The Integrated approach to Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)

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The Coastal Zone

The nature of the coast

Being the interface between the land and the ocean, coastal areas are affected by highly dynamic processes. Coastal spaces also support unique and especially fragile ecosystems, being areas of great environmental and aesthetic value.

For instance, eight of the forty priority habitats listed in the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora Directive are coastal. Approximately a third of the Union's wetlands are located on the coast, as well as more than thirty per cent of the Special Protection Areas designated under the Conservation of Wild Birds Directive. (For more information on these Directives see Birds Directive, Habitats Directive, NATURA 2000)

These coastal ecosystems tend to also have very high biological productivity. The reproduction and nursery grounds of most fish and shellfish species of economic value are in the coastal strip, and a significant proportion of the catch of these species comes from this area.

Coastal uses

Different uses of the coast (housing, tourism).

Humanity has always had a close relationship with the coast. Traditional uses of coastal space include trade and conquest, migration and defence and in some cases, a focus for cultural and spiritual identity (Carter 1988). Coastal zones are still of crucial importance for coastal states today. They are home to the bulk of the population, and account for a considerable share of the country's economic activities, being highly valued by society for the non-marketable goods and services they provide.

A wide range of human activities take place in the coastal zones (industry, tourism, fishing, aquaculture, etc). When these activities develop together on the narrow coastal strip, problems tend to arise, creating conflicts.

Due to its highly dynamic character, even development work with clear local objectives may have adverse effects elsewhere along the coast!

Coastal risks

Recent research shows that climate change could involve a sea level rise of several millimetres per year, and an increase in the frequency and intensity of coastal storms. Depending on where they occur, the combined effects of these two phenomena will have serious repercussions on this area, such as major floods or erosion. At the same time, the expected growth, in tourism in particular, will increase human pressure on natural, rural and urban environments.

Need for coastal management

Protecting against coastal risks and providing adequate usages for these areas are not immediately compatible goals. In fact, the huge concentration of human activities in this narrow strip has led to rapid degradation of these zones' rich and important ecosystems and habitats and, as a result, the entire coastal system faces an uncertain future.

However, the coastal zone is a difficult area to manage due to temporal issues (current, tides and seasons) and the overlapping of physical geography and hydrography (inshore, shoreline, offshore), of jurisdictions, legal mandates and the remits of government agencies and the often competing needs of stakeholders.

Typically, many different local, national and regional government agencies are responsible for different aspects of the same physical areas and different uses of the coastal zone, e.g. fisheries, environment, agriculture, transport (inland and marine), urban planning and cadastre, etc. These ministries often find themselves undertaking the same or similar tasks and sometimes, even working against each other due to inharmonious and competing objectives of their legal mandates. The frequently encountered government technique of merging some ministries, organisations or agencies and separating others, either physically or based on mandates, usually fails to yield the desired results of increased efficiency in government and reduced duplication of effort and resource expenditure.

Evolution of Coastal Zone Management practices

The largely sectoral ad-hoc management strategies of the past have proved inadequate to deal with the highly complex ‘hybrid’ human-environmental interactions characterizing the development of coastal areas.

Environmental costs of the traditional model of economic growth and the current challenge imposed by the paradigm of Sustainable Development (UNEP 1992), imply a move towards more rational approaches to coastal development.

As a result, Coastal Zone Management (CZM) initiatives are turning to more integrated strategies worldwide( ICZM), attempting to balance the benefits from the economic development and human uses of the coastal space while sustaining over the long-term, the ecological, socio-cultural, and historical values of a particular given area.

Inputs to CZM evolution [1]

This key statement was enunciated when coastal management had already accomplished almost three decades of evolution and implementation, during which the UN system had strongly contributed.

  • Implementation of national policies during the 1990s
  • Issues of global change, globalisation, and increasing attention to a multi-perspective concept of diversity

During the 1970s, environmental and developmental goals were pursued in a non integrated way; then the need to contextually pursue them arose and expanded during the 1980s; finally the full integration was enunciated by the adoption of the sustainability concept by Agenda 21 in 1992. An evolution has solidified, during which the emphasis was initially posed on the environment conceived in physical and chemical terms, then the economic and biological components were introduced, and finally the social and ethical components were embraced.

Definitions of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)

See also: Some definitions of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)

Many definitions of the term ICZM amongst inter-governmental organisations and scientists exist. These are further explored in the article Some definitions of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM). There are numerous definitions from Intergovernmental organisations and science. Most of these definitions overlap, but there are differences between these definitions. The definition used in the coastal wiki can be found at Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM).

General Principles of ICZM

ICZM is still a relatively new and evolving concept and there is as yet no consensus regarding even issues such as the fundamental nature and structure of the coastal zone, the most appropriate time-scales for the application of CZM policies, or the key criteria for defining Sustainability in coastal zone development. Nevertheless, there are some agreed general principles for ICZM:

The integration principle

The integration principle was developed in Agenda 21 as a tool to pursue Sustainable Development in coastal zones, which requires:

"new approaches to marine and coastal area management and development, at the national, subregional, regional and global levels, approaches that are integrated in content and are precautionary and anticipatory in ambit" Agenda 21, 17.1, 1992

Integration can be seen as one of the tools or methodologies for realizing the goal of Holism -ideally meaning that all aspects of an issue or consequences of a decision are considered (natural sciences, economic, socio-cultural, legal, institutional questions, etc.).

There is a need for at least five different dimensions of integration [2]:

  • between sectors
  • between levels of government
  • across the land-water interface
  • between disciplines
  • between nations (esepcially when nations share an enclosed or semi-enclosed water body)

The Precautionary Principle

See also Precautionary principle

The Maastricht Treaty adopted the Precautionary Principle as a fundamental element of environmental policy: Article III-233 of the draft Treaty establishing a constitution for Europe.

On the 2 February 2000, the European Commission issued a Communication on the precautionary principle, in which it adopted a procedure for the application of this concept, but without giving a detailed definition of it.

Ecosystem-based Management

Ecosystem-based Management


  1. Vallega, A. 2002, Coastal Management: the Integration Principle
  2. Cicin-Sain et al 2000, Education and Training in Integrated Coastal Management: lessons from the international arena. Ocean & Coastal Management 43 (2000) 291-330

Related articles

Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)
Shoreline management
Policy instruments for integrated coastal zone management

Further reading

Relevant links

The main author of this article is Garriga, Maica
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Garriga, Maica (2020): The Integrated approach to Coastal Zone Management (ICZM). Available from [accessed on 18-05-2024]