Multifunctionality and Valuation in coastal zones: introduction

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The thematic ENCORA network on Multifunctionality and Evaluation (2006-2009) was established to address a twofold challenge: putting into evidence the problems arising from different and conflicting interests, pressures and impacts which originate from social and economic activities on coastal areas and discussing strategies for the integration of these conflicting interests into coastal management and decision making processes. The network has collected and discussed up to date concepts, approaches, tools and methodologies which can be used as support in complex decision making processes and help coastal zone managers to consider the requests and needs originating from the variety of functions in coastal zones.

What does Multifunctionality mean for the management of coastal zones ?

Coastal zones must be considered multifunctional areas, as they include numerous different functions and uses which belong to different economic and social areas. As both resources and space in coastal zones are limited, conflicts are frequently generated between different types of users of the same resources:

  • clean water requested for beach tourism might be in conflict with the port’s interest of having a great volume of commercial traffic which potentially causes hazards and oil spills,
  • beaches used by tourists are under menace by erosion and need to be conserved or restored with costly measures;
  • increasing population density implies transformation of natural zones in urbanized areas and destruction of natural habitats,
  • increasing presences of tourists create profound changes in the social and economic structure of coastal communities.

These are only some examples for conflicts between uses and functions in coastal zones. Conflicts between different uses often stem from the most important functions of coastal zones.

What does Evaluation offer for coastal zone management?

Evaluation offers techniques which allow to describe, analyse and asses coastal systems, using rational and systematic procedures. It allows to confront interests and values of different users and actors coming from different economic and social areas, using 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 consistent and rational manner.

When is evaluation used?

Evaluation or assessment of coastal systems is generally used in order to assess values of single elements or entire systems in perspective of ongoing or future transformations, when these transformations are expected to cause changes in the system or in single elements. Transformation can stem from interventions of physical or managerial type, but may as well be conceived simply as the impacts of ongoing processes which are to be monitored over time. Evaluation and assessment are generally used to support decision making, providing decision makers and stakeholders with the criteria needed for individuating the most suitable solution. These criteria may be produced by

Evaluation and assessment can be used either to attribute values and create criteria for decision making for single aspects of Coastal Zone Management, or as an assistance for a complex and integrated decision making process, structuring and supporting the decision making process with the help of

What is evaluated?

Uses and functions in coastal zones rely on physical elements of coastal zones in various ways. The way tourism is connected to beaches is one of the most obvious examples for these relationships: tourism in coastal zones depends mainly on beaches and related facilities, but beaches have also important functions for coastal protection, representing a first defence of any type of settlement against storm surge. When assessing coastal systems for coastal management processes, these single elements can be evaluated considering either their function for specific activities, or their general social function.

  • Beaches are characterised by a series of physical attributes like size, material and environmental qualities in the broadest sense which in their specific composition contribute to the value which is attributed to the beach by actors and stakeholders. Beyond the physical characteristics of a beach, it’s location in relation to services and infrastructures or the direct availability of services and facilities can add further value to a beach. Decision making in the contexts of beach management will essentially look at the social, economic and environmental values connected to these functions,

Besides the characteristics connected directly to the uses made of a beach, further characteristics determine elements of value which are not directly connected to tourist uses, as their protection function against storm surges for the areas laying behind the beaches, and its characteristics and values in terms of natural habitat to which society may attribute a certain value simply because they exist.

  • Commercial and leisure time ports have an obvious economic value which can be evaluated referring to the market value of services and production induced by harbour activities and the pattern with which these values are distributed regionally, but as soon as maritime commercial or leisure time transport causes impacts on natural resources, for example in form of oil spills, other uses and functions like natural resources are involved which may not have an immediate economic dimension, having nevertheless an extremely high existence value. The sustainability of port functions must thus be assessed taking into account its’ direct economic and social dimensions including the indirect impacts on the economic future of an area, but it has also to take into account the risk of damages which might be caused by marine transports to beaches, water quality and natural habitats conservation and the related uses and functions.
  • Lagoons and estuaries are complex coastal ecosystems hosting numerous natural habitats. Their value is determined by their value determined by biodiversity, accounting for their extremely rich natural variety of stable and migrant species, but also by their value economic role in terms of fisheries.
  • The value of natural habitats, like the value of landscape, belongs only partly to the sphere of production of goods and services with direct monetary values, but mainly to the social sphere of values attributed to the existence of these areas. Looking at natural habitats as an attractive for tourism, their monetary value can be measured in terms of expenditure made by the persons who visit these habitats or it can be considered as a part of the environmental values incorporated in real estate values. According to their value for the conservation of rare species a further social value can be attributed to them supposing that also persons who do not visit the areas of the determined habitat, might attribute some value to their existence.
  • Evaluation of Fisheries must consider the economic value of fish stocks which can be withdrawn in a determined period. Furthermore, evaluating fisheries, the aspects of sustainable management must be considered, being fisheries, despite its renewable character, a potentially scarce resource.

Impacts of human activities

Impacts on coastal zones stem from all major activities in coastal zones. Following an analytical framework as the DPSI(R) scheme helps to structure analysis of environmental systems in a relationship of Drivers – Pressure - State - Impact - Reaction. The major drivers for impacts can be identified in:

Urbanization – European Coastal zones host an increasing share of Europe’s population, and an even greater share of Europe’s population demands for temporary accommodation in coastal zones as tourists during the summer season. In some countries urban development is concentrated around large cities with harbours which cause a great request for industrial and service areas. In other areas land take in coastal zone is fed by more disperse urban sprawl, mainly for residential housing and constructions for tourism. These kinds of land uptake are mostly at the expense of agricultural or semi-natural strips of coastal land and are responsible, beside other effects, for the majority of soil sealing. Besides the highly developed areas exist other areas with a low and declining population density. Here the lack of infrastructures and economic opportunities work as drivers for emigration and endanger the social structure of local communities and their cultural heritage. The impacts caused by increasing urbanization are, first of all, the transformation of landscape and the loss of natural habitats. Both elements do not have direct market values, if their transformation is to be included into a valuation, either non monetary techniques for evaluation, or techniques which help to attribute monetary values to non market values. Other impacts of urbanization are easier to evaluate, for instance the loss of agricultural activities and the related premises, can be evaluated referring to the market values of these activities and the related premises, taking into account the values created by new urban activities.

Industries, often concentrated around harbour zones, are an important economic factor for many coastal zones. At the same time they are the source of important impacts on practically all European coastal zones: industrial wastewater, atmospheric pollution, disposal of harmful substances in coastal sites, are responsible of a relevant part of pollution loads in coastal waters. Industrial land take is an important driver of urbanization of coastal zones. Impacts from industrial activities may have a continuous (systematic discharge of pollutants) or hazardous (discharges due to incidents) character. Pollutants are responsible for the reduction of quality of air, soil and water, reducing thus biodiversity and human wellbeing. Again these are factors can either be approximately assessed attributing market values to human preferences, estimating how much they would pay for avoiding these impacts, or using non monetary techniques for evaluation for confronting the preferences about pollution with those about positive impacts of industrial activities, for instance of employment.

Maritime transport is one of the major functions of all European maritime areas. The coastal zones are interested by this phenomena in the harbor zones and along the “maritime highways” across the oceans. Pollution stemming from maritime transport is due to accidents, as for instance oil spills from ships in distress, and from routine discharges of ballast water, tank washing and engine room effluents, putting these activities in contrast with the interest of conservation of coastal habitats and those of those uses which benefit from a good state of natural resources, like tourism. Evaluation of impacts of maritime transport in coastal systems will take into account not only the results of routine pollution, but also the risk of accidental pollutions, and the costs of preventing them or mitigating their impacts.

Commercial fishing activities represent one of the most important traditional activities in coastal zones. Whereas traditional forms of fishing are generally in decline in the European community, the more intensive form of marine fishery is actually undergoing a structural crisis. The alternative activities of mariculture have now passed from experimental small-scale structures to industrial scale operations, with sensible impacts on coastal waters for instance in terms of chemicals and nutrient loads, deteriorating the quality of water which might compromise tourist attractiveness of a coastal zone. Water quality is a commonly evaluated using values of single pollutants as indicators for the complex quality of water. The transformation of the fishery sector is a problem not only from the ecologic and economic point of view, as local economic and social structures are transformed and marine ecosystems altered by overexploitation of fish stocks, but implies the impoverishment of an important social knowledge base on coastal zones and habitats, held by traditional fishermen.

Tourism is actually one of the most rapidly growing economic sectors, and coastal zones, especially in the Mediterranean, are particularly interested by new investments or already base important parts of their local economy on this sector. Although considered a "clean" industry during the first decades of the post-war period, the developments are now raising major concern in terms of sustainability: short-term and long term economic interests have to meet with the constraints of the necessities of conservation of a particularly delicate environment. Major impacts originating from the tourism sector on coastal areas regard:

  • transformation of landscapes due to linear urbanization along the beaches, tourism amenities like ports,
  • increase in population density and urbanization with high numbers of presences in short periods of the year, with negative consequences for water resources caused by demand for freshwater, land pollution caused by waste disposal, and marine pollution caused by inadequate wastewater treatment;
  • biodiversity degradation and loss of habitats,
  • loss of local traditions and gradual impoverishment of social structures,
  • abandonment of traditional economic activities and loss of cultural diversity.

Tourism may on the other hand be also a potential guarantee for biodiversity and cultural heritage conservation as bathing water quality and a rich cultural heritage are able to add value to the characteristics of single sites in the concurrence among tourist destinations.

See for further information

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

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: introduction. Available from [accessed on 23-06-2024]