Imperatives for the Integrated Management of Coastal Ecosystems


Nuzrat Yar Khan

Environmental Sciences Department,

Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research, Kuwait



Since the industrial revolution, human activities have set in motion secular trends with far reaching environmental consequences on local, national, regional, and global scales. Today, all ecosystems of the globe have been measurably perturbed by human activities. Indeed, the changes brought about by human activities, such as the drastic alterations in the global fluxes of nutrients and hydrologic regimes, have been so extensive and profound that human activities could be described as a geological force, which has not only modified the Earth but has fundamentally transformed it.

The impacts of human activities are most pronounced in coastal areas because historically they have been the major focus for the development of human society. Recent demographic data provide an alarming and sobering picture of the world’s coastal areas. In 1997, 3.8 billion people or 60% of the world’s population lived and worked within 160 km of coastline. Given the present population trends, 6.3 billion or 75% of world’s population could reside in coastal areas by 2025. As such, coastal ecosystems are most vulnerable to the collective impacts of human activities representing a variety of competing interests and socio-economic drivers. The ubiquitous coastal zone problems, such as the degradation of coral reefs and mangroves, declines in fisheries, coastal eutrophication, increases in the frequency of harmful algal blooms, and outbreaks of pathogens in coastal organisms are just a few manifestations of the combined effects of coastal anthropogenic forcings at local, national, regional, and global scales.

We live in an era of extremely complex interdependence between environment and economy and, as such, the sustainable management of coastal zones must be innovative and adopt management approaches aimed at reconciling the conflicting and diverging interests into a cohesive, but dynamic, system to direct human affairs. A prerequisite for instituting an integrated coastal zone management framework, therefore, is to ensure that the environment-economy interdependence is recognised and understood by all competing interests. This approach by its very nature and definition would be integrative, participatory, and holistic, and would require teamwork by drawing upon common themes of processes embracing both the physical and social systems. It would, as such, be aimed at fostering a mutual understanding of issues surrounding the sustainable management of coastal ecosystems by all competing interests. Thus, the first and foremost imperative for the sustainable management of coastal ecosystems is the adoption of an integrated management approach, which would concern itself with the investigation, and clarification of interactions between the physical system and the socio-economic system.

This paper discusses a series of specific but interrelated management and research requirements as imperatives for the success and meaningfulness of coastal management plans. These imperatives include: entrenchment of Strategic Environmental Impact Assessment process into law, retrospective Environmental Impact Assessments of unplanned coastal development, formulation and enforcement of dynamic regulatory instruments which would provide a feedback loop to assess environmental change in coastal areas, development of cost-effective and benign technologies for habitat restoration, adoption of the principle of ‘no net loss’ of productive coastal habitats, application of the ‘precautionary principle’ which advocates the need for credible information about environmental impacts before the potentially harmful coastal activities are allowed, development of methods for classifying coastal ecosystems at regional and global scales, a better understanding of coastal processes and fluxes, and a global forecasting of spatial and temporal trends in coastal developments.

The paper argues that science serves a purpose, which directly relates to policy and decision-making process and, as such, it needs to be inextricably linked to policy. In its final analysis, the paper propounds a hierarchical and strategic management approach for the optimal utilisation of coastal ecosystems at local, national, regional, and global scales.