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5 Coasts – A Vital Habitat Under Pressure

The art of coastal management

Die Kunst, Küsten zu verwalten © Fernando Moleres/laif

The art of coastal management

> Divergent interests give rise to conflicts time and time again in the course of comprehensive coastal protection. However, if all stakeholder groups can agree on a sustainable management plan, this often generates considerable benefits for all.

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The significance of coasts – a question of perspective

The world’s coasts are diverse. Some are popular as holiday destinations and have remained almost unspoilt. Others, located on important shipping routes, have been heavily developed industrially. Then there are coastal re­gions that are significant for small-scale fisheries. These supply large quantities of fish from which millions of ­people earn their living; on the other hand, they are often used as a natural water-purification plant for the effluents of a growing coastal population. The significance of the coasts in traditional or indeed religious respects varies ­greatly from culture to culture. And whether a region or a country considers the coasts as significant at all depends on all kinds of factors, but is most obviously reflected in active political measures for their protection.

International ground rules for the world’s coastal areas

Anyone who is permitted to use a coastal area in any way today is subject to clear international regulations through the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which was adopted at the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea of 1982 and entered force in 1994 after arduous negotiations. It sets out the ground rules for all uses of the ocean, such as shipping, fishing, natural gas and oil drilling and environmental protection. The provisions of UNCLOS apply to all states and as a general principle in all zones of the ocean.
4.1 > Coastal states have exclusive rights within their exclusive economic zones (EEZ) to exploit marine resources such as fish. If certain conditions are satisfied they can even extend their EEZ to include part of the continental shelf.
fig. 4.1: Coastal states have exclusive rights within their exclusive economic zones (EEZ) to exploit marine resources such as fish. If certain conditions are satisfied they can even extend their EEZ to include part of the continental shelf.  © after GRID-Arendal
Nevertheless, it must be noted that different bodies are responsible for the implementation of the law in each of the various oceanic zones. Distinctions are made between the following coastal and marine zones:

TERRITORIAL SEA: The territorial sea is the 12-nautical-mile zone. It belongs to a state’s sovereign territory. Activities in this zone are governed by the legislation of the individual states. However, legislation must conform to the internationally agreed rules if the state has ratified UNCLOS.

EXCLUSIVE ECONOMIC ZONE (EEZ): This extends from the outer edge of the territorial sea to 200 nautical miles (approximately 370 kilometres) offshore. Therefore the EEZ is also called the 200-nautical-mile zone. Included within the EEZ are the sea floor and the water column. Unlike the territorial sea, the EEZ is not part of a state’s sovereign territory. Nevertheless, within its own EEZ the coastal state alone may extract resources such as petroleum and natural gas, mineral resources, and of course fish stocks. Other nations may only use the resources if the relevant coastal state consents. Resource extraction in the EEZ is subject to the coastal state’s legislation, which in turn must be in line with the international rules laid out in UNCLOS. For other uses of the ocean, particularly shipping, the freedom of the high seas applies equally within the EEZ.
4.2 > The Banc d’Arguin National Park is an area of tidal mudflats and ­lagoons on the coast of the West African state of Mauritania. The national park is an important overwintering site for migratory birds which feed there to build up their fat reserves for the long flight ahead.
fig. 4.2: The Banc d’Arguin National Park is an area of tidal mudflats and ­lagoons on the coast of the West African state of Mauritania. The national park is an important overwintering site for migratory birds which feed there to build up their fat reserves for the long flight ahead. © Harald Woeste/www.imagerover.com
CONTINENTAL SHELF: The continental shelf is the gently or steeply sloping sea floor off the coast, which is a natural geological extension of the mainland. The term has both a legal and a geological definition. In the legal sense it denotes the area that extends to 200 nautical miles beyond the coastline, while in the geological sense, the term is synonymous with the shelf. The shelf referred to is the shallow, near-coastal section of the sea floor. The shelf slopes away gently to an average depth of 130 metres, and is adjoined by the continental slope which ­slopes more steeply up to 90 degrees. The continental shelf is of special economic interest because among other resources, large quantities of natural gas and oil can be found there. In many parts of the world there are regions where there is geological evidence of an outer continental shelf that begins within the exclusive economic zone and continues beyond the 200-nautical-mile limit, thus enlarging the coastal state’s sphere of influence. Such evidence must be submitted scientifically to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) in New York, and accepted by that body. This outer continental shelf which goes beyond the EEZ can then be extended up to a line at a maximum of 350 nautical miles off the coast. Alter­natively a state can claim a marine area up to 100 nautical miles past the 2500-metre-depth line as an extension of the continental shelf past the limits of the EEZ, and in some cases even beyond that.

HIGH SEAS: Adjoining the EEZ are the high seas, which no national government may claim for itself alone; they are available to be used by all countries. Nevertheless, the use of resources in the high seas is regulated. Fisheries, for instance, are regulated by Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) which, among other issues, specify maximum catch sizes for fish species. In contrast, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) is the sole body that supervises the use and distribution of seabed resources. It is responsible for all mineral resources on the sea floor. These are defined in the Convention on the Law of the Sea as common heritage of mankind.

National-level regulations

Whereas UNCLOS sets out clear international regulations on the use of the various marine zones and thereby defines whom the ocean or the coastal waters belong to, the management of the 12-nautical-mile zone is the sole province of the coastal state concerned. Consequently the administrative details are regulated differently from one nation to another (and, in federal countries, sometimes even from one federal state to another). For the management of coastal waters this means a considerable need for coordination between different authorities.
How many different authorities can be involved in coastal administration can be exemplified by the administration of the German North Sea coast, which borders onto the German states of Lower Saxony, Schleswig-­Holstein and Hamburg. In Lower Saxony alone the responsibility for the coastal sea is shared between the following authorities or bodies:
  • Water and Shipping Authorities: These are subordi­nate to the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure and are responsible for the safety of shipping in the coastal sea and on the federal waterways of the rivers Elbe, Weser and Ems, which are under the control of the German federal government. Among their tasks are the siting and servicing of navigational aids and the maintenance of bank reinforcements as well as locks and weirs along the federal waterways. Responsibility for nature conservation along the banks of the federal waterways rests with the subordinate nature conservation authorities of the district authorities, provided that these areas are not part of a national park or a biosphere reserve.
  • Lower Saxony Ministry for the Environment, Energy and Climate Protection: The ministry is responsible for the natural areas along the coast that have biosphere reserve status. Biosphere reserves are model regions initiated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) with the aim of achieving sustainable development in environmental, economic and social respects.
  • Lower Saxony Water Management, Coastal Defence and Nature Conservation Agency (NLWKN): This ­agency is subordinate to the Lower Saxony Ministry for the Environment, Energy and Climate Protection and is responsible for coastal defences on the islands belonging to Lower Saxony; the authority cooperates closely with the dike associations. In addition, the NLWKN is responsible for nature conservation in part of the dike forelands – in the salt meadows for example.
  • NNational Park Administration: It is subordinate to the Lower Saxony Ministry for the Environment, Energy and Climate Protection and is responsible for the ­Lower Saxony Wadden Sea National Park, and beyond this, for the dike forelands located within the bounds of the national park.
  • Main Dike Associations: These are public-law bodies which are responsible for the safety of the dikes that defend the full length of the mainland coast. The dike associations have a long tradition, going back several hundred years in some cases. They were founded by the residents of the different coastal municipalities and to this day consist largely of a voluntary workforce. The president of a dike association bears the title of “dike reeve” (Deichgraf). In the 1960s several dike associations were merged, leaving a total of 22 Main Dike Associations controlling and improving the dikes along the Lower Saxony coastline.
  • Lower nature conservation authorities: These are subordinate to the respective districts and are responsible for natural areas along the coastline that are not part of the national parks.
Even just the example of Lower Saxony shows what a proliferation of responsibilities there can be in one German federal state. In Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein, by comparison, there are differences of detail in the regulations and the official structures. This diversity is explained in large part by Germany’s federalist system, but is also an example of how the management of an entire coastal area can only function when there is clear coordination and division of work between the different authorities. For example, over the years it can be deemed a success that the German Wadden Sea as a whole has been designated as a protected national park in spite of the disparate responsibilities across federal state boundaries. Beyond this, the responsibility for infrastructures of supraregional importance such as the federal waterways rests with a single body – the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. However, experts also emphasise that the division into different authorities can have advantages. They point out that within the different authorities there are large numbers of experts who possess important detailed and specialist knowledge, be it on coastal defences or nature conservation or regarding waterway safety.
4.3 > Responsibility for the maintenance and safety of federal waterways like the river Elbe, pictured here, rests with the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, whereas the dikes protecting the hinterland are cared for by dike associations.
fig. 4.3: Responsibility for the maintenance and safety of federal waterways like the river Elbe, pictured here, rests with the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, whereas the dikes protecting the hinterland are cared for by dike associations. © Kaiser/laif

Many demands – many conflicts

Coasts have many functions and provide many ecosystem services – such as fish, navigable waterways, tourism and recreation, or space for agriculture and construction projects. That is to say, countless activities are concentrated on the relatively slender strip between land and sea in densely settled or heavily used coastal regions – which automatically results in a plethora of responsible autho­rities.
This plurality can easily lead to conflicts if there is not sufficient coordination between the respective authorities or among the different stakeholder groups generally. For example, human use often comes into conflict with nature conservation aspects. In China the desire for economic development led to substantial pollution of coastal areas. In order to catch up with the high economic standards of the West as fast as possible, often very little attention was paid to environmental aspects. Today there is growing resistance to such a one-sided focus among the Chinese population, and it is being realized that goal conflicts have surfaced which can only be resolved by rising above the mere satisfaction of particular interests. Not just in China but in many other regions worldwide, such stringently sectoral approaches are preventing efficient protection of coastal habitats or sustainable use. The situation is even more difficult if coastal habitats extend beyond national borders, as the Wadden Sea does, for example, in Ger­many, the Netherlands and Denmark. Here an effective coastal management scheme is only possible in international cooperation.
4.4 > Many coastal areas are subject to a large number of use interests with regard to the land and the coastal ocean. The coordination of all these interests can normally only be achieved by means of an elaborate coastal management process.
fig. 4.4: Many coastal areas are subject to a large number of use interests with regard to the land and the coastal ocean. The coordination of all these interests can normally only be achieved by means of an elaborate coastal management process. © after Meiner

All parties around the table

An appropriate concept for the sustainable and comprehensive management of coasts was presented for the first time in 1992 during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro: Inte­grated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM), the aim of which is sustainable development of coastal zones and which seeks to reconcile all aspects of coastal development. To this day many countries and international communities – for example, the European Union – have made ICZM the guideline for planning future coastal development, defined as follows: “Integrated Coastal Zone Management seeks, over the long term, to balance the benefits from economic development and human uses of the Coastal Zone, the benefits from protecting, preserving and restoring Coastal Zones, the benefits from minimizing loss of human life and property, and the benefits from public access to and enjoyment of the Coastal Zone, all within the limits set by natural dynamics and carrying capacity.” Although ICZM is acknowledged today as a tool for future coastal zone management, coordination of the particular interests of the different stakeholder groups remains the greatest challenge.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), nowadays there are a series of causal factors that result in the exploitation or degradation of coastal habitats rather than their sustainable use. These include:
  • large business enterprises geared towards quick profits, which exploit or destroy resources and which conflict with the interests of the coastal population;
  • a shortage of serious governmental follow-up measures for the support and implementation of nature conservation programmes;
  • low awareness among local people and policy-makers about a form of management that relies on sustainable resource use;
  • poverty which is exacerbated by the increasing scar­city of resources, damage to habitats and fish breeding grounds and a lack of alternative livelihoods;
  • strong population growth.

Good management delivers benefits

This conflict potential can be defused, the FAO notes, if all these aspects are taken into consideration as part of an integrated coastal zone management scheme, and ICZM programmes, once drafted, are actually implemented in full. According to the FAO approach, ICZM programmes can benefit countries or individual coastal regions in the following ways:
  • Facilitating sustainable economic growth based on natural resources;
  • Conserving natural habitats and species;
  • Controlling pollution and the alteration of shorelands and beach fronts;
  • Controlling possible pollution in watersheds that drain into the coastal region;
  • Controlling excavation, mining and other construction impacts on coral reefs and on the near-coastal sea floor generally;
  • Sustainable use of overused resources so that these can recover, such as fish stocks and other marine organisms;
  • Providing mechanisms and tools for equitable and sustainable resource allocation among the various ­stakeholder groups;
  • Quicker and more focused implementation of projects by involving all stakeholder groups, because this averts later disputes that might delay a project;
  • Avoiding damage to the marine environment or ­marine resources.
Furthermore, a comprehensive ICZM programme today must address more than just the immediate shorelands and coastal waters but also the multifarious relationships between the coast and the hinterland – be it for the creation of sales markets for new, sustainably harvested products, or with regard to preventing land-based pollution of coastal waters. The FAO emphasises that this list represents the ideal form of ICZM and that in today’s world not all the goals of ICZM projects will be achieved in every case. Nevertheless, the ICZM idea has gained traction in many places.
Depending on the number of use interests, an Integrated Coastal Zone Management process can vary in its complexity. If only individual or a handful of user groups are involved, the overall process is generally more streamlined. This may be the case in coastal regions of developing countries, for instance, where artisanal fishery is the main feature and few other types of use exist. In the meantime, successful examples exist from which much can be learned. >
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