Coastal zones: achieving sustainable management

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Courtesy of European Commission, Environment DG

Coastal zones are the link between land and the sea and are unique areas, highly diverse in species, habitats and ecosystems. They are environmentally sensitive and economically valuable, with ecosystems rich in biodiversity also providing benefits such as protection from the elements, food and opportunities for the generation of renewable energy. They are also extremely important to human activities, supporting employment as well as providing aesthetic value, areas for sports and recreation and playing a significant role in our cultural heritage.

Yet, while activities such as aquaculture and tourism are beneficial to the economy and human well-being, they can also place significant pressures on coastal zones, including loss of and damage to biodiversity, contamination by hazardous substances, and introduction of nonindigenous species and marine litter. Moreover, increasing economic growth, as well as new interests (e.g. offshore wind farms) making use of marine and coastal resources, means there is a mounting stress on valuable ecosystems. Given the recognised importance of coastal zones and the ecosystem services they provide to humans, sustainable management of these resources is essential.

Current European coastal policies
To address this challenge, the EU has developed a number of policies that aim to provide a coherent approach to the sustainable protection, use and management of marine and coastal resources.

Overseeing these policies is the Integrated Maritime Policy1 (IMP) with the Marine Strategy Framework Directive2 as its environmental pillar, aiming to protect biodiversity and other resources by taking an ecosystem-based approach to management efforts and integrating both human and environmental considerations into the decisionmaking process. The IMP is also supported by the Blue Growth3 strategy, which supports long-term sustainable growth for maritime activities considered to have great future potential for technical innovation and expansion.

Complementing this approach, the new Maritime Spatial Planning Directive4 will require EU Member States to develop a spatial approach to deliver the improved coordination and sustainability of socioeconomic activities taking place in marine areas. Additionally, the EU recommends that Integrated Coastal Zone Management (also known as ICZM) brings together diverse groups of stakeholders to coordinate the application of different policies that affect the many uses made of coastal resources – encompassing activities as diverse as aquaculture and wind farms.

Finally, as proposed in the EU Climate Adaptation Strategy5, increasing pressures due to climate change mean that it is essential to consider measures to take account of sea level rise or changes in storm surge patterns when managing coastal activities. Careful, longterm management of coastal ecosystems is vital to retain their overall resilience and to enable sustainable human uses to continue.

Given the complexity of policy initiatives and interests focusing on coastal zones it is vital to find new ways to integrate multiple considerations into policy development, implementation and local practice and to ensure management focuses on the long term in these areas. This Thematic Issue presents key pieces of recent research focusing on the interaction of ecological, economic and social objectives into coastal management and policymaking.

Key pieces of research
The management of coastal resources has been a source of academic interest for decades, but the increasing demands placed on them offer an opportunity to reassess current trends and themes.

The majority of the articles present experiences with the implementation of key EU policy initiatives. The first, ‘MSFD implementation: strengths and barriers assessed across European marine regions’, reveals that despite the availability of resources for policy implementation, the greatest challenges lie in coordination between institutions and governance levels. The researchers point out that a lack of understanding about roles and responsibilities prevents the effective implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD). However, the research also shows that many opportunities to support MSFD implementation do exist and highlights the potential of the four Regional Sea Conventions (responsible for the Baltic Sea, Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and the North-east Atlantic Ocean), which support the regional coordination of the Directive.

Research summarised in ‘Users value Marine Spatial Planning in pilot project’ evaluated local experiences with Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) in the UK in order to assess the effectiveness and usability of a non-statutory MSP plan in Scotland and identify lessons for future work as well as other practitioners. This article finds that major successes can be attained through collaboration between local authorities and organisations to resolve environmental issues (e.g. seabed habitat destruction) and can also provide additional socioeconomic benefits: for example, closing an area to scallop dredging will mean that fisheries can market their produce as sustainably sourced, thus adding a premium to its value.

In the article ‘Mutual trust between coastal stakeholders key to successful coastal climate change adaptation’, researchers examined stakeholder engagement and interaction between groups involved in coastal use and management in Portugal. Their survey of stakeholders and residents in coastal communities showed that that there was a strong awareness of coastal threats and the possible impacts of climate change, and a common willingness to engage in coastal management decisions. They found that that successful coastal adaptation requires stakeholders’ willingness to engage in decision making, as well as mutual trust between the public and policymakers.

‘The Irish marine environment: high public awareness, but low trust in management’ describes how researchers found that the role of scientists in formulating marine policy could increase public support for policies. The study identified that the Irish public are sceptical of government and industry’s ability to manage the marine economy, but place a large amount of trust in scientists.

Researchers suggest that littering on Australian coasts could be reduced by providing environmental information to temporary residents in the article ‘Temporary coastal residents are less aware of anti-littering programmes’, as temporary workers tended to be less aware of local environment programmes than permanent residents and other visitors. Based on a UK study, the article ‘Marine Protected Areas: how to improve community support?’ stresses that social impacts must be considered alongside economic and environmental impacts when designing Marine Protected Areas. Researchers found that tensions between local stakeholders (such as recreational users and fishers) could be reduced and support gained when applying collaborative management approaches.

The second set of five articles discusses new tools and methods to support and improve policy implementation. ‘Balanced scorecard can support Integrated Coastal Zone Management’ identifies a useful method for assessing ICZM local plans such as municipal, district and regional strategies. As coastal areas have traditionally been subject to the uncoordinated input of a variety of different sectors, such as environmental management or tourism, the Balanced Scorecard tool presents a valuable method to integrate multiple interests and supports successful and cost-effective policy implementation.

Researchers present a model to help assess policies to reduce nutrient pollution in the Baltic Sea in ‘Baltic nutrient abatement measures identified by hybrid ecological-economic model’. The model combines ecological and economic considerations to support the selection of optimal cost-effective management measures. Thus, the results from running the model suggest that aiming to achieve a good environmental state of the Sea overall, rather than aiming to meet the Baltic Sea Action Plan's (BSAP) nutrient load targets for each sea region, was the most cost-effective approach.

More sustainable resource planning can potentially be achieved, according to the article ‘Sustainable coastal land planning links social needs with ecosystem services’, in which researchers found that spatial planning processes in the region of Krummhörn, Germany, could be improved by a greater understanding of the links between ecosystem services and their social effects. The study presents guidelines for a participatory approach, which integrates social and ecosystem considerations into climate adaptation measures.

In ‘New web-based system supports Integrated Coastal Zone
Management’ researchers describe their open source software to help coastal managers plan sustainable coastal development. Focusing on the North Sea, the tool provides up-to-date information on relevant topics such as populations and land use to support integrated management of coastal areas affected by climate change.

Based on a Portuguese study, the final article, ‘Coastal ecosystem services’ valuation by stakeholders improves planning decisions’, presents a framework which stakeholder groups can use to value marine and coastal zone ecosystem services. The study stresses that to ensure successful policy implementation it is essential to involve stakeholders in environmental management and decision making.

This Thematic Issue demonstrates experiences and tools to integrate ecological, social and economic considerations into marine and coastal policy and management. While this has been a longstanding challenge, and will remain so, the articles demonstrate progress and present opportunities for the achievement of ecosystem management. Nevertheless, the growing pressures placed on coastal zones from human activities mean that policy action must continue to strive for significantly improved management to achieve the desired sustainability.

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