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Our Precious Coasts

Global Outlook


Even with the full range of current climate predictions, increased warming events and storms are expected to increase in frequency in the future along with coastal population growth and development (Sheppard 2003). In this regard, control of marine pollution and integrated management of coastal development will play an essential role in building resilience and enhancing the ability and capacity of coral reefs to recover from severe events (Bellwood et al. 2004). While reducing pollution may not prevent corals from bleaching, it will help to ensure that the environment remains suitable for recolonization and rebuilding of reefs that have suffered mortality. Furthermore, it may enable reefs to become rapidly recolonized by soft and leather corals, thus reducing their likelihood of destruction by waves and storms. Such sites may become highly valuable for supplying new coral larvae recruitment to sites destroyed by bleaching. Nearly 80% of the marine pollution comes from coastal land based sources (UNEP, 2006). Hence, it is critical that (a) an ecologically representative system of effectively managed MPAs is implemented, and (b) that marine protected areas incorpo­rate the coastal zone; and (c) that development and management of activities in the coastal zone elsewhere are undertaken in a responsible manner and in accordance with the principles of integrated coastal zone management. Current projections (Wood, L. MPA NEWS Vol. 7, No. 5, November 2005) indicate that international commitments for protection of the marine and coastal zones will not be realised. Using the current rate of designation:

  • The World Parks Congress target of creating a global system of MPA networks by 2012 – including “strictly protected areas” amounting to at least 20-30% of each habitat will not be reached until at least 2085 (or probably much later
  • The recommendation by a subsidiary body of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), that 10% of all marine and coastal ecological regions be conserved in MPAs by 2012, will not be met until 2069. 
MPAs further need to be of a significant size, effectively managed, and designed and implemented in such a way to facilitate the conservation of marine biodiversity and the associated ecosystem services, including close regulation of the adjacent land-based activities to reduce pollution.

In 2002, more than 70% of the tropical and temperate coasts were heavily impacted by development of resorts, hotels, settlements and other human infrastructure. By 2032, this figure may have risen to as much as 90% (range 81-95%) (Data from GLOBIO, prepared for this report,, with substantial increases in discharges of nutrients and silt into the marine environment. This will lead to massive reductions in the productivity of the marine environment, so essential to the livelihoods, cultures and food security of several hundred million peoples in Asia.

Figure 15. Projections of continued infrastructure and coastal development project an increase in impacted coastlines from the current average of 70% between 30º N and S, to 81-95% by 2032 (dependent upon scenario). In Southeast Asia and the Indo-pacific region the degradation rate is much higher, at the same time as this regions contains near 92% of the World’s coral reefs. Development of marine protected areas must be associated with an increase in protected areas along the coasts to secure the future resilience of these reefs to climate change, and to protect the coastal livelihoods and cultures.
As development is currently the most severe in areas of high biodiversity, including extensive land reclamation on former reefs, development of coastal land and marine protected areas in combination may prove essential for securing the future survival and recovery of coral reefs in the coming decades. Formation of marine protected areas without the protection/ management of primary land and coastal threats will, in association with growing coastal development, result in severe losses in reserves and reduced capacity of marine ecosystems to support also coastal people.  Furthermore, protection and improved coastal land zone management is essential for key ecosystems like coral reefs to recover from bleaching events. These MPA’s also need to be enforced and be of a significant size in order to have an effect. Given the extremity of some of the bleaching events, with up to 95% mortality, it is essential that immediate concern is given to coastal protection of land-based pollution sources in order for “islands” of coral reefs to survive (Wilkinson 1996, Hughes et al. 2003, Pandolfi et al. 2003). These areas may play a vital role in the future as sources of both fish and coral larvae needed for recolonization of depleted or severely damaged reefs elsewhere.

Using the World Database on Protected Areas, together with recent updates, approximately 23% of all coral reefs fall within some classification of legal protection, while 11% are within classes of stricter management regimes (IUCN management categories I-IV)(Spalding et al., 2006). Many MPA’s, however, are small and enforcement is highly variable. The percentage of combined land and marine protection, however, is much less. If a substantial increase in combined coastal land and marine protected areas will not take place within the next two decades, extensive areas of coral reefs may not recover from future bleaching events as a result of overgrowth of algae, eutrophication and destruction from waves and storms.

Furthermore, the combined cumulative effects of coastal overfishing, marine pollution and coastal development may impact the long-term productivity of the coastal zone. This, in turn, may lower the capacity of these systems to support human livelihoods in the coastal zone. This challenge requires effective integrated landuse planning including fisheries, tourism and costal infrastructure development, such as promoted by ICARBM (Integrated Coastal Area and River Basin Management). More than ever, the future sustainability of these regions will require an implementation of effective combined programmes in the short-term.