U.N. Experts Say Coastal Management 'Ineffective'

Current coastal management practices are ineffective and their continuation endangers ecosystems that support the economies on which more than half the world's population depends, United Nations' University experts warn in a new report.

Coastal marine ecosystems have declined progressively in recent decades due to the growth of human populations and their demands on the marine environment and resources, according to the report, which was presented on June 4.

Bays and estuaries, sea grasses, mangroves, and wetlands have suffered dramatically in the past 50 years. Shorelines have hardened, channels and harbors have been dredged, soil has been dumped, submerged and emergent land moved, and patterns of water flow modified. Climate change is starting to add further stress, leading some scientists to predict the total disappearance of coral reefs in some parts of the world.

It is a recipe for disaster for the 40 percent of all people who live within 50 km of fast-growing coastal areas, according to the report, co-authored by Peter Sale, UN University assistant director of the International Network on Water, Environment and Health (INWEH), and Hanneke Van Lavieren, program officer; Mark J. Butler IV, Old Dominion University, Va.; Anthony J. Hooten, AJH, Environmental Services, Bethesda, Md.; Jacob P. Kritzer, senior scientist, Environmental Defense Fund, Boston, Mass.; Ken Lindeman, Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne Fla.; Yvonne Sadovy de Mitcheson, professor at the University of Hong Kong; and Bob Steneck, professor at the University of Maine.

"It is past time to implement truly integrated coastal zone management around the world," says Zafar Adeel, director of INWEH. "Management must be scaled appropriately to ecology and political jurisdiction boundaries must be eliminated as borders for management actions."

"By 2050, 91 percent of the world's coastlines will have been impacted by development," says the report, adding that "much coastal development is poorly planned and all of it, as well as much inland development, impacts the coastal ocean."

The report cites several worrisome ongoing trends:

• Intensification of large-scale agriculture, driven by global agricultural production, including now bio-fuels, contributes to over-nutrification and the creation of offshore "dead zones."

• Rising pollution and the influx of exotic species due to shipping and commerce;

• Ill-planned tourism in ecologically sensitive areas, that often causes irreversible damage;

• Development that destroys vital near-shore environments, alters patterns of water movement and disrupts ecosystem functioning;

• Over-fishing of coastal and pelagic stocks which, in combination with damage to the coastal nursery grounds of many fishery species, is already causing far-reaching consequences for economies and ecosystems.

The report blames these problems on a failure to understand coastal environment value, how impacts change with growth in population and demands, fragmented management, failure to use science-based and proactive management, and a lack of compliance.

The report says a great majority of the 4,600 marine protected areas worldwide today, covering 1.4 percent of the global coastal shelf area, are "paper parks" – legal creations that are not based on scientific understanding of ecosystem protection with little if any regulatory enforcement.

To be successful, according to the report, coastal management improvement efforts need to be comprehensive and holistic, with regionally scaled programs comprising replicated local projects, and enthusiastically adopted by local coastal communities.

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