Sustaining Coastal Zone Systems

Sustaining Coastal Zone Systems

Sustaining Coastal Zone Systems

Sustaining Coastal Zone Systems


The 'Coastal Zone' is the long narrow interface between land and ocean that is a dynamic area of natural change and increasing human use. These areas contain more than half the planet's population. They also contain natural and man-made wealth in the form of: a) buildings, infrastructure, and machinery; b) human social capital; and c) the natural ecosystems that provide food, shelter, waste disposal, and other services to people. These assets are threatened by increasing human demands on natural resources and by global changes in climate, elemental cycling, and economic systems. Protecting them requires policies and procedures aimed at sustainability, but environmental protection is only part of the answer. The human factor must also be addressed. This book introduces a 'systems approach' to understanding and managing the complex interactions between the natural ecosystems and the human economies and societies in the coastal zone. It draws examples from a successful European research project to show how 'communicative rationality' and the construction of models of 'socio-ecosystems' can be used to help stakeholders choose between alternative solutions to coastal zone problems. It brings together key ideas about environmental management from the natural, social, and economic sciences. Written in non-specialized language so as to best communicate across a range of disciplines, the book will inform academics and professionals about this new approach in coastal zone management. It will enrich the study of ecology, geography, resource economics, environmental science and management, and the sociology of environmental conflict and risk.


Paul Tett and Audun Sandberg

On the beach

Let's start on a beach: a Mediterranean beach. It is summer, and the sun is hot. People have come from the nearby city, to spend the afternoon here, or have flown in, on vacation from colder northern lands. They bask in the light and heat, while their children play on the golden sand and splash in the blue sea. The sparkling water's edge oscillates gently, offering and retrieving bits of seaweed, blades of eelgrass. Out on the sea, sailing dinghies pick up the light breeze, and small motor craft seek fish for the city's restaurants. Nearer the calm horizon, larger cargo vessels and ferry boats make their way to or from the city's harbour, part of an oceanic network of trade and communication.

Yes, this is an attractive scene, repeated around the modern world wherever people have leisure and money to travel. But all is not well. Behind this beach is a modern city. When it rains heavily, the city's sewers overflow and pollute the sea and shellfish with harmful bacteria. Nutrients in sewage, and fertiliser in rivers draining adjacent farmland, can enrich the sea and may cause red tides of algae that poison bathers or shellfish. Overfishing has depleted stocks. The beach itself is artificial, and has to be maintained against water movements; stabilising meadows of sea-grass that lay offshore have been destroyed. The city's mayor has to make choices. Expanding the harbour facilities will provide well-paid work for the city's voters, but will further damage natural coastal ecosystems. Increasing tourism will benefit hoteliers and restaurateurs but will add to sewage loads and will clash with port development. How does the city government make the right decisions about planning and public investment to ensure that the city remains sustainable? How does it ensure that citizens can be housed and employed in a coastal environment that continues to provide the goods and services of fish, shellfish, bathing water, and clean beaches?

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