Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
colbartn.gif (4535 octets)


1.  Introduction
2.  Three main domains of wise coastal practices
3.  Remote sensing and the interactive framework for wise practices
3.1. Role of remote sensing in knowledge generation, dissemination and sustainance
3.2. Role of remote sensing in coastal management activities
3.3. Role of remote sensing in coastal regulations
4.  Conclusion

KEYWORDS: Wise practices, Coastal management, Remote Sensing, Capacity building, Coastal regulations, Coastal applications

ABSTRACT: The information revolution has necessitated wise practices in environmental management since it is now possible to visualise consequences of natural succession and human actions over large space and time. Ironically, such an enlarged vision would also generate overcapacity that could lead to abuse and misuse of technological power if it is not judiciously managed. Therefore, wisdom mandates us to build wise capacity, wise applications and wise regulations in a view to safeguard our environmental interests to the posterity. This paper attempts to provide a conceptual framework for wise practices in the coastal zone in the context of capacity being generated by remote sensing technology. It is the need of the hour to obtain focus on the detailed definitions of wise practices, so that coastal management could be soundly based on the principles of sustainability, world over.

Back to the table of contents  1.  INTRODUCTION

The most general understanding of the phrase ‘wise coastal practice’ is that it is an activity accepted as useful and productive over a period of time and space. If an activity is repeated in time with or without some context-based modifications or if it is emulated elsewhere under similar conditions and if it applies to a considerably wide geographic area, it is accepted to be a wise practice. Elements of culture, society, science, policy and environment are eventually discernible as specific characteristics in such an accepted activity (Troost et al., present Proceedings). When we debate on ‘can remote sensing play a role in wise coastal practices’, it is these two general features of space and time that come to the mind. Firstly, remote sensing can detect any specific character of an activity that is geographically wide. Secondly, it can detect the time component of the activity since repetitive viewing is quite well possible. Therefore, it is not incorrect to believe at the outset that remote sensing has a direct application in studying, reporting, monitoring and many a times ensuring wise practices on the coastal zone. As the word ‘wise’ directly portrays social relevance of a practice, whenever remote sensing is used to study or ensure a wise practice, it is believed to be contributory to the wisdom of social development in relation to coastal environment. Around the world today, there are many important applications of remote sensing that have complemented the efforts of wise coastal management.

Back to the table of contents  2.  THREE MAIN DOMAINS OF WISE COASTAL PRACTICES  

The very first requirement is that there should be a sound social capacity to develop, sustain and ensure wise practices. This essentially means that we should have enough knowledgeable manpower, good sources of information and information analysis devices. Secondly, there should be wise methods of using the information for judicious exploitation of resources and/or management of environment. Thirdly, we ought to have enough regulations that safeguard resource and environmental sustainability. There should also be a timely and periodic mechanism to modify these regulations on the basis of a compound wisdom. In the following schematic sketch (Fig. 1), these intricate interactions are briefly presented. In fact, the interactive frame work as presented in Fig. 1 is the basis of wise practices in the coastal zone. Remote sensing has been found to play an important role at each level. In all, wise practices realise at the intersection of three domains, namely, capacity (human resource), applications (actual coastal activity) and regulations (governing principles). It is anyone’s guess that these three are interconnected and inter-contributory.


It is not difficult to trace the role of remote sensing in each of the three dimensions of coastal wise practices mentioned above. The following aspects are distinctly visible and the contribution of remote sensing in each is very obvious. Fig.2 schematically summarises these considerations.

Capacity building (Knowledge-based manpower)

(With the help of satellites and sensors, GOOS)

Coastal management activities (Knowledge-based applications)

Coastal regulations (knowledge-based regulations)

Back to the table of contents  3.1.  Role of remote sensing in knowledge generation, dissemination and sustenance 

Information gathering has come of age with the growth of remote sensing. A number of satellites and global programmes target information on a variety of parameters. These parameters are interpretable towards understanding of earth processes that yield resources, sustain environments and hold the key for environmental management in the common benefit of society. Information has become very highly technical over the years and the world is getting obsessed with concepts of ‘accuracy’ and ‘precision’. In Table 1, a general appraisal of possibilities and their importance are shown. Each point can be dealt specifically in good detail. Such a specific dealing would provide us an insight into the accuracies with which each parameter may be measured. However, the matters of detail are more academic in nature and the conference would surely deliberate on individual accuracies. What is important at this stage is to uphold the direct relevance of the technology in generating information of social relevance. It is also a matter of detail that there are dozens of satellites today in the orbit with a diverse variety of sensors, each one promising some application or the other in the coastal zone. Likewise, there are a number of global programmes that promote satellite based information gathering, important of which are GOOS, Earth science enterprise (NASA), Earth Observation Systems (India), European Remote Sensing programme (ESA) etc. There are global and regional programmes like IGBP-LOICZ, UNEP-GEF, UNESCO-CSI, UN/CSD-SIDS etc. which in one way or the other promote remote sensing research for academic excellence as well as for social relevance.

In the broad general domain of coastal management, there have been a number of initiatives for knowledge dissemination by in situ and ex situ methods. UNESCO has in the past conducted several international programmes of training in remote sensing for coastal management in Kenya, Senegal and Saudi Arabia. Scientists have been drawn from various background so that the message of remote sensing application could address every social purpose of significance. Realising the need to increase the number of knowledgeable persons by way of virtual teaching, UNESCO has also embarked upon a novel initiative called BILKO wherein a large number of remote sensing based lessons for coastal environment have been put together and circulated around the world. BILKO’s popularity is increasing and keeping with the theme of this conference, BILKO may be termed as one of very few operational wise practices of virtual knowledge dissemination in coastal management. UNESCO has also established a network of pilot projects and UNESCO chairs around the world under whose umbrella, coastal research activities of broad social relevance are taken up. Many of the activities are increasingly taking the help of remote sensing.

Back to the table of contents  3.2.  Role of remote sensing in coastal management activities 

Wise coastal activities evolve around resource identification, resource exploitation, environmental management, services and surveillance. These are activities in which there is direct social dependence, social influence and social benefit. Under the ‘wise practices’ yard stick of measure, these activities must be amenable to cultural respect, transferability, participation, human rights, sustainability, consensus, long-term benefit, etc. These are tough measures that can only be satisfied if an activity is based on a sound foundation of mature information and applied knowledge of environmental processes and resources. Remote sensing is one very good way of providing such information especially since the information is devoid of human bias. The information is also reasonably accurate and temporo-spatially relevant. With the kind of continuous, regular and periodic earth viewing we now have, the satellite data is easily a source of past and present events while being a reliable planned source for future. With this character of temporal continuity, measures such as ‘culturally respectful, transferable, sustainable and long-term benefit’ are addressed satisfactorily. Therefore, remote sensing is undoubtedly a part of wise practices in coastal management.

In today’s world of rapidly advancing remote sensing scenario, there are a number of possible wise applications in the coastal zone. Some have been proven useful, some are being tested on the anvil of time and some are being conceptualised. Although ‘Operational’ is still a rarity, the ‘opera’ is already wide open. A summary appraisal of applications is provided in Table 2. In fact, coastal management activities are the crux of coastal wise practices. Knowledge learnt is tested here, knowledge is applied here and knowledge for future emerges here. But it is also a shifting ground where the face of social wisdom transits from one phase to another as the time passes. Therefore, commitment and caution must accompany the applications always.

Back to the table of contents  3.3.  Role of remote sensing in coastal regulations 

Coastal regulations are the instruments to enforce wisdom that is time tested and accumulated on the basis of past successes and failures. Formulating the rules, modifying them as and when the need arises and enforcing them as well as monitoring whether they are complied with - are the only options available to us to ensure that a socially and environmentally sustainable coastal activity is initiated and promoted. They are an instrument to evaluate and establish the character of a punishable act. Remote sensing comes in very useful in this endeavour in the way indicated in Table 3.

Formulation, enforcement and timely modifications of coastal zone regulations with the help of information extracted through remote sensing means could very well become a valuable activity in future, especially in those parts of the world that are endowed with enviable environmental resources coupled with remoteness in access. The knowledge with which regulations are formulated and the earnestness with which they are practiced will become the key elements that determine the success of our passage towards a sustainable and hospitable state of the planet. Remote sensing has a very important role to play in this direction due to its capability of providing global and local information alike. With a tool like this, it should be possible to both think and act globally and locally, which we presume is ‘wise’.

Back to the table of contents  4.  CONCLUSION

We have been increasingly making resolutions for year 2000 and the new millennium. However, year 2000 is just another tomorrow which will not present sudden dramatic environmental realities calling for special or revolutionary attention. Therefore, there cannot be a different set of prescriptions of wise practices which are not existing today nor existed yesterday. Wise practices in the coastal zone emerge from a transitional and cumulative knowledge climbing continuously over small steps.

Few selected examples of role of remote sensing in ensuring wise practice in coastal zone are tabulated in Table 4 to provide an integrated understanding of the conceptual framework.

The preparations that result in wise coastal management are slow as they involve individuals, environment, societies, science, technology and common sense - all of which gradually mature without an upper limit. Patience, perseverance, commitment and caution underline all our good efforts. The path to wise practices and sustainable operationalization of coastal management started way back in ages and is passing beyond us below our feet. Remote sensing is a new pair of shoes for a better grip and a youthful run.


Fig. 1. Interactive framework for wise practices in the coastal zone

Fig. 2

Fig. 2. Summary of role of remote sensing in the framework for wise practices

Back to the table of contents  Table 1. Types of remote sensing information and their relevance

Type of information

What does it provide

What does it measure

Social relevance

Spatial information Extent of spread of any earth feature Area of any feature, sprawl (reasonable possibility is 6 to 10 meters at the minimum) Planning of resource harvesting and/or conservation. Conflict resolution, environmental management
Spectral information Response of earth features to various segments of light Signatures - allowing us to differentiate one feature from the other. Resource allocation, safeguarding interests of communities, conflict resolution
Position information Location of any feature in the 3 dimensional space at a point of time Exact position of any point like the tip of a wave. Sequential measurement gives us height and length. Environmental management, disaster mitigation
Energy information Amount of energy possessed or deflected by any earth feature Temperature, wind Environmental management, resource estimation, disaster mitigation
Repetitive information Information on any of the above on a regular basis in a periodic interval Development of a natural or man made process Environmental management, Change monitoring
Relative information Data on how an earth feature is similar or different with respect to the others Interaction of elements in nature Resource planning, conflict resolution

Back to the table of contents  Table 2. Summary of remote sensing applications and the needed precautions in their practice

Activity supported by remote sensing

What does it yield

How is it actually done

Precautions to be observed so that we remain wise for long

Resource identification

(Quite well developed)

Qualitative (some times quantitative) information on living and non living resources such as fishing zones, salt and minerals, bio-productive areas, etc. Normally by identifying indicators such as phytoplankton for fishery, lineaments for ground water, etc. Scales and parameters of some resources are not still in the domain of remote sensing like the reproductory dynamics of coastal fishery, but are important to worry about.
Exploitation strategies

(Developing well but precautions are needed to ensure that over exploitation is not done)

Faster and cost effective methods that help in judicious exploitation of resources Identifying thermal fronts for fishery and sending maps of potential zones to fishermen, identifying weighted parameters that may lead to favourable sites for aquaculture, identifying sites that are favourable for coastal development and notifying them to developers, etc. Technological help could lead to over-exploitation. In many coasts, for example, maximum sustainable yield has been reached. Therefore, mere ‘harvesting’ should be replaced by ‘sustainable harvesting’
Environment management (Paradigm shift of remote sensing applications from coastal resource inventory to environment is needed in many countries) Protection of critical areas, delineation of buffer zones, monitoring and mitigation of hazards, urban sprawl monitoring, tourism management. Temporal monitoring, determining typology of processes for buffering. Efforts are not proportional to the needs. Loss of biodiversity, loss of critical habitats, loss of life & property have not reduced. Emphasis on accuracy of information should increase.
Coastal services

(Highly operational area and actually holds very significant future)

Updation of charts, advice to industrial activity, steering the human influences Using remote sensing as a dominant input in GIS Resolutions in some cases, especially while demarcating lines like HTL, are not quite suitable.

(Countries are increasing efforts in this direction but societies would be more peaceful if we did not feel the need for this)

Sensitive information High profile real time monitoring using multiple satellite access. Using remote sensing as a dominant input in GIS. Nothing ‘wise’ here; it is all only ‘circumstantial’.

1. If no one has information, all are equally safe.

2. If all have information, all are equally safe.

3. An ‘eye for an eye’ leaves both the parties blind.

4. Inaccurate information leads to disasters.

Back to the table of contents  Table 3. Role of remote sensing in wise practicing of coastal regulations

Steps in the domain of coastal regulations

How can remote sensing help

Formulation of regulations

(Evolution of a logical basis for regulations)

Providing factual information on environmental processes, helping in establishing resource inventory, helping in the understanding of sustainability, providing a scenario of change over time, identifying extent of human influences, simulating scenarios for future, assisting in qualifying typology classes and drawing realistic boundaries in time and space, etc.
Modifications and amendments

(Keeping the vigour of regulations and avoiding them from becoming obsolete)

Monitoring change as it happens, rapid evaluation of man and nature interaction, mid term assessment of the impact of any coastal activity, etc.
Enforcement and policing

(Periodic check whether regulations are honoured and restrictions are complied with)

Monitoring human impacts and the general progress of coastal activities, delineation of the extent, timing and location of industrial outfall/pollution, detection of encroachment, assessment of compliance with designated locations of dredge spoil disposal & resource exploitation, assessment of environmental degradation like mangrove felling or coral reef poaching, etc.

Back to the table of contents  Table 4. Components of role of remote sensing in the expected wise practices on the coastal zone


Remote sensing can play a major role in these

Coastal manage-

ment activity



Capacity development

(Education) component

Application component

Regulation component

Sedimentation Erosion control, Siltation control Information on coastal oceanography and geomorphology Modelling shore protection, Modelling long term changes Ensuring that reclamation, dredging and protection measures are as specified.
Resource development Sustainable harvest Information on ecology & seasonality Real time monitoring of resource potential Generation of conflict minimising resource allocation maps
Resource conservation Accommo-dating environ-mental resilience Typological data Site selection for environmental engineering Decision on restoration , determination of abuse
Pollution moni-toring Damage control Information on littoral transport, dispersion Real time monitoring of impact Post mortem analysis for fixing responsibility, amendment of regulations
Port and harbour operation Reducing costs and environmental impact Information on bathymetry and coastal oceanography Harbour site selection, modelling ship navigation Monitoring dredge spoil disposal, Monitoring hazard of operation
Aquaculture development Safeguarding the balance of natural stocks Information on water quality, productivity, tidal influence and coastal infrastructure Site selection Vacation of illegal sites, Policing the discharges
Urban sprawl Preparedness for and mitigation of natural and manmade disasters Information on coastal dynamics, natural hazards and man made hazards Urban development plans, activity based site selection, generation of contingency plans to face disasters Monitoring illegal constructions, Assessing encroachments with respect to a past date, effluent regulation
Tourism Environmental protection Information on rip currents, coastal circulation, man made changes Generation of space maps for tourist guidance, corridor allocation for activities Periodic checking of compliance with enforced spatial limits of activity
Industrial corridor development Judicious management of effluents Information on water quality, coastal circulation and geomorpho-logy Site selection Surveillance of effluent disposal and environmental auditing
Coastal transport Averting wreckage and accidents, Developing corridors of minimal influence on biota Information on water quality, relief, critical habitat corridors and advection processes Generation of bathymetric charts, shoal movements etc., Identification of critical habitats Monitoring unauthorised routes

Keynote address presented at the 2nd International Symposium on Operationalization of Remote Sensing (Enschede, The Netherlands, 16-20 August, 1999) by D. Troost, UNESCO-CSI and R. Sudarshana, Indian Institute of Remote Sensing, 4, Kalidas Road, Post Box 135, Dehradun 248001, India, rsudarshana@hotmail.com

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