Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

Coast to coast

Extract from UNESCO Sources (131) published February, 2001, page 10 - 11

How universal are “best practices” for coastal management - and best for whom? A global internet Forum (username: csi; password: wise) provides some answers. 

Some 3.2 billion people, or more than half the current global population lives on, or within 200 kilometers of, a coastline. By 2025 that number is expected to increase to 6.3 billion or 75% of the then global population. Ironically, the great wealth of coastal areas – whether in terms of fishing, tourism, international trade or natural resources – contains the seeds of its own destruction. This is why, over the past few decades, scientists have recognised the need for integrated coastal management (ICM) – in other words, planning that seeks to balance development needs, the livelihood of local residents and conservation.

But, despite a rapid increase in coastal management programmes (now being implemented in more than 130 countries), there is little consensus on what works, what fails and why. What, for example, are the biological, economic, and socio-political parameters that matter most to those concerned with a given coastal area? What are the trends over time? What is natural and what is due to human influence? Without answers to these questions and how they relate to (often changing) public expectations, it is very hard to know what tools we should be using to reach social objectives for these areas - whether they are oriented towards conservation or development. In the field of ICM there are few agreed “best practices” like those used in fields like engineering or forestry. And there is no clear mechanisms for determining what makes a practice “good”, “wise” or “best”.

On top of this, coastal managers have done a relatively poor job of demonstrating the benefit of integrated coastal management, or communicating what it involves to the people to whom it matters most - coastal residents. Much of the available information on ICM is written in a general, conceptual language only. As a result, ICM has not become a mainstream environmental management profession in the same league as, for example, environmental planning or impact assessment. Not surprisingly, governments and decision-makers therefore have problems understanding and applying ICM concepts.

To date for example, little of the $400 million invested in ICM projects in Indonesia has had any demonstrable impact on the health of coastal ecosystems. So it is not surprising that government officials ask why they should invest more. At the same time, recent surveys show that Indonesians rank sea pollution as the 6th most important issue in the nation, above crime, poverty and public transport. Clearly there is a disconnection between what government has been addressing and what the community expects. Mean-while, a 1994 study in Australia showed that the public is generally more knowledgeable about coastal management needs and issues than they are given credit for. Failure to recognise this was a root cause of conflict in coastal planning issues there.

Perhaps more seriously, residents of coastal areas find it hard to access the body of experience that has developed from the relatively few global coastal areas where ICM has been tried out. Yet they have the most vested interest in the subject and have the greatest potential to change coastal areas.

Getting information to local resource users and other stakeholders is essential to stabilise or reverse a global decline in coastal ecosystems and quality of life. But what sort of information do they need and who can judge if it is appropriate? Second generation coastal management programmes such as those being implemented in nations like Australia, Canada and the USA, for example, typically deal with more informed constituencies and are implemented by more experienced managers than first generation programmes such as those in countries like India, Kenya and Brazil.

These key questions underpinned the design of the UNESCO Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum (username: csi; password: wise) when it was initiated in 1999. The Forum explicitly recognised that significant information barriers and other inequalities make it hard to apply ICM, even in its most rudimentary forms.

For example, throughout the Asia-Pacific region, many countries have put a priority on agricultural development over the past century, often with little regard to subsequent impacts on coastal ecosystems, such as increased sedimentation and eutrophication1. It has been difficult for fishers to convince decision-makers that such downstream issues need to be taken into account in the design of agricultural projects. Key funding agencies for infrastructure programmes such as the Asian Development Bank and World Bank have only relatively recently begun to take an interest in the health of coastal and marine ecosystems and to build this into new projects.

Sharing experience and knowledge

The UNESCO CSI Wise Coastal Practices Forum (username: csi; password: wise) creates a vehicle to share experience, linking that knowledge to specific programmes of action through pilot projects and university teaching and research initiatives. This kind of integration, particularly on a global scale, sets the Forum apart as an ambitious but also as a very powerful endeavor.

The power of the Forum is that it is driven by those engaged in the many practical aspects of coastal management. Over the past two years, it has been relatively easy to participate in the Forum as time and interest permits. It has been even easier to be a passive participant in this extraordinary global dialogue. Distinctive email announcements simply appear on a regular basis on the screens of those of us fortunate enough to have a computer, good internet connections and to be “in the loop” of global ICM activities.

It is not always easy to meet all these requirements, though. In Indonesia for example, less than one percent of the population have computers and the 200 million residents who live outside the greater Jakarta area (90% of the population) have very limited, relatively expensive and frequently disrupted internet access. The 4000 participants in the Forum therefore represent an informed ICM elite who have made the effort to engage with UNESCO. They are just the tip of the ICM iceberg that could be using the Forum.

Ian M. Dutton
Project Leader, Proyek Pesisir, Indonesia

1 An increase in nutrients that deprives water of the oxygen needed for life.

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