no incentive to use them prudently. Thus, open access tends to entail overexploitation Ð the benefits of a greater harvest accrue to an individual (or group) while the cost (diminishing stocks) will be shared by all. Open access regimes are often the result of institutional failures that undermine former collective or individual regimes.

Common property refers to situations where a group of co-owners have exclusive rights of access to a resource for specific or general purposes (e.g. to draw water for irrigation or to use land for cultivation or grazing). Such groups are social units that can vary in nature, size and internal structure. The group determines membership which usually implies some common cultural norms. Internal authority systems usually apply sets of rules and codes of conduct. Groups vary widely but are typically `social units with definite membership and boundaries, with certain common interests, with at least some interaction among members, with common cultural norms and often their own endogenous authority systems' (Bromley and Cernea, 1989). Tribal groups, subvillage groups, small pastoral groups and kin systems are examples of common property regimes. The group, having a common interest and rules, generally shares resources fairly and manages them sustainably. In the case of commonly owned land, customary tenure systems usually identify leaders who allocate specific areas of land to individuals or families from the group who, in turn, have specific rights and duties in respect of that land and retain it for as long as it is productively used. However, there is a risk of `free riding', individuals being tempted to overexploit their share of the resource while counting on others to observe the rules. Such defections should be treated with strong punitive action.

Private (alienable) property includes property owned by individuals or legal entities, where owners can exclude others, transfer ownership and manage and invest knowing that good stewardship will bring in long-term benefits. Private owners will usually have an economic incentive to use their property prudently and sustainably. However this is not always the case and the prospect of obtaining high returns in the short term may cause some private owners (particularly absentee owners, who may be investors with high capital mobility) to exploit resources unsustainably. In practice, private owners are often constrained by legal rules that place restrictions on their freedom to exploit their resources (e.g. legislation governing air or water pollution levels from factories).

For any property regime, it is essential that an authority system (e.g. state authority or traditional leaders) can meet the expectations of rights holders. When the authority system breaks down, management of the natural resource fails, and the entire system changes (i.e. common property degenerates into open access). The authority mechanisms and capacity to enforce compliance ensure compliance with, and integrity of, the property regime (Bromley and Cochrane, 1994).

Property and use rights are fundamental to the allocation of natural resources, as they determine who has the legal right to control access to the resource. In ICAM, the issue arises when ways of preventing environmental degradation or overexploitation (such as mangrove conversion or overfishing) are being sought. However, the response may vary according to circumstances. For example: the state may choose to enforce an existing ownership right over mangroves to prevent conversion; the distribution of property rights could be changed (e.g. use rights may be granted to a limited group of users, or state-owned resources could be sold); or legislation could be introduced to restrict the rights of private owners where these are causing harm.

One of the areas where open access is most prevalent in coastal zones is in fisheries. Very often, any citizen of the state has, in effect, free access to fisheries. The result in recent years is that most fisheries are fully or overexploited. A newcomer entering such a fishery may have a better vessel and fishing gear than current fishers and may, as a result, be able to fish profitably. The newcomer's increased wealth, however, will be made at the expense of the more poorly equipped fishers.

In recent years, the degradation of open access resources has led to an increased awareness of the value to society of these resources. Much attention is therefore being given to establishing or rebuilding institutions to manage access to threatened resources to help to protect society from negative resource externalities.

The existence of private or common property or exclusive use rights may lead to undesirable environmental and other impacts. For example, the holding of private property rights by entrepreneurs investing in shrimp cultivation in some coastal areas of South and Southeast Asia and of Latin America has, in some cases, resulted in destruction of wetland forests, water pollution and the marginalization and dislocation of resource-poor people. Where population pressure increases, through migration for instance, and pure survival is the issue, it will often be difficult to ensure compliance with various property regimes that endeavour to exclude one group or another.

In a perfect market situation (which only exists in textbooks) resources would be allocated to their correct societal use. In practice, resources usually have multiple uses valued differently by different potential users (forest dwellers need wood for heating and cooking while environmentalists defend trees per se; a logging company may see only the value of the exploitable trees, while local communities are aware of the forest's non-wood resources such as medicinal plants, wildlife and insects, and its role in absorbing CO2 or producing oxygen). Excluding people from access to essential resources, especially when survival itself depends on that access, has a high social cost and, indeed, eventually becomes impossible.

Owing to the difficulty of accounting for the environmental goods and services of a given resource, especially in the long term, and the social values placed upon them by different user groups, the market will be a poor guide to management decisions. Appropriate management will depend on the circumstances and interactions of social, economic and biophysical institutions.

1.6.2 Policy failure

Policy failure is the single most important cause of natural resource loss and ecosystem degradation. Policy failure is usually driven by the pursuit of short-sighted economic gain and lack of awareness of the long-term implications of non-intervention.

In most cases, policy failure means policies have not responded to actual or threatened degradation in the resource base or ecosystems, or have not taken account of local views. This leads to weakening of the institutions needed to cope with the situation; absence of a legal framework or weak enforcement capabilities for example. Such situations may apply to coastal resources which therefore become open to overexploitation.

Resource loss and ecosystem degradation will only be halted if appropriate policies are adopted and implemented. Growing awareness of the environmental, social and economic consequences of policy failure that are of global concern, such as global warming or loss of biological diversity, is fortunately beginning to put pressures on governments to rectify present polices and create an appropriate policy environment.

More specifically, the following measures should be adopted:

In the current context of globalization and interdependence, international institutions often impose policy reforms related to market forces, which do not always take account of the needs of nations whose bargaining power is weak. Global environmental concerns and the international exchange of goods and services are, however, governed by conventions and agreements that influence national and local decision-making. While economic efficiency and competitiveness are clearly important, local-level concerns ought to be voiced in the macropolicy arena in order to reflect and respect environmental, cultural and economic diversity.

Sustainability (or unsustainability) can be measured by the sum of the various human, economic and natural resources, where the degree of use, exchange and trade among them will vary according to the values given to each. The interactions between resources, and the degree of substitutability, therefore ultimately depend on the acceptability of trade-offs between resources. In farming systems, trade-offs exist between productivity, stability, resilience and equity. The different properties of a system and their importance to different groups will determine the trade-off patterns. As farm systems evolve in response to their own logic, as well as to changes in society, agricultural innovations may initially be rejected because of socio-cultural constraints to their adoption, but will be adopted rapidly if economic circumstances change (e.g. capital, labour, markets, support services). In other words, the sustainability of a system depends on circumstances, that is, on contingency.

1.6.3 Information failure

Sound policies require sound information. Frequently in developing countries, information is lacking, especially in such areas as renewable resources and, more particularly, on the status of renewable resources (especially fisheries), natural resource dynamics, land-use and tenure patterns, institutional, social and cultural conditions, and levels of investment in coastal areas. Similarly, environmental monitoring, for example of water quality, is often scant.

Perfect information will never be available even in the most advanced countries; for example, it is often extremely difficult to determine if a decline in fish catches in a particular area is caused by the effect of sedimentation of habitat, overfishing, natural factors or all three. However, the more information is available, the better the basis for policy decisions.

Lack of information can be a contributory factor to policy failure. For example, policy-makers may take the view that their country is too poor to afford conservation of renewable resources or ecosystems, and would opt for economic development even if it destroys some of the country's natural capital. The attitude may be different if policy-makers are aware of the full economic value of the resource under threat and take account of the value of all the goods and environmental services it provides.

The routine collection and analysis of information is costly, in both human and financial terms. But, insofar as policy decisions cannot be taken without adequate information, it must be made available. The cost of gathering information can be contained by identifying as precisely as possible the information requirements related to coastal areas that are under threat.

However, lack of adequate information should not be a reason for inaction. Useful action can be taken even where only relatively superficial information is available and there are often good arguments for taking a precautionary approach8: `when in doubt, protect'.  In order to overcome these difficulties gradually, research requirements should be built into the strategy or plan, encompassing information gathering and strengthening staff capacities to analyse and compute various types of information and to analyse interactions.

Policy-makers need tools to assist them in policy-making and planning, especially to gauge whether their actions are likely to result in sustainable development. Some attempts to create indicators of ecological sustainability and quality of life have been made by a number of institutions.10  Such indicators, however, must be used with caution as situations are always highly complex and the quantification of the environment Ð and more especially its monetization Ð is fraught with difficulties.11 

Once policy-makers, planners and resource users agree on the issues, criteria for thresholds of resource degradation can be established. Factors here will include social and economic considerations, such as the time, expense and level of detail that is being aimed at. In addition, estimates and common sense based on experience, training and intuition will also often provide a satisfactory basis for decisions.


Most developing countries are characterized by a fast-growing population and workforce. The rate of growth of the world's economically active population, between 1990 and 2000, is 1.86 percent per year (ILO, 1998). While nearly half of this workforce is absorbed in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries subsectors, an increasing amount of labour will seek employment in non-farm occupations. Finding productive and remunerative employment for these workers will be one of the main challenges of the twenty-first century.

Fishers pulling nets, Cape Verde

Deforestation through shifting cultivation, Brazil

The development of non-farm jobs in villages and small towns closely linked to agriculture and farm-produce processing is a powerful way of relieving pressure on coastal areas. It is especially efficient as the cost of job creation in rural areas is much less than in urban areas.12  It has the added advantages of:

However, while non-farm rural job creation will relieve pressures, the population of coastal areas will inevitably continue to increase. Worldwide, the ratio of economically active population in agriculture is declining (52 percent in 1980, 47.5 percent in 1995).

Some of the major similarities and differences of degree of management, type of access and production cycle between the agriculture, forestry and fisheries subsectors are shown in Table A.2. Table A.3 shows economic activities in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries subsectors that have an impact on environmental and social concerns within or outside the subsector in which the activities are taking place. The main consequences of mismanagement in coastal areas in general are felt in health, productivity and aesthetics. Some of these issues are intrasectoral, such as depletive/destructive resource uses. Others are often transsectoral, such as loss of habitat and environmental degradation. Figure A.4 represents the agriculture sectoral/subsectoral location of activities and the degree to which activities and their impacts are taken into account in subsectoral planning and management.

Differences and similarities between agriculture, forestry and fisheries








Settled crop/livestock

Extensive grazing





Degree of management and labour/capital inputs in production (not harvesting)

Medium to high


Medium to high

Low to high

Medium to low

Low to high

Resource base and access









Open, common property


Open, common property


Open/common/exclusive property

Biological stock and access

Crops and livestock



Trees and wildlife







Open, common property


Open/common/exclusive property

Production cycle

< Annual/biennial


> 10 years

> 100 years

< Annual/biennial

> 10 years

* Aquaculture may rely on wild breeding stock.

Impact of agriculture, forestry and fisheries activities on coastal areas

Area of impact/subsector

Use or activity

Environmental or social change

Impact of social/economic concern

Estuary, harbour and inshore water quality impacts



Diversion of rivers for irrigation

Reduced water flow in rivers, increased estuary salinity, decreased estuary circulation

Decreased fish yields


High use of pesticides

Toxic pollution of estuaries and inshore waters

Decreased fish yields


High use of fertilizers

Increased amount of nutrients entering the water leading to eutrophication of rivers, estuaries and inshore waters

Decreased fish yields


Excessive cropping or grazing on watersheds

Watershed erosion, river turbidity, sedimentation of fish habitat in estuaries and inshore waters, floodplain deposition and beaches covered with sediment

Decreased fish yields, silting of navigation channels, increased flood hazard, and decreased tourism attraction

Groundwater quality/quantity


Agriculture/Coastal aquaculture

Withdrawal of groundwater at a greater rate than natural recharge

Salt-water intrusion of aquifer leading to increased salinity, contamination of groundwater

Reduction in the water available for use, risk to human health

Mangrove and other coastal wetland impacts


Agriculture/Coastal aquaculture

Reclamation of mangrove for rice paddy

Destruction of mangrove, filling and canalization

Reduced fish yields, reduced filtration capability, increased risk of shore erosion, increased risk from flooding, increased risk of storm damage


Mangrove harvesting for building materials, fuelwood, woodchips

Harvesting at a level greater than the sustainable yield

Decreased timber yield in successive harvests, decreased fish yields, reduction or loss of rare or endangered species, reduction in non-timber forest products used or traded by forest dwellers


Draining of salt marsh and coastal wetlands (in temperate countries) for grazing and cropping

Lowering of land surface and accelerated rise in sea level

Increased frequency and extent of flooding, increased beach erosion, increased salinity in coastal soils and in upstream `wedges', increased need for `hard' coastal defences

Coral reef and atoll impacts



Irresponsible agricultural and/or forestry practices in coastal watersheds

Watershed erosion, turbidity and siltation of coral reefs

Decreased fish yields, decreased tourism and recreational value


Fishing with dynamite, muro-ami fishing

Coral reef destruction

Decreased fish yields, decreased tourism and recreational value


Intensive localized fishing effort

Harvesting targeted species at a level greater than sustainable yield

Decreased yield of associated fish species

Beach, dune and delta impacts



Grazing of livestock

Destruction or removal of dune stabilizing vegetation

Initiation or increase of dune migration on to agricultural land, urban and infrastructure development


Diversion of rivers for irrigation

Decreased supply of beach material to the shoreline

Initiation or increase of shoreline erosion, decreased productivity

Social impacts



Commercial shrimp farm development

Acquisition of land used by peasant farmers/fishers, unfair contract arrangements

Creation of landless people, lack of equity, social conflict


Competition between inshore and offshore fishers for the same stocks


Decreased fish yields, social conflict


High use of pesticides

Toxic pollution of inshore resources

Potential human consumption of toxic fish


Intensive use of nutrients


Reduction in recreation and tourist attraction



Toxic effluents

Reduction in recreation and tourist attraction

Source: after Sorensen and McCreary, 1990.

Relationships between the location of activities and their incorporation into subsectoral (agriculture, forestry, fisheries) planning within the agriculture sector

Binder-Eil, Somalia

1.7.1 Agriculture

In some coastal areas, and especially in small islands, agricultural production makes an extremely important contribution to the local economy or to national agricultural production. In countries such as Egypt and Bangladesh, the river deltas, with their fertile alluvial soils, play a major role in the agriculture sector.13 

Whatever the situation, there are a number of reasons for giving agriculture particular attention in integrated coastal resource management planning. Among these are the following:

Planning for coastal agricultural activities must make explicit allowance for the wide range of farmers' interests and activities, including non-farm activities, the limited flexibility that farmers have in production decisions, their high vulnerability to adverse environmental change and the importance of non-commercial considerations in their decision-making. The complexity of these factors makes participation or consultation particularly important in coastal area planning where it impinges on agricultural activities. In particular, planning in coastal areas must account for such special characteristics of agriculture, such as the following:

Small-scale agriculture in many developing countries deploys strategies that are governed by complex considerations among which economic factors may rank very low. Last but not least, it is essential to take the special requirements of gender fully into account.14 

1.7.2 Forestry

Coastal forests in developing countries are mainly mangroves, which cover an estimated 15.5 million hectares worldwide. Other coastal forested ecosystems include savannah woodlands, dry forests and rain forests. Commercial production from mangroves is comprised of building materials, such as poles and timber, and numerous non-forest products. Savannah woodlands and dry forests are used primarily for grazing, while rain forests are used for their commercial timber.

The value of mangroves is primarily environmental and social, rather than economic. An important part of the value of mangroves lies in the environmental services provided by their unique habitat which is host to significant biological diversity and provides spawning and nursery grounds for many species of commercially valuable fish. Mangroves also act as a sediment trap, a source of nutrients to inshore waters, and help to protect areas against shoreline erosion and surge-tide damage.15 

Economic activities associated with forests, even inland, may be critical to the environmental health of the coastal area. In particular, excessive cutting and extraction of timber on steep slopes will result in severe erosion, which is likely to lead to turbidity in rivers carrying away the displaced topsoil, and sedimentation of fish habitats, such as seagrass beds and coral reefs, degrading and ultimately destroying them. In Bacuit Bay, the Philippines, for example, the benefits of logging activities on mountain slopes are outweighed by the loss in tourism and fishing value resulting from the degradation of offshore reefs.

Coastal forests are often perceived as an obstacle to development, rather than a resource to be supported. As absolute priority is often given to the immediate and most pressing economic needs, medium- and long-term gains may be overlooked.

1.7.3 Fisheries

The fisheries sector often accounts for a significant proportion of GDP, up to 5-10 percent in the economies of many developing coastal nations. Revenue earned by some small island developing states from the exploitation and processing of their fisheries resources accounts annually for more than 50 percent of public-sector revenue. The sustainable development of coastal fisheries (which, for example, represent less than 10 percent of total catch in the Pacific but, significantly, 70 percent of local consumption) will determine the ability of many coastal communities to survive. A large proportion of the total fish production of many coastal countries is usually derived from coastal fisheries.16  At the local level, the fisheries sector provides a livelihood to the population and also contributes to food security. Annual average per caput consumption of fish is 9 kg in developing countries, 27 kg in developed countries and 50 kg in many small island states (most of the population's animal protein intake). Coastal areas everywhere provide habitat for about 90 percent of marine fish in commercial and subsistence fisheries, at all or some stages in the lives of the fish.

Conventional fisheries management has been concerned only with problems generated within the fisheries sector. Planning in coastal areas has to take account of the specific features of small-scale and artisanal fisheries, including the risk of overexploitation by `last resort' fishers (poor people with no other source of livelihood). Solutions include the creation of jobs in other coastal sectors or support to help fishers to fish further offshore thus relieving pressures on inshore areas. Increasingly, policy reforms aiming at the conservation of coastal resources and habitats take the form of revitalizing traditional fisheries management systems with a view to incorporating them into management planning.17 

Coastal aquaculture has been growing in a number of industrialized and developing countries, particularly in parts of Southeast and East Asia and parts of Latin America, and there is considerable scope for development and expansion in other regions. However, while coastal aquaculture is gaining economic importance in many countries, it can also have damaging consequences if it is poorly managed.18  Moreover, it is susceptible to environmental change originating in actions outside the sector. Coastal aquaculture must be environmentally managed and absorbed into the coastal management planning process.19 

1 For instance, in Sri Lanka, the coastal zone is defined as encompassing 1 km seawards of the mean low waterline and 300 m landwards of the mean high waterline, extending to a maximum of 2 km inland in the case of rivers, lagoons or estuaries. Similarly, coastal areas in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries are defined using arbitrary distances, in connection with administrative or political boundaries and physical landmarks or selected environmental units (Scura et al., 1992).

2 For example, under French law, a coast is loosely defined as a geographic entity that calls for specific zoning and land-use protection and development (Boelaert-Suominen and Culinan, 1993).

3 The economic and environmental roles of agriculture, forestry and fisheries are briefly described in Section 1.7. More details are in Sections 1 of Parts B, C and D.

4 For example, in Viet Nam, 50 percent of the national rice production comes from the Mekong delta in the south and 20 percent is produced in the Red River delta near Hanoi.

5 In, for example, the Convention on Biological Diversity, introduced at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Sustainable Development, Rio de Janeiro, June 1992, which entered into force on 29 December 1993, and the 1995 Jakarta Mandate on Biodiversity.

6 The world's 20 largest coastal urban agglomerations (i.e. Tokyo, New York, Mexico City, Sao Paolo, Shanghai, Bombay, Los Angeles, Calcutta, Buenos Aires, Seoul, Osaka, Rio de Janeiro, Jakarta, Metro Manila, Karachi, Lagos, Istanbul, Lima, Bangkok and Dacca) are expected to increase from a total population of 216.9 million in 1990 to 353.5 million in the year 2015. (UN, 1994).

7 See Glossary.

8 See Section 2.2.4 and Box A.5.

9 See Section 2.3.5.

10 See Section 2.3.6.

11 See Box A.24.

12 A comparison made by the World Bank between urban and rural projects in Africa, Asia and the Pacific and Latin America found that the average investment cost per job was 17 times higher in urban projects than in rural ones (World Bank 1978).

13 See Part B, Section 1.

14 See Part B, Section 2.1.

15 See also Part C, Section 1.3 and Boxes C.1, C.2 and C.3.

16 There are some exceptions, e.g. Kenya and the United Republic of Tanzania, which derive the greater part of their fish production from Lake Victoria.

17 For more details see Part D, Section 1.1 and Box D.8.

18 See also Part D, Section 1.4.

19 For example, Article 10 of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries is concerned with the integration of fisheries into coastal management planning.

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