Coastlines : disputed, fragile and threatened natural environments


Coastal areas are particularly attractive for men and conducive to their activities. In the heart of the large streams of men, capital and goods, coastlines have been increasingly developed. The process of littoralisation (sliding populations and activities towards the coasts) widened in the 20th century with the increase and the globalization of international trade.

These spaces are therefore coveted spaces, but fragile and limited spaces also. Concentration and competition from human activities have caused damage to coastal ecosystems. The challenge of sustainable development of these areas is to preserve natural areas outstanding without holding back the development of human activities.

I. Coastlines: attractive spaces

1. Attractive spaces for historical and natural reasons

• Coastal concentrated high population densities, on average, five times higher than that of the rest of the world.
• Some coasts, as large Asian river deltas, are very formerly populated. This age of the settlement says that population densities are particularly strong.
• littoralisation of men and activities is a long-standing phenomenon that has increased in the 20th century.
• Most cities today are close to the coasts, especially in poor countries, for reasons often related to history (creation of ports to allow trade between the colonies and cities, for example).
• littoralisation and process of metropolisation (attractiveness and higher growth of large cities) often go hand in hand.
• But some coastlines are less populated either for natural reasons (climate, too rugged, marshes or mangrove – tropical forests covered by the sea with the tide) or because their location or their conditions of navigation are of little interest.
• History also plays an important role to explain these contrasts of settlement.

2. Economic and social factors

• Coastal areas are open to the world: of the contact areas between the oceans, through which circulate flows, trade and land spaces…
• The attractiveness of coastal logically increased with the development of globalization. The revolution of maritime transport and the growth of international trade have fostered the development of major ports such as Rotterdam or Shanghai.
• Major port areas and large metropolises gather on the maritime facades (the Bay of Tokyo; the Northern Range in Europe). They are areas of trade between the regions of the triad (North America, Western Europe, East Asia) and the rest of the world.
• The unequal distribution of men on coastlines and greater attractiveness of certain coastal areas reflect the Organization of the world with large flows of people, capital, goods.
• The birth of the leisure society and the development of seaside tourism also had an impact on the development of coastal areas.

II. Landscaped spaces

Several human activities focus on coastal strips and often-limited spaces: they often compete. To grow, they had to develop coastal areas.

1. Traditional activities

• Coastal plains are spaces often favourable to the development of agriculture and livestock: their climate is more temperate than inland. But space is often limited. This is why men have won land on the sea, including creating polders. These developments necessitated the construction of dikes and drainage canals.

• Another traditional seaside activity is fishing. It requires the creation of ports and infrastructure of storage of the catch. This activity is still largely artisanal and industrial fishing has also developed: small units of fishing and factory vessels share fishery resources (related to fishing).

• For the last 20 years, aquaculture also developed in rich countries, but especially in the Pacific coastlines. It also requires more or less major infrastructure (basins, buildings, road services…) either on the seafront, on foreshore (zone discovered at low tide), either at sea

2. The development of port areas and slipping of the industries to the sea

• Large ships are more economical and more practical that the aircraft to transport large quantities of goods from one point of the planet to the other. With the increase of international trade, the importance of maritime transport is therefore increased and port areas are developed.

• Boats are becoming increasingly large and increasingly specialized (oil tankers, LNG tankers). Port facilities must adapt constantly to the technical changes of vessels, as major ports compete terrible to attract traffic. Thus, with the appearance of the container, it took build great unloading gantries and expands storage areas.

• Port areas are also interfaces with the continental hinterland (hinterland): they must have effective rail and road links so that the goods can be delivered rapidly on all the continents.

• The dynamism of coastlines and their strategic position in international trade have attracted in the ports of the chemical industries, petroleum refineries… They settled on industrial-port areas in full extension. Some countries, like China, have also created free zones to promote their economic development (areas where companies pay little or no taxes).

• Port areas often extend over tens of kilometres and space may be missing. The embankments are built to win space on the sea.

3. The development of tourist coastlines

• Seaside tourism is developed in Europe from the 19th century. Firstly reserved for an elite, it then spread to a mass from the 1960s tourism. It is from this period that tourist coastlines are arranged in the countries of the South for Northern customers attracted to the Sun (heliotropism).

• The consequences of this development are important for the development of coastal tourist areas. Seaside tourism requires specialized equipment indeed: marinas, marinas (landscaped resort around a Marina), hotels, golf courses, swimming pools, large housing estates and transport infrastructure (motorways, airports) to facilitate the access of summer vacationers.

• All these facilities result in increased urbanization of coastal areas.

III. Towards sustainable management and protection of coastal areas

1 Disputed, fragile and threatened natural environments

• Demographic and economic pressure weighs heavily on fragile and limited spaces:

– many coastal activities are in competition for the occupation of space: the price of land increases sometimes so that local people have to leave (île de Ré in France, for instance).
– the different economic sectors can also have adverse interests for the use of the resources of the environment (tourism and agriculture all need two water), which causes conflicts of use when the resource is scarce;
– the dense urbanisation of coastal areas leads to the concreting of the sides and the disappearance of important ecosystems for the oceans, such as mangroves or wetlands;
– pollution degrade ecosystems.

• The coast is also threatened by natural hazards (tsunamis) and climate change that causes the increase of the level of the oceans and a significant erosion of the coasts.

2. Political, ecological and economic issues

• The issues of sustainable development of coastal areas are important: to preserve a fragile environment without jeopardising economic activities and the attractiveness of these regions very Humanized, essential relay for major international exchanges.

• Policies for the preservation of the coastline have been implemented everywhere in the world. Supported by major international organizations, they apply to both rich countries and poor countries. Swathes of coastal areas were thus transformed into parks natural or classified on the Unesco World Heritage list (for example, great barrier reef). In the United Kingdom and France, organizations buy coastal sites to protect (the National Trust and the Conservatoire du littoral).

• Some countries have implemented laws to limit the extension of urbanization on the littoral (coastal Act of 1986 in France, protecting a strip of coastline of 100 metres; Law of 2002 in Algeria protecting a strip of 300 metres).

• Developed countries can also finance improvements coastal economically viable and environmentally friendly ecosystems.

• For better control over the uses of the shoreline, international organizations have created the integrated management of coastal zones (ICZM) at the Rio Summit in 1992.

• However, all these efforts of preservation and management reasoned of coastal areas remain unequal according to the motives and the means of the country. They cannot be effective without the mobilization of all stakeholders and users of the sides.