Multifunctionality and Valuation in coastal zones: concepts, approaches, tools and case studies

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Multifunctionality and Valuation addresses a twofold challenge: (1) putting into evidence the problems arising from different and conflicting interests, pressures and impacts which originate from social and economic activities in coastal areas and (2) strategies for the integration of these conflicting interests into coastal management and decision making processes. This article introduces the following topics:

  • the definition of basic concepts underlying different evaluation approaches
  • the description of different approaches at the basis of evaluation strategies, and of
  • tools and methodologies which can be applied to the evaluation in coastal zone management contexts.
  • case studies that provide examples of application of various methodologies.

A general introduction is given in Multifunctionality and Valuation in coastal zones: introduction.

Rationale of the thematic network

Coastal zones include numerous different functions and uses which depend on the same limited resources and space. This fact frequently generates conflicts between different types of use. Furthermore, interventions regarding single functions of a coastal zone usually have important impacts on other uses within same area or on a vaster territorial scale. Impacts which climate change is expected to have on Europe's are going to accentuate existing and create new conflicts among uses. Sustainable decision making and management in such multifunctional areas thus requires the capacity to consider all different economic and social spheres contemporaneously asks for the integration of different interests into the decision making process.

In this context, evaluation approaches offer tools and methodologies which allow the description, analysis and assessment of coastal systems, using rational and systematic procedures. Furthermore these approaches include the possibility of confronting interests and values of different users and actors coming from different economic and social areas on the basis of criteria and indicators for establishing hierarchies of values or for translating values into terms which can be understood by all actors. Using evaluation and assessment techniques, information is provided which can support shared decision making confronting interests of different stakeholders and users of the coastal area in a co-ordinated and rational manner.

Evaluation, understood as a means of informing decision making, is of crucial importance for introducing multifunctionality aspects into coastal zone management. Albeit their great potential, evaluation techniques and integrated decision making are still scarcely employed in European coastal zone management. It is desirable that the development of tools facilitating the multifunctional challenge represented by coastal zones should be brought further by a collaboration between scientists and practitioners and their use promoted further among coastal zone managers. Considerable progress can be made at the European level by networking activities to spread existing examples of good practice and research amongst European partners.


The definition of some basic concepts underlying evaluation approaches has been considered useful for the understanding of the proposed approaches and methodologies. These definitions consider the relationship between multifunctionality on the one side, being one of the characteristics of coastal areas which represent a major challenge for sustainable decision making and management, and evaluation on the other side, which can be used as a support for decision making in complex and multifunctional contexts.

A second important definition regards the term value, as evaluation is used to attribute values to different options or to base decision making on rational judgements. In this context, the term economic value represents one of the basic concepts which allow for the adoption of a common measure for most of the values expressed by different actors.

Although economic value represents an important concept for the measurement of the value society attributes to a certain asset, some values may not be adapted to being measured directly in terms of market values, as they refer to objects which normally are not treated on markets. In those cases, the extension of the concept of value beyond the worth expressed by market values becomes relevant, introducing a concept of value which comprises, according to the theory of welfare economics, the benefit individuals derive from economic goods or services which not necessarily corresponds to the market value. The introduction of concept of individual benefit as a measure of social value allows for the evaluation of goods and services which cannot be exchanged on markets, such as natural resources. One of the most relevant concepts in this context is represented by the existence value which expresses the benefit individuals gain from the existence of goods which are not used directly independent of present or future uses that will be made of these assets, allowing thus to introduce the value of the existence of categories as natural resources biodiversity etc. into monetary evaluations.

Whereas accurate measurement of values will be adequate in some cases of evaluation, not all values can be revealed with a congruent effort. In order to facilitate monitoring and decision making processes of complex contexts, indicators based on data easy to access or to measure are used. A concept which is commonly measured by indicators is represented by sustainability, where aggregated judgements on the performance of many different entities with respect to one option have to be produced, leading to the definition of specific sets of sustainability indicators which allow also for international confrontation of performances.

Some impacts from human activities are not continuous, but may occur only with a certain probability and a certain variance in the entity of damages caused. The concept of risk analysis introduces the concept of considering and quantifying aspects of uncertainty in order to integrate them into evaluation. The concept of carrying capacity finally is based on the notion that ecosystems have a limited capacity of coping with environmental stresses. Approaches based on this concept point to a quantification of limits for socio-economic uses with respect to coastal systems, as for instance, tourism.


Based on the different concepts of values described, different approaches are applied to their assessment. As market values can easily be revealed and used for cost-benefit analyses those approaches based on market values represent the most common ones among evaluation approaches and have become quite widespread for the assessment of efficiency of an intervention.

Cost benefit analysis, based on monetary measurement, can also be applied on the combined evaluation of values based on market values and non market values. In these cases different approaches can be applied to translate non market – values into monetary terms, in order to include the relative values in the cost-benefit analysis (for further detais see Socio-economic evaluation). Those approaches are based on the assumption that market goods, properly analyzed, can reveal preferences consumers have with regards to non – market goods. In this way an approximation of the social value attributed to a protected area can be elicited by a computation of expenses tourist make to visit the area or by the hedonic analysis of housing prices in the surroundings of the park. Whereas in this case as well as in the case of housing prices, the value of natural resources is derived from consumer preferences expressed (stated) on the market, a second category of expressions of consumer’s preferences regards the revealed preferences, as for instance the consumer’s (hypothetic) willingness to pay for a service or a good elicited with the help of questionnaires.

In those cases where monetary values elicited in an indirect way do not represent a suitable scale for measurement, values can be expressed in terms of “preferences”, within approaches based on expert judgements and using techniques which allow for the comparison of multiple different criteria without a common measure. Each of these three principal approaches to evaluation are described in a section.

Tools and methodologies

The section tools and methodologies gives an overview on the state of the art in terms of tools for evaluation and assessment to be used in multifunctional coastal contexts. A specific attention has been paid to those tools which are able to integrate between different sectors and give account of different types of values, integrate broader social and economic aspects into project evaluations as in the case of regional economic accounting methods. The group of tools, based on the use of economic accounting at different spatial levels, is able to assess the economic impact generated by existing or planned activities of by foreseen events on the regional economic structure, basing the analysis on input-output matrixes of goods and services, supply chain analysis or on computable general equilibrium (CGE) models.

A further group of tools presented refers to approaches based on monetary valuation of non market values, either on the basis of stated Contingent Valuation Method or revealed preferences, as in the case of Hedonic Evaluation Approaches which use the decomposition of composite market values in order to estimate the component related to natural resources, or methods of travel cost analysis which base the estimation of values of natural resources on the expenses made by individuals who make use of them for leisure time activities. For each of these tools a short description is made which helps to understand the use and the possible outcomes of the technique, and further readings are indicated for studies in detail of the applications.

The application of these evaluation techniques may be quite expensive in terms of time and data requirement, as direct investigation with the help of questionnaires is required. An alternative to direct evaluation is represented by tools which facilitate the use of existing valuations to new evaluations. These tools can be used if data is available from sites with similar characteristics to those of the situation to be examined and allow for the transfer of values estimated in one site to another one.

Further tools for evaluation make use of Multicriteria techniques, which allow for an assessment of policy options based not only on cost-benefit or cost-efficiency criteria, but also on non monetary values or on preferences. An important element of these instruments is the choice of criteria, which have to be shared and understood by all actors, using either predefined sets of criteria such as sustainability indicators or developing proper sets of criteria to be applied to the problem or development at the stake in the specific decision making process. Therefore the involvement of stakeholders is essential, as the participation of possibly all relevant actors into the decision making process can provide for sustainable and shared decisions. The application of multicriteria techniques is thus strongly connected to tools for stakeholder analysis, as a preparatory tool in decision making processes. Further applicative tools in this sector are deliberation and decision support tools as well as knowledge mediation tools, which assist in structuring and informing decision making processes.

Information to be used in decision making processes is highly complex because of the variety of sectors to be considered as well as because of the complexity of single phenomena. Integrated System Frameworks help representing the links between causes, effects and reactions, facilitate the understanding of problems and assist and inform the choice of indicators for evaluation and monitoring (for further details see Policy instruments for integrated coastal zone management)..

Case studies

Case studies can provide a valuable source of information on possible applications of tools and approaches and to guide future studies across Europe. The collection of case studies presented gives an illustration of strategies for evaluating impacts from different socio-economic uses in coastal zones, as for instance from urbanization which represents one of the most relevant pressure on Mediterranean coastal zones. The study describes different approaches to evaluation of impacts of urbanization on values of coastal landscapes, on the benefits of property owners and of simple users of coastal zonesand concludes with suggestions for policy options apt to tackle this challenge. The case study on impacts from maritime transport presents the main findings of a large-scale contingent valuation survey conducted after the Prestige oil spill onto the north-western Spanish coast, considering mainly passive use value lost due to the oil spill and illustrates practical/methodological aspects of the realization of the survey. The case study on impacts from tourist uses of coastal zones represents results from a study on tourist ports based on regional economic accounting methods, concluding that, considering also the indirect impacts of these activities, they might be less profitable than commonly expected. The case study on salinization problems for agriculture in the Dutch delta gives insights on problem structuring within a participatory decision making process. The case study on the risks from maritime activities in the Belgian part of the North Sea illustrates the procedure of risk assessment based on the risks resulting from maritime transport for the Belgian coast where potential impacts on the natural environment can result from collisions, groundings, and other incidents either among ships or with fixed marine structures such as platforms or wind turbines.

Development and implementation of ICZM in EU coastal nations: present status, success factors and promising strategies – evidence from the evaluation of ICZM in Europe

As put into evidence by the recent report of the evaluation of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) in Europe [1], the integration between aspects of protection of natural resources and different conflicting interests of coastal uses has only partially been achieved. Conflicts between social and economic interests on the one side and ecosystem goals of conservation and re-naturation of coastal areas on the other still remain substantially unresolved in most national contexts. Frequently, economic interests tend to buy out ecological and social goals, including landscape conservation. In cases where a conciliation between conflicts has been achieved in national strategies, their translation into practical management or planning measures results difficult.

Existing management strategies either disregard the aspects of conservation of coastal and marine natural areas or, if these goals are addressed, fail in addressing relevant economic and social dimensions of coastal areas, and very often goals of economic development succeed in dominating upon aims of nature conservation. The difficulty of developing holistic and integrated approaches is observed as a shortcoming in most of the national strategies analyzed.

With regards to single relevant impacts, some improvements have been achieved in terms of cross-sectoral interests: for instance, tourism-driven interest on high bathing water quality has successfully succeeded in translating an environmental goal of clean water into an economic one, contributing to an improvement of water quality and soliciting investments for wastewater treatment in some countries. Nevertheless tourism sector results to be, in the Mediterranean area and in Portugal, the main driver of uncontrolled and apparently uncontrollable urbanization increasing the pressure by socio-economic activities on coastal areas.

With regards to tools to be used for the implementation of the EU Recommendation related to the integration of aspects of multifunctionality in coastal zone management practice, the report presented by the working group on Indicators [2] states that the use of the common assessment framework of indicators is still very fragmentary and that only a few countries and regions have started the data collection on the base of the recommended set of indicators.

Future challenges for integration of multifunctionality in coastal zones

Conflicts in coastal zones, which at present conditions are already difficult to conceal, will only be exacerbated by the consequences of climate change. Coastal zones along with their activities and services that are provided for society will be interested in the consequences of sea level rise, more frequent storm surges and by general impacts of changes in climate such as heat waves, reduced rainfall with all consequences on water resources etc. The challenge of economic assessments and of policies acting on integration between social, economic and natural resources will lay in the support for decision making for adaptation strategies, confronting social, economic and ecologic advantages of alternative adaptation tools, and putting into relationship economic efforts made in terms of mitigation and adaptation with benefits from reduced vulnerability and increased resilience (further details in the article Climate adaptation policies for the coastal zone).

The discrepancy between a set of tools which facilitate the integration of different sectoral aspects and the still predominantly sector- oriented management practices in European coastal zones represents a challenge to be considered for future action, although the problem will finding a solution not exclusively on a technical level of new or improved tools but first of all in the field of proactive policies.

A challenge of a different character is represented by the need of adaptation to impacts and the consideration of risks that will be generated by climate change on European coastal zones which is expected to affect generally the opportunities and threats for economic activities in coastal zones. In this context, the evaluation of risks generated by future changes will become an integrated component of future planning activities in coastal zones.


Although throughout recognized as an important issue, integration of aspects deriving from socio-economic pressures into coastal zone management processes is still at its beginning. Strategies and instruments for facilitating integration exist to some extent, but, although approved at a scientific level, they are scarcely used at a day-to-day practice in coastal zone management. The lack of integration of economic and social factors into management strategies and decision making processes seriously hampers good practice in coastal zone management, as conflicts between uses are shifted to the implementation phase, with the risk of strategies and decisions being altered in an uncontrolled manner.

See for more detailed information on concepts, approaches and tools

Marine biological valuation – valuation of biodiversity including biodiversity structure and ecosystem functioning.
Total Economic Value - TEV is composed by use values, option values and non-use components.
Economic Value - defining a price for the environment.
Hedonic Evaluation Approach - value connected to present and, with some caution, future uses.
Non-use value: bequest value and existence value - a value associated that does not concern our use, either direct or indirect, of the environment, its resources or services.
Values of amenities in coastal zones – value of landscapes to those who benefit.
Contingent Valuation Method - economic, non-market based valuation method especially used to infer individual’s preferences for public goods, notably environmental quality.
Travel cost method – method for estimating the use values of recreational sites.
Value Transfer – use values obtained from one site for other sites with close characteristics.
Socio-economic evaluation – overview of different methods to assess socio-economic impacts.
Regional economic accounting methods – assessment of the direct and indirect socioeconomic impact of changes in the environment on the regional economy.
Evaluate non market value of fishing activities – willingness to pay for attributes such as the presence of a fishing harbour.
Green accounting - Directly Expanded National Accounts = national accounts expanded with environmental information in physical or monetary units, or both.
Computable general equilibrium - class of economic models that use actual economic data to estimate how an economy might react to changes in policy, technology or other external factors.
Input-output matrix - representation of national or regional economic accounting that records the ways industries trade with one another as well as produce for consumption and investments.
Supply chain analysis - the complete sequence of operations and added value from the raw material to intermediate products to final consumer products.
Integrated Assessment - interdisciplinary approach to assessment based on combining, interpreting and communicating knowledge from diverse scientific disciplines.
Multicriteria techniques - integrate into the decision process quantified economic aspects as well as non-economic aspects that cannot be quantified in monetary terms.
Carrying capacity analysis - the growth limits an area can accommodate without violating environmental capacity goals.
Sustainability indicators - inform decision making about complex systems or realities, using easy to access and easy to understand data.
Resilience and resistance - response of (socio-)ecosystems to change.
Governance policies for a blue bio-economy - optimizing the development and utilization of coastal and marine ecosystem services for the benefit of society in a market context.
Cultural and economic understanding of biodiversity - Cultural understandings of marine biodiversity are a challenge for many policy makers and researchers due to what is often considered the subjective nature of cultural values and understandings.


  1. Evaluation of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) in Europe – final Report, 2006,
  2. Report on the use of the ICZM indicators from the WG- ID, September 2006;

The main author of this article is Margaretha Breil
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Margaretha Breil (2024): Multifunctionality and Valuation in coastal zones: concepts, approaches, tools and case studies. Available from,_approaches,_tools_and_case_studies [accessed on 13-06-2024]