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The changing faces of Europe's coastal areas

TitleThe changing faces of Europe's coastal areas
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsAgency EE
Keywordsagriculture, artificial coast, biodiversity, blue flag, climate, climate change, coastal risk, coastal use, coastal water, coastal zone, cooperation, directive, diversity, ecosystem approach, erosion, Europe, fish, fishery, forest, habitat, history, ICZM, land-cover, landscape, management, marine protected area, maritime economy, monitoring, Natura 2000, natural area, network, oil spill, policy, population density, protected area, protection, seagrass, sustainable development, tourism, trawling, trend, wetland

This report provides information on the state of the environment in the coastal areas of Europe, and provides evidence of the need for a more integrated, long-term approach. Since 1995, concern about the state of Europe's coastline has led to a number of EU initiatives, which build on the concept of integrated coastal zone management (ICZM). ICZM attempts to balance the needs of development with protection of the very resources that sustain coastal economies. It also takes into account the public's concern about the deteriorating environmental, socio-economic and cultural state of the European coastline.The specific objective of this work is to contribute to the review of the Recommendation of the European Parliament and the Council concerning the implementation of Integrated Coastal Zone Management in Europe (2002/413/EC), planned by the European Commission for 2006. This review requires information on existing trends and on the effects of policies and financial instruments directed towards coastal management.The report aligns itself to the wider context of ecosystems and human well-being set up by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005). By linking ecosystems and human well-being, this approach focuses in particular on 'ecosystem services', i.e. the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. Climate change and its impact on coastal zones is yet another important analytical framework that is taken into account while analysing the state of coasts. The increasing vulnerability of the coastal population and ecosystems becomes a challenge for the ICZM approach, which should achieve a reduction in these vulnerabilities through the coherent spatial organisation of coastal zones and by increasing the resilience of coastal systems. By analysing the responses of society to unsustainable development trends, the report reviews existing relevant policies and tracks how they may affect the coastal zones. The report is intended to give a comprehensive picture of European policies concerning the coast, either directly or indirectly. The focus is weighted towards the EU ICZM Recommendation and follows the work undertaken by the EU Expert Group on ICZM, which selected two sets of indicators: a set of 27 indicators for measuring sustainability on the coast, and an additional set to measure the implementation of integrated coastal management in European countries. The indicators also serve as examples for a more widespread adoption of integrated territorial management principles across Europe.Testing indicators at Member State and regional level is especially important as the approach underlines the flexible and problem-oriented nature of adopted responses. Here, the EU follows the subsidiarity and proportionality principle by providing leadership and guidance to support implementation at other levels. The report serves the purpose of developing the EEA's approach on integrated spatial assessment with a view to understanding changes in coastal systems and monitoring progress towards sustainable development.It has allowed the construction of a GIS database for the European coast and contributes to establishing the infrastructure for spatial information in the Community (INSPIRE) and its implementing guidelines.In the assessment, a number of priorities for action have been identified. : - Population sizes in Europe's coasts are continuously increasing, sometimes faster than in inland areas. Coasts are converted to manmade artificial surfaces at an even faster pace. There is a need to develop more information to better understand what is happening with built up areas and city planning in Europe, and to establish some thresholds and other planning tools to avoid uncontrolled sprawl. - Infrastructure developments appear as a powerful driver of residential sprawl, soil sealing and heightened levels of mobility. They are also, together with urban sprawl, an important factor in fragmentation of coastal space. - Numbers and figures from the Corine land cover data base describing changes between 1990 and 2000 show an important loss of habitats (e.g. pastures, mixed farmland, natural and semi-natural areas and wetlands), which are extremely relevant for biodiversity. This is a clear indicator of the need for action to mitigate these trends. - Coastal shelf ecosystems are also being affected. A European map of seagrass communities is urgently needed. Sea rass communities are being degraded because of the persistence of turbidity in coastal waters, trawling and other causes. But data are still lacking by which to map the underwater habitats on a European scale. - Contamination of coastal water significantly affects the capacity for coastal waters to be the nursery habitats for species that will return to deep waters. Land/sea models are needed to better understand how terrestrial sources affect the quality of coastal waters. Eutrophication is still an important problem in different regional seas. - There is an urgent need to find more sustainable forms of tourism on the coast. Tourism appears to be the most important maritime activity especially in southern countries and also in the Baltic countries, Poland, South Finland etc. This activity has a very high spatial and seasonal impact. Tourism flows affect the whole of Europe. Urgent action is needed to build European awareness and promote respect for coastal areas, including economic tools to compensate for major externalities and enhance solidarity amongst European regions. - There is a need to map and manage the activities that are growing very rapidly seawards (e.g. wind farms and other energy plants, ports and maritime traffic). This will require progress in spatial planning of coastal waters. - Aquaculture is a sector that has a strong growth potential, but it is often considered a controversial issue. Data are needed to assess the relevance of aquaculture for fishery community needs in order to ensure economic feedback and control environmental externalities, including fish stock recovery. - Due to these different pressures, the EU designated extensive coastal sites through its Natura2000 network (both on land and at sea) to protect the coast from further development, and ensure the quality of the coastal ecosystems and habitats. An initiative to create a network of marine protected areas, ideally connected by 'blue corridors', offers good prospects for marine ecosystem protection. However, the management and follow up system of already established sites is still under preparation. - A large number of coastal regions are amongst the EU's less favoured regions. Improving living standards of peripheral coastal communities is therefore an obvious challenge for cohesion policies. Sustainable socio-economic development is needed at regional and local level, and could be supported by EU funds through the enhancement of maritime activities using sustainable practices, coupled with a consistent monitoring of effects of the different actions on environment and society. - The report identifies major coastal risks and assesses how and why to reverse the trends. To fight coastal erosion, the recovery of the sediment balance is needed. In light of this, a new concept of sediment management is highlighted. - Looking to the future it is clear that the impact of global warming and climate change will become widespread. It will have a singular effect on the coast with rising sea levels, the increased probability of storm surges and associated coastal floods. However, increasing human vulnerability rather than physical magnitude or frequency of the events themselves is the prime factor underlying the rise in impacts. People are increasingly occupying the low-lying areas that are exposed to flooding, thus exacerbating their vulnerability to extreme events. - Natural ecosystems have proved to be key in increasing coastal resilience and protecting the coast during hurricane episodes (e.g. Louisiana, September 2005) and even tsunamis, (south-east Asia, December 2004). Coastal wetlands, coastal dunes and beaches, inter-tidal flats, coastal forests etc. are the most effective defences in the case of these types of natural disasters. However, coastal ecosystems and habitats need space and time to fully recover to be able to efficiently protect settlements and lives landwards. - Results show that the EU's coast is made up of very diverse landscapes and cultural contexts. It is important to take stock of this diversity to avoid cultural and landscape homogenisation. There is a need to work more on regional sustainable development. Using a regional scope, islands need a specific approach as they have specific problems such as limited land availability, lack of water reserves, waste management etc. - Policies for the EU's coasts have a long history but have not been implemented in an integrated manner so far. The situation today presents a great challenge. It also offers opportunities to promote the integration of river basins, coastal zones and marine regions and enhance cooperation with the water framework directive, European marine strategy and preparation of the European Maritime Policy. This should be seen within a sustainable development framework and the EU's ICZM Recommendation with the national ICZM strategies (to be issued in 2006). The implementation of all these different policies has great potential and represents a unique opportunity to create an integrated legislative framework for the sustainable development of the European coasts. This report presents spatial information to support an integrated coastal policy framework. It represents a baseline to monitor the coast and should be updated in 2010 in accordance with the EU's ICZM strategy (2000). The EEA will support the revision of the strategy in conjunction with the assessment of the state of European environment. This new information can bridge present gaps and provide better regional assessments to fully understand the trends identified at European level.