Coastal and ocean management

Posted: 6 March 2007

Around the world 177 nations have coastlines, but as of 2006, slightly fewer than 100 had developed coastal management plans. Although this is twice as many as 1992, no more than 20 had actually been able to implement their plans. Most countries have been content to set up pilot project sites that manage only a tiny area of coastline.

Why is this the case?

  • Coastal areas fall under too many jurisdictions - local, regional and national.

  • In the United Kingdom, for instance, 48 sub-units of government, from Parliament to local town councils, have authority to create coastal management strategies.

  • The Law of the Sea Convention, which finally came into force in 1994, gives all states the right to manage marine resources within their 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zones; unfortunately, most developing countries lack the manpower and money to manage such a vast areas of coast and sea.

  • Ocean management requires the active participation of all coastal states - a feat that has alluded most efforts.

Action needed

To safeguard vital coastal ecosystems, such as mangrove forests, seagrass beds and coral reefs, to protect coastlines from over-development, to manage fisheries and preserve biodiversity, all littoral (coastal) states need to develop comprehensive coastal area management policies. These plans must be carried out with the active participation of coastal communities and other stakeholders. In practice, coastal governance has proved to be a slow, incremental, evolutionary process, not just a plan on paper. The following initiatives are essential:

  • UNEP's Regional Seas Programme needs to be given adequate international and regional support. It is one of the few working mechanisms already in place which allows a group of coastal states sharing the same body of water to begin to come to grips with major management issues.

  • The International Coral Reef Initiative, launched in 1995 by eight countries and endorsed by a number of NGOs, needs to be given the utmost priority by multilateral and bilateral funding agencies, NGOs, intergovernmental organizations and the UN system. It constitutes one of the best examples of international and intergovernmental cooperation to tackle the rapid and alarming decline of the world's coral resources. It allows representatives of 80 developing countries with coral resources to partner with major donor countries and development banks to conserve reefs and manage them sustainably. Yet progress has been slow. More areas need to be set aside as reserves and protected from exploitation.

  • In 2000, the United Nations Foundation helped launch the International Coral Reef Action Network, a multi-agency, multi-year effort to implement an internationally agreed framework for coral reef protection. The partner organizations include: UNEP, the International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management, the World Conservation Monitoring Centre, the Coral Reef Alliance, the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, the World Resources Institute and the International Coral Reef Initiative and its Secretariat.

  • The Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, launched by FAO in 1995, needs to be endorsed by all fishing nations and laws enacted that will give it force. The code addresses six areas: fisheries management, fishing operations, aquaculture and mariculture development, integration of fisheries management into coastal area management programs, harvesting and post-harvesting practices (such as discards) and trade and fisheries research. So far more than 60 fishing nations have agreed to it, but this voluntary code needs to be given legal backup by each country.

  • The UN Agreement on Straddling Fish Stocks and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks, advanced in 1995 by FAO, prescribes a precautionary approach to fishery management, both inside and outside Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs). This promising initiative came into force in December 2001.

  • The Law of the Sea Convention could become a more effective mechanism for regulating coastal and near-shore activities. It permits all coastal states to manage their 200 nautical mile EEZs. Littoral states must seize on this opportunity to enact and enforce fisheries restrictions, safeguard areas of high biological diversity, set aside more marine protected areas and enact and enforce legislation to help protect coastal waters from land-based pollution.

  • In 1995, 108 governments adopted the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities. So far, many of these signatories have enacted national legislation to reduce coastal pollution. Unfortunately, developing countries have been unable for the most part to enforce regulations aimed at cutting back on unregulated coastal development and halt polluting activities.