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Home > Topic > Costal management

Integrated coastal management in the Pacific

A complex problem

The intersection of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems at the shoreline bring together two very different, complex and yet highly interrelated ecosystems. Unfortunately, these ecosystems are increasingly subject to a range of human activities which pose very significant threats to their long-term sustainability. The marine and coastal environmental issues facing the Pacific region are similar to other parts of the world. The most serious of these issues are the loss of biodiversity, solid and liquid waste management, over-exploitation of living resources and destructive harvesting practices, introduction of alien species and destruction of habitat and coastal degradation due to poor land practices that lead to pollution and siltation. Other driving forces throughout the region include high population growth generally, but specifically in urban areas due to urban drift, and a shift from subsistence to cash economies. A complicating factor is that the region’s development is constrained by small size and remoteness to international markets.

Maintaining the integrity of ecosystems and protecting the biodiversity in these ecosystems is challenging because of the great range of biological, physical and socio-economic pressures involved. Resolution of these complex problems is complicated because of the many institutions (or in some instances, the lack of) and interests that are interconnected and must be considered during the problem-solving process. Responsibility for managing the many relevant activities is frequently divided among different national and local institutions. The result is that one institution’s actions may have significant adverse impacts on the resources of another. Thus in addition to the problem of remote causes and effects, there may be little opportunity or incentive for inter-agency cooperation that could avoid or minimize the externalities. The management responses from Pacific island countries have also been hampered by an overall lack of appropriate legislation for ICM, and insufficient capacity to implement existing management strategies.

Unique integration

Integration of management and decision-making processes is what separates integrated coastal management from other sectoral strategies for natural resource management. The multitude of natural and human processes occurring in the same location require solutions that have a diverse combination of activities. Fortunately, traditional marine tenure is still strong in most Pacific. This can be advantage if these traditional systems are integrated, where appropriate, into coastal management activities as it aids in developing ownership and ensuring sustainability of activities.

Three different approaches

When we consider the factors above, fragmented governance and strong traditional tenure systems, we realize that we need to take a “three track” approach to coastal management in the region if we are to succeed in maintaining healthy coastal environments. To achieve sustained progress we must simultaneously work at (1) local-level geographically oriented site-management programmes, and (2) framework policy initiatives at the higher levels of local and national government, i.e. we need to integrate “top-down” and “bottom-up” management. “Top-down” reflects the focus of national government along with its institutions and procedures and the need for national policy reform. It assumes that if the “command and control” capacity of central government is properly tuned then proper measures of natural resource management will follow. The “bottom-up” approach emphasizes activities at the local community level which may be transferred to catalyze action within the rest of the system, i.e. community-based coastal resource management.

A third dimension is integration between sectors and disciplines. It is unusual for one agency alone to have all the expertise necessary to meet the challenges of complex coastal or aquatic resource management and biodiversity issues given the number of overlying interests and institutional jurisdictions. Success requires collaboration and partnerships between various government institutions, user groups, universities, non-governmental organizations, communities and those with the financial and technical assistance. These long-term relationships are built on trust and nourished by shared experiences, achievements and values.

The three-track strategy combines these approaches by simultaneously building capacity both within government and at sites. Both government and communities then are involved in the systematic analysis of coastal management issues and in planning for implementation of responsible action. This approach creates dialogue that promotes a common vision and shared purpose. Bringing the user and the manager together provides opportunities for groups to meet face to face and to develop a common respect and understanding. Involving the coastal users and understanding their perception of management actions helps to make the decision-making process more efficient. Engaging local communities gives the community a sense of ownership and provides continuity as it is less susceptible to the continuous changes in personnel and political agenda within national governments.

A long-term issue

Integrated coastal zone management must be seen as a long-term approach in some countries. True integrated institutional approaches are unlikely in the foreseeable future. What is needed perhaps is institutional coordination both horizontally (across sectors) and vertically (local-provincial-national), which can be achieved at relatively low cost and with minimal institutional structuring.

Other factors that will contribute to improved coastal environments are alternative income-generating programmes and the use of marine protected/specially managed areas in the management approach. The use of a catchment management/ecosystem-based approach is also becoming more accepted.

Key requirements

Key requirements to create an enabling environment for integrated coastal management and community-based coastal resource management include:

  • Simple and clear regulations that are relevant to communities and are adopted in local ordinances.
  • Enabling a framework to facilitate the adoption and enforcement of local rules.
  • Awareness programmes aimed at local and national leaders as well as resource owners, especially where marine tenure is strong.
  • Assistance on technical aspects of resource management.
  • Inter-sectoral collaboration to address land-based threats to coastal habitats.

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