The objective of this module is to introduce you into the general concepts of Integrated Coastal Zone Management.

At the end of the module you should know the urgency and benefits of ICZM, what is integrated, what is management and how this is obtained (approach). You should also be able to outline the basic four stages of starting an ICZM process and have an overview of the methods, tools and techniques used in this context.

The unique coast

More than 60% of the world’s population lives within 60 Km of the coast. The world coastal zones  represent a precious  resource . People were and still are attracted by the fertile lands in the coastal plains and abundant marine resources, and by the easy access to international markets.  The beauty and the richness of the goods and services coastal zone offer have made them popular settlement areas for tourist destinations, important business zones and strategic areas for transport. The coastal zone is a focal point in many national economies where a large number of social and economic activities and their impacts are concentrated. The importance of the coastal area will further increase in the future due to the ever increasing number of people which should find a place here.

The coastal zone is essentially a multi resource system. It provides space, living and non-living resources for human activities and it has a regulatory function for the natural and man-made environment. At the same time the coastal zone is a multi-user system. Private and public bodies use the natural resources for subsistence (water and food), economic activities (space, living and non-living resources, energy, transportation and shelter) and recreation (beaches and water areas).

Raising awareness

Industrialization, commercial development and steadily growing population pressure in many places have resulted in an increase of erosion and flooding, degradation and loss of wetlands and other habitats, pollution, and over-exploitation of land and water resources in the coastal zone. 

Growing awareness about the finiteness of resources, about environmental degradation and consequent problems to mankind, has triggered numerous studies to provide a long term solution of the resources problem. Such studies are based on the concept of carrying capacity in terms of guidelines for socio-economic activities to achieve long term conservation of vital elements and areas of the environmental system.

In 1972, the report of the Club of Rome addressed these problems for the first time in a systematic and consistent way, resulting in the well known book “The limits to growth” (Meadows, D., Meadows, D. Randers, J. and Behrens III, W., 1972), and later “Beyond the Limits” (Meadows, D., Meadows, D. and Randers, J., 1972). The political response to this challenge was formulated in 1987 by the World Commission on Environment and Development in the so-called Brundtland report “Our Common Future” (WCED, 1987). They introduced the concept of sustainable development, as a means to guarantee acceptable living conditions for the present as well as for future generations.

Consensus about the future

The excessive exploitation of the natural resources and the intensive population growth  have put enourmous pressure on th ecosystems and this has lead to biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation, erosion, pollution, conflicts between users and space congestions problems. Climate change impacts and related sea levels and water temperatures are expected to further intensify the treat to the world’s coastal zones. The effects of climate change could be devastating to vulnerable coastal and marine areas as well as to the function and structure of their ecosystems. Increasing sea level (1,7 mm/year) changes the shape of coastlines, contributes to coastal erosion and leads to flooding and more underground salt-water intrusion. It is now widely accepted that development of the coastal zone should be based upon a proper understanding of the processes in the coastal zone, supported by a sound engineering technology and socio-economic skills to obtain an acceptable balance between short term benefits and long term assets.

Therefore, there is an urgent need for a controlled development of this area. Conflicts between the various user categories are becoming more and more manifest. These conflicts will grow in scope and size with increasing population density and related increase in the use of the earth’s resources. There is a need for a common methodology which can be used to describe the complex interactions between the resource system and its potential users. There is a need, therefore, to plan and control this process in a systematic and sustainable way. This process is called Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM).

Based on the Programme’s output, the EC adopted two documents in 2000, the EC Communication” ICZM: A Strategy in Europe” followed by a Recommendation concerning the implementation of ICZM adopted by Council and Parliament in 2002.

In 2010, the EC ratified the ICZM Protocol to the Barcelona convention which allows Mediterranean countries to better manage their coastal zones as well as deal with emerging coastal environmental challenges. More attention is now given to cliamate change risk and adaptation strategies for whih the Ec  si currently exploring  the need for possible future EU  action I the field of ICZM and Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) to better fit the requirements for sustainable development and resources use in the coastal and marine areas.
The European Commission defines ICZM as 
“a continuous process of administration the general aim of which is to put into practice sustainable development and conservation in coastal zones and to maintain their biodiversity. To this end, ICZM seeks, through more efficient management, to establish and maintain the best use and sustainable levels of development and activity (use) in the coastal zone, and, over time, to improve the physical status of the coastal environment”.

The views on ICZM in the USA and Europe differ. In the USA, ICZM is focussed on planning – in Europe on the integration of user functions. (Read more on this)


The questions we address, and where you will find our answers are:

  • Why ICZM? See the sections Urgencies and Benefits
  • What is managed? See the sections on the Coastal System
  • What is integrated and how do we do that? See the sections Integration and Arrangements
  • How do you do this in practise? See the stages of Implementing an ICZM Program and Accompanying Instruments

Finally, in the Conclusion section a comprehensive scheme is presented which contains the elements discussed. At the end, you will find a list of information sources and a glossary of the terms used.