Management strategies, if they exist at all, often as not deal with economic development along a wafer thin slice of coastline. Resource degradation is ignored and watershed management is mostly rhetoric (with a few exceptions like the Chesapeake Bay and the Rhine and Danube Rivers). Although some 55 countries have drawn up management plans, only 17 had been implemented by the end of 1994. Many management strategies do not get beyond the pilot phase; they are simply not high enough on political agendas.
Underlining the crisis of our coasts is the spectre of escalating human numbers and their ever-increasing needs. If coastal demographics are alarming now, they are downright scary by 2025. Already nearly two-thirds of humanity -- some 3.6 billion people -- crowd along a coastline, or live with 150 kilometers of one. Within three decades, if trends continue, 75 percent of humanity, or 6.4 billion, will reside in coastal areas, nearly a billion more people than the current global population.
Take just two examples: the United States and China, the world's third and first most populous countries.
In the United States, 54 percent of all Americans now live in 772 coastal counties adjacent to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes. Over the past 30 years, coastal populations have grown by 41 million, faster than the country as a whole. The Washington DC-based Population Reference Bureau reports that, between 1960 and 1990, coastal population density in the United States increased from 275 to nearly 400 people per square kilometer. By the year 2025, nearly 75 percent of all Americans are expected to live in coastal counties; with population density doubling in some areas such as Florida and southern California.
Florida, which is almost entirely coastal, is projected to have more than 16 million residents by 2010, an increase of over 200 percent from its 1960 level of 5 million. South Florida, which has a 1990 population of 6.3 million, is expected to have to cope with 15 to 30 million people by 2050. Similar dramatic increases are projected for both California and Texas.
US coastal counties already contain 14 of the country's 20 largest conurbations. Demographers think coastal areas in the U.S. will keep on growing well into the next century, with the lion's share of that growth due to in-migration, not natural population increases.
The overwhelming majority of Chinese -- 94 percent -- live in the eastern third of the country. Of China's 1.2 billion people, over 677 million (56 percent) reside in 13 southeast and coastal provinces and two coastal municipalities -- Shanghai and Tianjin. Along much of China's 18,000 kilometers of continental coastline, population densities average over 600 per square kilometer. In Shanghai they exceed 2,000 per square kilometer.
Predictably, China's future population growth is expected to accelerate in its 14 "economic free zones" and five "special economic zones" (SEZs). Not surprisingly, all of them are in coastal provinces.
The most impressive economic growth has taken place in the country's five special economic zones all located in South China: Shenzhen and Shantou in Guangdong Province; Xiamen in Fujian Province; and Hainan, China's island province.
These three provinces, with a combined population of nearly 100 million, have the highest standards of living in the country. Guangdong Province has enjoyed one of the fastest economic growth rates in East Asia over the past decade, on a par with Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Thailand. Output rose 15 percent a year during the 1980s. Exports from the province accounted for one-third of China's total exports in 1990. The Hainan and Fujian SEZs have also scored huge economic successes.
Moreover, nearly 100 million Chinese are thought to have moved from the poorer provinces in the central and western regions to coastal areas in search of better economic opportunities for themselves and their families. At any given time, somewhere between 20 and 40 million Chinese are on the move, a population the size of Spain. The bulk of this large, "floating population" is concentrated in coastal provinces, precisely those areas with the highest economic growth rates.
Out of China's 456 cities with municipal status (as of 1990), 305 of them are coastal. Many of these cities seem to be growing at more rapid rates than those in the interior of the country. Between 1982 and 1990, for instance, Shanghai's population increased by 13 percent. All but five percent of that growth was due to in-migration from the countryside. China's largest city now has around two million migrant workers, most of them living in the poorer areas of the city in make-shift housing.
In much of the rest of the developing world, coastal cities are exploding. In Southeast Asia, 65 percent of all major cities -- those with populations of 2.5 million or more -- are located along coasts. In Latin America and the Caribbean, where 75 percent of the population will be urban by the turn of the century, 57 out of 77 major cities are coastal.
Future projections for Latin America are alarming. By the year 2025, the coastal zone from Rio de Janeiro to Sao Paulo, Brazil is expected to be turned into one large, contiguous urban area, containing up to 40 million people.
One of the most over-crowded coastlines in the world is the Mediterranean. The current population of the Mediterranean Basin countries is around 380 million, with 146 million living along the coast itself. Another 100 million tourists flock to its shores in the summer.
According to demographic projections worked out by the Mediterranean Action Plan, the socio-economic part of the Action Plan which links the environment with various levels of development, the Mediterranean Basin's resident population could reach as high as 555 million within 30 years. More worrying, the urban population of coastal Mediterranean administrative regions could reach 176 million: 30 million more people than the entire coastal population in 1990! By 2025, the Med could be hosting up to 350 million seasonal tourists a year as well.
Without proper management strategies in place, much of the northern rim from Spain to Greece, might very well turn into one vast built-up area, dominated by ugly urban sprawl, industrial parks, summer villas, land-fills and tourist resorts. Great chunks of the Mediterranean's natural beauty have already been lost, buried under concrete or altered to fit the tourist's image. Much of its unique biological diversity is threatened.
Michel Batisse, President and chief architect of the Blue Plan (former Assistant Director-General for Science at UNESCO), is convinced the future of the region is in jeopardy. "While northern populations with declining fertility rates will become progressively older, the southern and eastern regions will be dominated by young people," points out Batisse. "The numbers arriving on the labor market will largely exceed those leaving it, with a maximum gap around 2020, creating considerable unemployment and probably spawning waves of migrants heading to Europe in search of work."
Tremendous population and development pressures have been building in coastal areas for the last four decades. These pressures have triggered widespread resource degradation. In much of Asia, Africa, Europe, North America and parts of Latin America, coastal fisheries are chronically over-exploited. In some cases -- South and Southeast Asia, China, East and West Africa, The Black, Mediterranean, Baltic and North Seas of Europe, and the Caribbean -- economically vital fisheries have collapsed or are in serious decline. In many cases fishermen have had to turn to illegal techniques to put food on the table, or have become fish farmers, further degrading coastal resources by converting large areas of wetlands into fish and shellfish ponds. In Indonesia alone over 10,000 square kilometers of mangrove forests have been converted into brackish water ponds (called tambaks) for the cultivation of prawns and fish.
"Nearly all Asian waters within 15 kilometers of land are considered over-fished," observes Dr. Ed Gomez, Director of the Marine Science Institute at the University of the Philippines in Manila.
Despite a general ban on trawlers in near-shore waters in most of the region's countries, violators are legion. Korean trawlers, for instance, routinely enter Manila Bay in stark violation of existing regulations. Korean skippers bribe the Philippine coast guard to let them fish there.
Fisheries are in decline not only because of over-fishing. Critical coastal resources, such as mangroves and coral reefs -- among the most productive and biologically diverse ecosystems on earth -- are being plundered in the name of development. Together, they provide vital habitats, feeding grounds and nurseries for literally tens of thousands of species of fish, shellfish and invertebrates.
Although there are thought to be around 240,000 square kilometers of mangrove swamps throughout the world, this seemingly impressive figure constitutes perhaps only half of their original area. Clear-cutting for timber, fuelwood and woodchips, conversion to fish and shellfish ponds, and expansion of urban areas and agricultural lands has claimed millions of hectares globally. Of the Philippines' original mangrove area, estimated to be between 500,000 and one million hectares, only 100,000 hectares remain.
There are some 600,000 square kilometers of coral reefs throughout the world's tropical seas. Unfortunately, these species-rich ecosystems are also suffering widespread decline. Dr. Clive Wilkinson, a coral reef specialist working at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, has estimated that fully 10 percent of the world's reefs have already been degraded "beyong recognition". Thirty percent are in critical condition and will be lost completely in 10-20 years; while another 30 percent are threatened and will disappear within 20-40 years. Only 30 percent of the world's reefs are thought to be in stable condition, those removed from inhabitated areas or otherwise too remote to be exploited.
Of the 109 countries with significant coral communities, 93 are damaging them, according to a survey carried out under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Conservation Union (IUCN). In over 50 countries coral is being smothered by erosion sediment washed off the land; largely the result of massive deforestation. In nearly 70 countries, reefs have been badly affected by dredging and land reclamation, or the building of harbors, airports and tourist resorts. In much of Southeast Asia and East Africa reefs are being blasted apart by dynamite fishermen, in desparate efforts to put food on the table, or mined for use as building material.
Halting such destruction is paramount if even a fraction of these genetically valuable resources are to be preserved. Nothing less than integrated coastal management strategies are needed: strategies that take account of population growth and distribution, urbanization trends, consumption patterns, generation of wastes and the use (and abuse) of available resources, among others. Resource management must replace resource exploitation.
Turning rhetoric into reality will not be easy, nor cheap. UNCED's Agenda 21 devoted one entire chapter to the management of seas and coastal areas and the rational use of marine resources. However, architects of this document estimated that it would cost around $6 billion a year until the turn of the century in order to finance comprehensive coastal management strategies that are more than words on paper.
Coastal areas are in crisis not only because of a lack of funds or political shortsightedness. Coastal zone management is downright difficult to implement because it requires the institutional capacity to manage both land and near-shore waters in an integrated, comprehensive manner. Few countries, even in the industrialized world, are capable of such strategic planning and management. In the United States, for instance, where each coastal state has enacted coastal zone management plans, the results are uneven (in some cases disappointing). The developing world has barely begun the process of regulating coastal development and managing common resources. And their institutional capacity to safeguard remaining coastal resources is severely limited.
Unfortunately, there are probably more scientific "unknowns" than "knowns" when it comes to coastal resource degradation and the impacts of population pressures on those resources.
We know, for instance, that mangrove forests, coral reefs and seagrass beds are being destroyed and impoverished throughout all of the world's seas. However, we have no concrete data on the actual extent of this destruction. And no historical perspective as to how much has been lost and what the current rates of destruction are. What we have are site specific studies and some general surveys showing an alarming trend. But hard data are hard to come by. Even in the Mediterranean Sea, one of the world's most studied bodies of water, data are patchy and incomplete; pollution loads are based more on guesstimates than on sound data, and many pollutants are simply not monitoried at all on a regular basis; the costs are too prohibitive.
What we do know with some certainty is that coastal populations are exploding along nearly every coastline in the world, especially in Asia and Latin America. And there are fairly good demographic data on urbanization trends. What, of course, is unknown is how long current population growth and distribution trends will hold out.
In this regard, population distribution is probably more important than population growth rates. In many areas of the developing world, growth rates are falling steadily (except in sub-Saharan Africa). But in terms of coastal demographics, the numbers show a consistent pattern for the last 30 years: a steady rise in population numbers and density along, or close to, coastlines. Closely tied into the population numbers, of course, is the tremendous growth of towns and cities noted over the past three decades. Once again, the data show that the greatest increases in population in most regions have been registered in urban areas along coastlines. In most cases, these increases are due to in-migration from the countryside, not natural population growth.
Although there is an overwhelming need for concerted efforts to launch and implement integrated coastal management programs, most governments have not been able to muster the human, institutional and financial resources needed to set up realistic, workable management strategies. Despite UNEP's 20 years of experience in lauching regional seas programs -- now running in 12 regional seas around the globe -- most of the world's seas continue to deteriorate as marine resources are consistently over-exploited and genuine coastal management programs die on the shelf.
In the end, no amount of planning can compensate for sound management programs created and sustained by local communities, with a real stake in their outcome. This fact has been too often overlooked by UN agencies and governments bent on setting up region-wide conventions in an effort to govern coastal areas and improve resource management.
These framework conventions are important in terms of getting countries together around a common set of issues, but their implementation lags far behind the rhetoric. No amount of coaxing from UNEP, or other international agencies, has improved funding levels, or political commitment. What is lacking in nearly all cases, is the creation of strong, motivated local and national constituencies of support for broad-based coastal management programs. This shortcoming is perhaps the main reason governments often do not bother to follow-up their political pronouncements with constructive and workable management strategies. The sad fact is: coastal areas do not have a cohesive political lobby, they do not draw attention and funding as emotive issues such as tropical forest destruction and the loss of recognizable species. No powerful constituencies cry out for their conservation and rational management.
This is true for both developed and developing regions alike. For instance, after more than two decades of efforts, the Baltic Sea is still horribly polluted and mismanaged. Sweden is now financing the construction of sewage treatment plants along the Vistula River in Poland, the largest single source of pollution to the Baltic Sea, in an effort to improve water quality under the terms of the Helsinki Convention. Sweden has gone as far as it can in cleaning up its own waters; the country has determined that from a cost-benefit perspective, investments are now better spent in Poland.
A list of all of the important scientific and policy issues related to coastal areas and near-shore waters would probably fill a library. The key point to remember is that policies often do not flow from science, but science often flows from policy considerations. In any case, solid scientific data are crucial in assessing the state of coastal resources and in assisting policy makers to prioritize investments and management programs.
A number of the most important scientific issues, in my view, include the following:
In this connection, there is ample scope to better utilize GIS systems and satellite imagery in an effort to obtain more and better quality data on the actual extent of these resources and their current condition.
The aim here would be to see if there are some elements of coastal management programs which are common to all or most successful efforts. Conversely, it would be useful to see if there are also common elements that turn up consistently in those initiatives which failed.
Botanists, for instance, are learning a great deal about the medicinal properties of rainforest plants from local indian populations. It should be possible to do the same with coastal resources such as mangroves, seagrasses, coral reefs and artisanal fisheries, among others.
By the same token, it should be possible for coastal resource managers to learn something useful from the hundreds of years of management experience contained in traditional coastal communities; experience that is all too often ignored, or overlooked.
Some of the main policy issues relating to coastal areas, include the following:
It is worth noting here, that the Law of the Sea Convention, which finally went into force in November 1994, could serve perhaps as a basis for the formulation of more region-specific resource management agreements.
This list could go on forever, but these are some of the issues which policy makers and scientists must grapple with as they work towards a system of governance for coastal areas. In the end, it all comes down to management. Without it, we will continue to lose valuable coastal resources to unbridled development.
There should be no doubt that we are facing a daunting challenge, one that we cannot afford to ignore. If just current levels of exploitation continue, we are facing the ruination of coastal areas and the wholesale loss of ecosystems and the communities of plants and animals they support. If we cannot come to grips with managing fisheries, millions of poor people in developing countries, who depend upon marine resources for their animal protein, will suffer from malnutrition and disease. More ominously, if we cannot manage coastal areas in a more sustainable manner, then we may soon have no resources left worth saving!
Our coastlines are in crisis. But scientists, the public, the press and our political systems must recognize the problem and begin to respond with appropriate measures. Our success at managing this crisis will have numerous benefits, our failure could have unimagineable consequences.