22nd September

Coastal zone management: dead or alive?

Rick Boelens

What ever happened to coastal zone management (CZM)? More to the point, what plans does the Irish government have to introduce CZM in Ireland, if any? 

The concept that coastal environments and communities warrant special consideration in planning and development achieved international recognition following the UN Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro) in 1992.

Prominently, page one of the marine chapter in the conference proceedings identifies integrated management and sustainable development of coastal areas, including exclusive economic zones, ‘as a priority’. Thus, the term Integrated Coastal Area Management (ICAM – the word zone was substituted later) was born. 

Dune system at Maghercarty, Co Donegal, part of the demonstration programme. During the 1990s, the EU Commission embraced ICZM as an area requiring co-ordinated European action

Dune system at Maghercarty, Co Donegal, part of the demonstration programme. During the 1990s, the EU Commission embraced ICZM as an area requiring co-ordinated European action

During the 1990s the EU Commission embraced Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) as an area requiring co-ordinated European action given the coast’s ‘critical value’, and in the belief that many of the problems have a ‘European dimension’.

Amongst the problems identified were habitat destruction; water contamination; coastal erosion; resource depletion; unemployment and conflicts over space and resources. A demonstration programme on ICZM initiated by the Commission in 1995 concluded that the underlying causes were ‘lack of knowledge; inappropriate and uncoordinated laws; a failure to involve stakeholders and a lack of coordination between the relevant administrative bodies’.

Two Irish localities, Bantry Bay and dune systems in Down and Donegal, were part of the demonstration programme.

Community strategy
As early as 1992 the European Council issued a Resolution (OJ C59, 06.03.92) stressing the need for a community strategy for integrated planning and management of coastal zones. A brief sortie through EU files shows that the Commission remains committed to ICZM as an adjunct to established forms of environmental management.

A recommendation of May 2002 requires Member States ‘to present in 2006 the findings of a national stocktaking exercise (identifying all the main actors, laws and institutions involved), a national ICZM strategy, the actions taken and an evaluation’.

So how will Ireland respond to this? Apart from ten year’s ago commissioning a consultant report: CZM – A Draft Policy for Ireland, Brady Shipman Martin, 1997, and establishing an Inter-departmental Committee, there are few signs of progress.

A recent enquiry from Inshore Ireland to the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government (DEHLG) elicited the rather puzzling response that because the Water Framework Directive (WFD) is based on principles of holistic environmental management it ‘gives effect to the main principles of coastal zone management’.

Our request for more specific information, such as a clear statement of Ireland’s policy on ICZM and its means of implementation, yielded little more. The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources (DCMNR) tells us that work towards their objective of developing more integrated and coordinated approaches to ICZM would be ‘progressed as other priorities permit’.

That Department also envisages links between the WFD and ICZM as well as between ICZM and the recent EU Strategy for the Marine Environment.

Poor record card
It seems hardly credible that the government’s position on ICZM would satisfy the EU requirement for a national ICZM strategy, nor is it likely to impress NGOs and local interest groups that for many years have campaigned for the introduction of some form of ICZM, particularly in areas prone to conflicts over resource use.

Effective coastal management is not just about water. It must embrace all habitats; land and water uses; heritage; culture; communities − their livelihoods and traditions. Nor is it just about principles. It is a systematic and carefully orchestrated process aimed at sustainable use of coastal environments.

What distinguishes coastal environments from other environmental sectors is that they lie at the interface of two very different and biologically inter-dependent ecosystems and contain resources and amenities of immense national importance. They may also be subject to exceptionally high population pressures.

Global experience would suggest that there is more enthusiasm for ICZM amongst international agencies and NGOs than governments. The explanation may, in part, relate to the background of ICZM.

The 1992 Earth Summit dealt primarily with the serious problems besetting the developing world at the time, of which the most extreme tended to occur in heavily populated coastal areas where poverty, lack of education, poor governance and infrastructure placed unsustainable pressures on the natural environment.

The loss of mangrove and coral ecosystems in particular − critical to fish food chains − caused worldwide alarm. Essential as it was that all UN Member States subscribe to ICZM, as one of several remedies to address the situation, it is far from clear that western governments considered the process to be as applicable in their own countries as in regions such as South-East Asia.

Implementation of ICZM in countries with well established legislative and institutional frameworks for environmental protection and management is bound to be problematic. In such circumstances, governments tend to perceive ICZM as superfluous – just another layer of management super-imposed on an already complex administrative process designed to operate effectively in all environmental contexts – and one that places additional strains on the public purse. After all, many of the identified problems of coastal areas also occur inland.

Grass roots approach
There are differing views on how ICZM should operate. The model recommended by the 1997 consultant report − comprising a centrally-driven, phased, comprehensive and nationwide programme − is not supported by worldwide experience and may be less likely to succeed than a more grass-roots (‘bottom-up’) approach.

The failure rate of ICZM programmes around the world is high. The foremost reason for this is the absence of a strong constituency for the programme before it is initiated. It must be clear in advance that there is broad support for ICZM in the area to be managed and that the relevant interest groups agree to actively participate.

Another reason for failure is that the programme is overly ambitious, attempting to cover too large an area and too many issues. Yet another is a lack of trained managers, skilled in resource management and conflict resolution, acting as programme leaders; without them no ICZM programme can succeed.

Finally, local authorities and funding agencies must be willing and able to cooperate in developing and implementing ICZM plans. Ensuring the latter is perhaps the most valuable role that central government could perform.

Could the apparent inertia surrounding the introduction of ICZM in Ireland reflect a perception that there are still too many unanswered questions about what it would do; how it would operate and how cost-effective it might be?  Or has it been overtaken by more substantive EU initiatives?  We can only wait and see.

 Queries from Inshore Ireland to DCMNR and DEHLG

Q: Does DCMNR/DEHLG intend to issue a document that explains this position for the benefit of those who have strongly supported the CZM concept over the years?

DCMNR: It is a strategic objective of DCMNR to work, in the context of the EU Recommendation in ICZM, towards the development of more integrated and coordinated approaches to coastal zone management. This work is to be progressed as other priorities permit.

Q: Is it the intention of Government/DCMNR to develop a separate, definitive CZM policy or to introduce mechanisms for the preparation and/or implementation of CZM plans at local level?


DCMNR will, in the context of its work on ICZM, be reviewing the interaction of ICZM with other policies and strategies being developed at EU level, namely the EU Strategy for the Marine Environment and the forthcoming EU Green Paper on Maritime Policy. The development of appropriate bridges with the work being undertaken for implementation of the WFD will be a key issue for any ICZM strategy that may be developed.

Q: Are there plans in place to provide special (dedicated) funding, technical or administrative assistance in support of locally-based CZM initiatives?

DCMNR: There are no such plans in place at present.

DELHG response:
DELHG is currently engaged in full implementation of the WFD in Ireland, which covers estuarine, transitional and coastal waters to a distance of one nautical mile from the shore.  The principles of holistic environmental management underpinning the WFD give effect to the principles of ICZM. 

DEHLG welcomes and encourages the active participation of all interested persons in implementation of the WFD. This participation is being facilitated by the establishment of River Basin District Advisory Councils in each River Basin District [RBD] in the country, and will be further facilitated by a programme of public consultation on key implementation targets.  Consultation will be invited in each RBD on a Draft Timetable and Work Programme to be published in 2006; on an overview of Significant Water Management Issues to be produced in 2007; and on Draft River Basin Management Plans in 2008.

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