Coastal and Marine Resources

Small island nations have a large coastal area to land mass ratio, which means that they are largely coastal entities. Their coastal environment is therefore particularly important, both socio-economically and culturally, and there are typically high levels of conflict in the demands for coastal space and its resources. This conflict is often accentuated by high and increasing population densities on the coast and by the development of economic sectors such as tourism. For the size of their land mass and population, small island nations usually have large marine exclusive economic zones, which has vastly extended the fisheries and other marine resources available to small island developing states. Potential benefits may be great. But so too are the problems and challenges faced by the countries concerned in seeking to grasp and optimize these potential benefits. For both terrestrial and marine environments, difficulties in planning and implementing effective integrated approaches to resource management are reflected in over-exploitation of particular resources, pollution and degradation of land and water ecosystems, and acute conflicts between competing resource uses.

Within UNESCO, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC)provides a primary focus for improving scientific knowledge and understanding of oceanic and coastal processes. Through the organization and coordination of major scientific programmes and projects, support is provided to Member States in building-up capacities and in the design and implementation of policies for the ocean and coastal zones. Key activities within the IOC include the development of an innovative programme on ocean sciences, with three principal interactive lines of work:

  • oceans and climate,
  • science for ocean ecosystems and marine environmental protection, and
  • marine science for integrated coastal area management.

Components of this ocean sciences programme include work on ocean carbon sequestration, benthic indicators, coral bleaching and monitoring, land-ocean-atmosphere biochemistry, harmful algal blooms, pelagic fish populations. Monitoring and forecasting capabilities in the open and coastal ocean are also being developed as part of an integrated international strategy for observing the global environment (see under ‘Climate change and sea-level rise’, left). As part of the intergovernmental programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB), biosphere reserves are places to test and develop ways of sustainable living through the integrated management of natural resources and the conservation of biological diversity. The World Network of Biosphere Reserves (with 531 sites in 105 countries, as of mid-2008) contains sites in a range of coastal and insular settings. Further information on some examples in SIDS is given under 'Biodiversity conservation', left. Also under the MAB Programme are several regional networks which promote integrated approaches to the sustainable use of renewable natural resources in biosphere reserves and similar managed areas, such as the ASPACO initiative in coastal and island areas in the Asia-Pacific region. 

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