Guidelines for Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) in Germany

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Coastal ecosystems are one of the most productive natural systems in the world. They face many threats induced by humans such as sea-level-rise, deposition of agricultural and industrial substances, overfishing, as well as tourism- and infrastructure development. As a consequence, approximately 70% of the European coastal ecosystems are highly threatened respecting their biological productivity. This is the highest percentage of any eco-region in the world. Recognizing these threats, the European Parliament and Council released in 2002 the recommendation ‘2002/413/EC’ to develop and implement Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) in Europe. All EU member states were requested to develop national ICZM strategies until 2006. The response of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (‘Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Reaktorsicherheit’; BMU) has been to publish an ICZM strategy in March 2006. But the ICZM process in Germany still contains significant gaps. In particular, it is not clarified adequately how to implement formally ICZM in the German legal system, and how to execute ICZM at the regional and local level.

Objective and research questions

The objective of a thesis was to develop guidelines for ICZM in Germany in order to reduce or eliminate the weaknesses mentioned above and enhance the German ICZM process. To arrive at these guidelines, research questions on major gaps, assessments of foreign ICZM strategies, evaluations of local ICZM projects, and formulations of guidelines were addressed.

Research methods

First, a gap analysis was conducted to identify and quantify the gaps of the German ICZM process. Thereupon, both a top-down and a bottom-up approach were performed. The top-down approach derived lessons learned for the formal implementation of ICZM in Germany from ICZM strategies of Belgium, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The bottom-up approach examined three regional/local ICZM projects and extracted best practice experiences for the German ICZM process. On the basis of all findings, guidelines for the German ICZM process were developed. The following scheme (Figure 1) illustrates the methodology of the study comprising the four different research approaches mentioned above.

Result 1: Gaps of the German ICZM process

The gap analysis showed that German ICZM experts figure out two main gaps of the German ICZM process, which are (1) Fuzziness concerning formal implementation of ICZM (ten nominations), and (2) Lack of best-practice experience and knowledge transfer (nine nominations). They can be assessed as the foremost important gaps, since other gaps comprise four or fewer nominations only (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Gaps of the German ICZM process and their number of nominations by expert interviews First, the formal implementation is fuzzy. This means that it is not sufficiently evident at which administrative level the principles of ICZM should be integrated in the existing legal frameworks. Furthermore, responsibilities and tasks are not addressed adequately. Second, sufficient local and regional best-practice experiences and knowledge transfer are lacking. This especially relates to systematic instructions for practitioners in order to execute ICZM at regional/local level.

Result 2: Lessons learned from the European context

This chapter examines what Germany can learn from other EU countries in order to bridge its ICZM gap ‘fuzziness of formal implementation’ and `responsibilities and tasks`. Concerning the first issue of interest (formal implementation), the priority approach of the Netherlands is worth to mention for the German ICZM process. It stands for the priority of flood safety measures at the Dutch coast, at which other coastal interests have to follow by integrating them in flood safety measures. Therewith, ICZM becomes a practicable management tool that can be integrated in flood safety measures.

Referring to the second issue of interest (responsibilities and tasks), the Coordination Point of Belgium, and the Dutch philosophy of decentralisation are good examples how responsibilities of ICZM are divided. Overall, the trend is giving as much responsibility as possible to the regions. The Belgium Coastal Barometer constitutes a simple set of indicators for sustainable development of the coast. Therewith, it can make a contribution to the German ICZM process where “simple” indicators are needed. The lessons learned from the United Kingdom refer to the issue of participation. Coastal Forums have a great potency for networking, keeping up-to-date, exchanging information and raising issues for discussion, but often suffering from the phenomenon of ‘consultation fatigue’. The principle of early participation holds potential for Germany since it seems to be an adequate tools to ensure that stakeholders are formally and early involved in ICZM processes.

Result 3: Lessons learned from the regional context

This chapter focussed on what Germany can learn from regional/local ICZM projects in order to bridge its gap ‘lack of best-practice experience and knowledge-transfer’. In order to answer this question, three ICZM projects (‘ICZM-Oder estuary’, ‘ICZM-Bay of Lübeck’ and ‘ICZM-Western Zeelandic-Flanders’) were examined.

All three projects have different starting points. ‘ICZM-Oder estuary’ is mainly a regional research project dealing with gaining knowledge rather than putting measures into practice. ‘ICZM-Bay of Lübeck’ is more likely a local practical measure of coastal protection using an ICZM approach, namely the sensitivity analysis as a tool for inventive participation. ‘ICZM-Western Zeelandic-Flanders’ relates to a huge region, where practical executions of numerous ICZM measures are most important and pushed forward. All projects assessed the identification of precondition as the most important aspect of an ICZM project. Therewith, they tend to build ICZM actions on a stable and ‘real-world’ fundament. First, it was of high importance that coastal stakeholders were aware of a coastal problem. Second, the support of stakeholders from administrations and the public was essential for the acceptance of ICZM and the success of the projects. According to experiences gained in the Oder estuary, it was important to emerge key stakeholders which have a meaning and influence beyond their function. They are able to fund and implement ICZM issues. A practical tool for an innovative participation procedure holds the sensitivity analysis of ‘ICZM-Bay of Lübeck’. The question how to implement ICZM in the respective region is answered differently. ‘ICZM-Oder estuary’ made good experiences with the Regional Agenda. It was a suitable umbrella to reach political commitment. The activities of the Agenda office led to new working-, communication-, and information structures within the region. ‘ICZM-Bay of Lübeck’ and ‘ICZM-Western Zeelandic-Flanders’ integrated aspects of ICZM into coastal defence measures. On the one hand that led to a subordination of ICZM aspects in coastal defence measures. On the other hand funding for these measures was regulated by law and was consequently taken over by higher administrations. The division of the ICZM process in Western Zeelandic-Flanders is viewed as a practical straight forward approach. First, creating an overall ICZM vision as umbrella for later ICZM activities, second, integrating this vision into sub-projects such as INTERREG programs, and third, executing coastal measures. All projects assessed the execution of ICZM measures as very important. Therewith, the practical use of ICZM could be transferred to dwellers and visitors. Especially the realisation of huge, eye catching measures functioned as efficient tool to carry the benefits of ICZM into the region. According to experiences in ‘ICZM-Bay of Lübeck’ it must be pointed out that a long time-lag between plan preparation and execution of the measure can lead to decreasing acceptance among the public.

Result 4: Guidelines for ICZM in Germany

The findings of the bottom-up and top-down approach were use to develop ICZM guidelines. They were formulated according to the various German administrative levels (local/regional, federal state, national).

Guidelines for the regional and local level

Five guidelines were developed for the regional and local level: (1) problem recognition and definition, (2) identification of preconditions, (3) preparation of a plan/strategy, (4) execution of measures and (5) evaluation. These guidelines constitute a stepwise guidance to execute ICZM: They are presented in form of a so called ‘five-step scheme’ (see Figure 3). It divides the regional ICZM process into five steps. For each step specified actions to be taken are defined. It is intended that the ‘five-step scheme’ provides a basis for organising and executing regional ICZM activities along Germany’s coasts.

Figure 3: Five-step-scheme describing the aspired stepwise organisation of a regional/local ICZM initiative in Germany

Guideline for the federal state level

One guideline has been formulated for the federal state level. It aims at coordinating regional ICZM activities and (supra-) national policy by the establishment of three ICZM Coordination Points. It is important that each Coordination Point is located within an existing institution/organisation in order to avoid a build-up of new bureaucratic structures, but make use of existing structures. According to the good experiences in Belgium, it is suggested to establish the Coordination Points within independent coastal institutes. That means the Coordination Points should neither be run by a purely environmental, nor economic institution. They should consist of an official character, be long-term reliable and provide a definite structure. The independent institute should function as a central communication and information platform for ICZM-relevant decision-makers, scientists, and practitioners. The scheme below, displays the structural organisation of an exemplary Coordination Point for Germany (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: Structural organisation of a Coordination Point for Germany (here exemplary for the federal state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania), at which LU-MV stands for Ministry of Agriculture, Environment and Consumer Protection (‘Ministerium für Landwirtschaft, Umwelt und Verbraucherschutz Mecklenburg-Vorpommern’) In reference to the tasks of the Coordination Point, it has to be clarified that it offers a platform for policy consultation and integration but does not act in the place of the competent government. The main task of every Coordination Point is to enhance communication, cooperation, and information-transfer between various sectors (e.g. coastal protection, economics, marine environment, spatial planning etc.) and levels (European, national, federal state and regional level).

Guideline for the federal state level

At the national level three guidelines focus on monitoring and evaluation of a nationwide ICZM process: definition of overall targets for the German coastal zone, establishment of indicators, and considering ICZM as engine for paradigm shift of spatial planning.


In particular two findings of the present study are worth discussing. First, the five-step scheme faces some limitations. Under real-world conditions, various ICZM activities can not be separated from each other as sharply as depicted by the five-step scheme. In reality their transitions are rather smooth. The operation of an ICZM initiative is usually not realised step-by-step as shown in the conceptual scheme. Moreover, different steps start at the same time, overlap, or are executed parallel to each other. Second, the requirement of the BMU avoiding the development of new ICZM structures (such as institutions and working places) could not be satisfied. The present study discussed that this requirement cannot be achieved since the establishment of three Coordination Points would lead to new institutions with new work volumes.


This study provides a procedural proposal (especially in the formulated guidelines) to enhance the ICZM process in Germany. The five-step scheme forms an innovation for the German ICZM process. It constitutes an applicable instruction, which allows a systematically execution of regional ICZM. It could serve as a basis for a future ‘handbook of good ICZM’ for practitioners at the local and regional level. Moreover, the author hopes that the five-step scheme developed will also be of use at the European level. For the first time, a detailed structure and organisation of an ICZM Coordination Point for Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania has been developed. This Coordination Point holds the potential to function as an exemplary model for other German coastal federal states.


See also

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External Links

  • The present study was performed within the frame of a Diploma thesis at the Technical University Berlin which was published as ICZM-Odra report no. 44, ISSN 1614-5968 download

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

Citation: Tim Nandelstaedt (2020): Guidelines for Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) in Germany. Available from [accessed on 14-07-2024]