The Coastal Systems

The subject of ICZM is the coastal zone. The coastal zone is a complicated area where many physical (like people, trees, water) and non physical items (organizations, laws) exist and interact with each other. A good ICZM program must be founded by a thorough comprehension of these items and their relationships.

The coastal zone is a good example of an area where interacting, complicated problems should be addressed by means of systems analysis. Systems analysis is a broad strategy to make an orderly and logical organization of data into models. We will not present a complete analysis of the coastal system, but the first steps for such a study helps defining the subject: what are its boundaries and what does it consist of?

As shown in adjacent figure, we can represent the world as the box. The shaded circle represents the part we are interested in: the coastal zone. At the highest level of abstraction, the coastal zone is controlled by two dynamic sources of activity: the nature – everything else but human activities – provides the natural boundary conditions, and the humans which provide “socio-economic development plans”: the more or less authoritative and organized form in which the active human driving factor comes to work. 

As the next schematizing step, three major ‘sub-systems’ in the coastal zone are distinguished:

  • The natural system, which encompasses all relevant non-human domains (atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere) including their own dynamics and mutual interactions through abiotic, biotic, and chemical processes (abc-processes). This is the domain of the natural resources, which could very well exist without the presence of man.
  • The user functions represent the entire set of human interests in terms of the ‘use’ in the broadest sense which is or may be made of the natural resources.
  • The infrastructure consists of the technical and organizational infrastructure. These infrastructures are needed to make available and thus materialize the intended user functions. In many cases the infrastructures have an intended as well as an unintentional effect on the natural system, and sometimes also – directly or indirectly – on other user functions, resulting in stresses and conflicts.

It is the task of ICZM to understandmonitor and manage
the processes between the three subsystems.

A diagram of “our world”

The coastal system as a part of the world. The world consists of the systems “Nature” and “Humans”. Each of these two provide the boundary conditions for the development of the Coastal Zone.


Now, zoomed-in on the Coastal Zone, three subsystems can be defined: User functions, Infrastructure (part of the Human system) and the natural subsystem (part of the Nature system).

Below, the central position of ICZM is visualized in relation to the three subsystems.