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Recherche et développement régional durable

Corinne Larrue

Session 4. Les territoires du développement durable et le rôle du niveau régional / Territorial entities and sustainable development : the role of the regional level

Priorities for research to support sustainable management of costal areas and ressources

Peter Burbridge

Note de l’auteur

Note portant sur l’auteur1

Texte intégral


1The coastal regions of Europe have been the focus of human settlement and economic activity for thousands of years. There has been continuity in most of these human activities during this period, however there have been many changes imposed on coastal lands and waters that have led to degradation of more than Seventy percent of Europe's coastal ecosystems (Rigg et al, 1997).

2Lack of understanding of the dynamic process and functions of coastal systems has resulted in inappropriate policies, loss of natural capital, and inefficient allocation of man-made capital that could be used in better ways to improve human welfare. We have reached a point where human use of many coastal areas can only be sustained through major investment of man-made capital to counteract man-induced disruptions to coastal processes. If we continue along this path we will continue to make more activities at risk and will foreclose options for expanding and diversifying the economic base of the European Community and waste yet more natural and man-made capital. This places us in a position of what economists refer to as increasingly ‘weak sustainability’.

3To reverse this negative progression and achieve sustainable human use of coastal areas for the long term, greater effort must be made to integrate available knowledge from the natural and social sciences to help promote greater understanding of the dynamic processes that shape coastal systems. We argue for a radical change in how we plan for and manage human activities because massive human intervention in coastal systems cannot be sustained and is resulting in increased hazards to life, property and investment.

4To achieve an effective transition to more sustainable coastal development and natural resources management there is need for new scientific information to fill critical gaps in our understanding of how coastal systems will react in response to changes in environmental processes and human management interventions. This is reflected in the findings of the recent EU funded demonstration programme on Integrated Coastal Management and the subsequent formulation of the European Coastal Management Strategy. This is further highlighted in the recent statement on one of the major coastal activities by Margot Wallström, (EU Environmental Commissioner): “What still lies ahead of us is the arduous exercise of defining environmental objectives for fisheries together with a system of indicators for the future monitoring of policy performance, and the adoption of a long-term strategy and legal instruments to achieve policy objectives.”

5The following paragraphs outline examples of the marine and coastal management issues and main research challenges facing European society in promoting improved planning and management for more sustainable use of available coastal resources.


6Coastal management is more complex than people realise. The findings from EU ICZM demonstration Program show that the present, sectoral approach doesn't meet the needs of managing the complex issues in coastal areas. There is a need for policies that deal with terrestrial and marine interactions within common planning and management frameworks.

7Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) is a process that requires:

  • Awareness-based on traditional knowledge-user friendly scientific information;

  • Dialogue among key stakeholders;

  • Cooperation and coordination and in time;

  • Integration.

8However, there is no Golden Rule or universal framework for promoting ICZM.

9An integrated planning and management approach is dependent upon an adequate supply of reliable, harmonized, and integrated information. This information will be used at local and regional level for addressing concrete problems and for motivating stakeholders. At national and EU levels it will be used for setting policy guidelines, raising public awareness and developing political will.

10Some of the primary marine and coastal management issues are as follows:

  • Main induced damage to coastal and near shore marine ecosystems resulting from pollution and impact of poor land and water use planning and management loss of natural resources;

  • Loss of economic development options;

  • Increasing hazards from relative sea level rise. Examples include increasing vulnerability of different coastlines to flooding and erosion. Both are natural processes but are seen as negative because of poor planning and management of human activities that have increased the incidence and severity of such events, and have increased the risk to human activities by locating them in coastal locations where they will be more prone to severe damage. A larger geographic and longer time scale perspective is needed to understand the nature of these dynamic coastal processes and the effects of large-scale human interventions;

  • Risks to human health and culture of marine organisms. The introduction of exotic organisms through the discharge of ballast water from ships, including pathogens such as strains of cholera we have little resistance to in Europe, is increasing the risk to human health and to native species of animals and plants, as well as commercial activities such as marine aquaculture.


11For the foreseeable future, European society will continue to depend upon coastal areas and resources to maintain human needs and the diversity of economic activities. Examples include: food security, trade and commerce, recreation, and tourism.

12Figure 1 illustrates a coastal ecosystem, which generates a wide array of functions, resources, which, in turn, sustain a wide variety of human activities.

13Coastal zone interdependencies among Terrestrial, Coastal, and Marine ecosystems are numerous. Examples include:

  • Coastal Ecosystems ↔ human economic systems

  • Management of Human activities ↔ Health and productivity of coastal ecosystem

  • Economic and social development policy ↔ Ability of coastal ecosystems to sustain human needs

  • Multiple functions of coastal systems ↔ Multiple use management ↔ Optimisation of economic and social benefits

  • Coastal systems management ↔ Sustainable spatial and economic planning ↔ River basins management


14There is need for improved use of scientific expertise and knowledge to inform planning process to help resolve these issues and avoid future problems.

  • We need to understand how coastal systems function:

  • we need information on environmental processes that sustain the ecosystem;

  • we need also to understand their functions;

  • we need to account for the environmental and economic resources derived from these functions; and

  • we need to link these resources to the human activities they sustain.

15To be useful, information must be relevant to management needs, adequately accurate and precise, consistent and comparable. In other words, we need to be able to integrate information derived from a wide cross-section of disciplines and that information must be capable of being integrated.

16The EU ICZM demonstration programme has been the subject of six thematic reviews. Such thematic studies have demonstrated that it is crucial to take a strategic view of information in developing the ICZM process. It must be issue led, and not data led. It must assess costs and benefits of information management tools and establish local Observations' that facilitate local information exchange. It is useful to promote involvement of users in defining research needs, and engender a greater user focus in the outputs of research. The thematic study on information also indicated that it would be desirable to set up Europe-wide coastal and marine information exchange system including affordable map products.

17To fulfil the requirements for improved information of direct benefit to policy formulation, spatial and economic planning, and natural resources management there is a need for improved research on both social and natural sciences. The recent Euro conference on Coastal Management Research offered an opportunity to discuss a broad range of issues where cross-disciplinary or interdisciplinary research is needed. Examples include:

  • Climate change and coastal erosion;

  • Sustainable levels of marine resource exploitation;

  • Catchments basin management;

  • Land reclamation;

  • Urbanisation;

  • Recreation and Tourism;

  • Maintaining nature and biological diversity.

18In the field of Climate change and erosion, we can rely on a wide array of scientific research programmes, including:

  • The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC);

  • The Global Ocean Observation System (GOOS);

  • The Land Ocean Interchange in the Coastal Zone programme (LOICZ);

  • ‘Soft Engineering’ approaches to management of coastal systems;

  • Sea level rise and managed retreat of human activities from vulnerable areas.

19But we must ask ourselves the basic questions concerning these effectiveness of these different research programmes and the actual use of the information they generate, namely:

  • How can the information be better used to relate spatial planning to hydrology and coastal and marine management?

  • How do we measure sustainability of coastal development and over what time period?

  • How do we integrate the scientific finding into planning and management processes?

  • How to get scientists to respond to management information needs.

20It is important to bring scientists and managers physically together early in projects, to make the science more transparent. Managers look for clearly defined answers which scientists may be unable to provide. Managers and scientists operate on different time scales. So there is a need to tailor science to specific issues or areas and local conditions (social/economic/institutional).

21Scientists have an important role to play as ‘honest brokers’ in ICZM initiatives. In terms of research priorities, first of all we have to learn to value and manage coastal systems. We need research to raise awareness and better inform processes for planning and managing human activities, we need research on environmental processes that sustain coastal systems, and research on function of coastal systems and resources they generate.

22As a second priority, we need to know how to motivate improvements in Governance:

  • How to raise awareness – economic valuation, dissemination;

  • How to engage specialists as well as the general public in ICZM process;

  • Incentives for inter-sectoral cooperation, coordination, integration;

  • Incentives for cross-disciplinary research and integration of scientific information;

  • Lastly we need to strengthen Planning and Management systems.

23Spatial planning is generally limited to land and sea use planning is in a vacuum. The coastal zone is a legal nightmare with multiple and overlapping jurisdictions, with common property resources, and complex private property issues.


24Improving management of coastal ecosystems and human activities is the key to sustainable use of coastal areas and resources. There is a lack of awareness of the dynamic and very powerful forces that create and maintain coastal systems. This exposes us to grave risks. The coastal systems will survive, many coastal activities and human beings will not. We have developed much stronger management policies and procedures for controlling human activities than for managing coastal systems. This is due to gross under valuation of the importance of coastal systems in meeting human needs and aspirations.

25Regarding research activities, do we need more information OR better integration and communication of existing knowledge? As a matter of fact, we do not make full use of the knowledge we already have! Why? Because of the sectoral nature of science (we compartmentalise knowledge) and because scientists mainly speak to scientists (reward systems may be at fault).

26The first research priority is to find new ways of integrating existing social, economic and environmental information to define the key factors that influence sustainable use of coastal areas and resources.

27The second research priority is to find better ways of communicating this to the general public, policy makers, planners and managers.

28The third priority is to find better ways of using this knowledge to improve the ICZM process.



Rigg, K., A. Salman, et al. (1997). Threats and opportunities in the coastal areas of the European Union: A scoping study. The Netherlands, Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment.


1 Director – Center for Coastal Management –University of Newcastle upon Tyne – England.

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© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2002

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