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Competitors for coastal ocean space.

Many factors contribute to coastal-zone space conflicts. First, the occupants, uses, and constructions of the world's 440,000-kilometer coastline continually change in response to economic and social pressures. Second, the ever-increasing populations stress both the land and water environments of the coastal zone. Finally, the early-1990s de-emphasis of military operations will open up space presently occupied by armies and navies in many countries.


There is a marked movement of people primarily from low latitudes to higher-latitude coastal zones, in search of a better life through improvements in work opportunities, home environments, medical facilities, and educational systems. This movement is occurring in many regions--from southern to northern Mediterranean countries, from Mexico and Guatemala to California, from Haiti and Cuba to Florida, and from the Bahia region to the Rio Grande region in Brazil. The immigrants often tax host-area facilities, and government infrastructures have difficulty coping with the unregulated influx. (One option to mitigate this problem would be to make the inland noncoastal zone areas more attractive to the migrating peoples.)

Entry of differing-ethnicity migrants can create discomfort for host populations. For example, Italy has been flooded in the last several years by a million immigrants from Africa, Asia, and eastern Europe. Until this time, Italy had remarkably liberal immigration policies and intended to create a multiracial society. Laws limiting immigration were initially proposed in March 1990, and 75 percent of Italian citizens now favor closing the border to all new immigration. The recently arrived migrants exacerbated an already serious unemployment problem, were perceived as being purveyors of crime, disease, and drugs, and were very evident by their appearance. Often out of work and without housing, they flooded the Italian beaches. As the relevant governmental agencies have been unable to cope, an immigration moratorium may provide a breathing period to alleviate the situation. Immigrants constitute strong competition for coastal space in many parts of the world.

The most detailed demographic studies have been made in the Mediterranean and US coastal areas by the United Nations Environment Programme and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, respectively.

Tourism and Recreation

Tourism is probably the world's largest single industry, accounting for at least 5 percent of the combined gross national products (GNPs). The coastal zone is a major attraction, drawing about half of all national and international travelers. The heightened expectation of the world citizenry to roam, coupled with increased leisure time and financial resources, will continue to spark this activity.

The economies of many countries in the developing world, especially the small island nations, are based on continuous, growing tourism. For example, the Caribbean Islands, to a large extent, support their economies with tourist revenues that have steadily risen during the past decade. Hotel, restaurant, shopsale, tour, and native-performance revenues contribute about 43 percent of the region's combined gross national products. In 1987, 5.6 million cruise passengers visited the Caribbean. Overall, world cruise populations are increasing at a double-digit rate.

Availability of seafood (a favorite of the visitors) and a healthy marine environment that accommodates many forms of recreation are crucial to the success of tourism in many developing countries. These factors are sometimes challenged by inadequate waste disposal that allows continual entry of toxic pathogens and chemicals to coastal waters. These flows, with potential threats to human health both through seafood ingestion and through direct exposure, have clear, undesirable consequences. Yet the cost of upgrading sewage systems is formidable to small nations with a host of other expensive social problems.

In the developed world, the strong financial position of the tourist and recreation industries have established them as primary contestants in battles over coastal-ocean space, Construction of hotels, recreation areas, shops, and restaurants that appeal to tourists creates a most unusual seascape.

An alternative use of seacoast areas abandoned by the military might be establishment of marine parks to enhance the lives of residents and visitors and to protect regional ecology. This use would not only support tourism, but could also offer unique research facilities and maintain an important heritage. Marine parks can take many forms: fishing reserves, diving areas, and natural marine reserves that have cultural, scientific, and aesthetic components.

Many such areas have been developed in the Mediterranean with the support of the European Council. France has the most extensive program, with 16 areas designated for special types of care. Greece has established three marine parks for the protection of monk seals and marine turtles. Other countries with active programs include Israel Italy, Egypt, Tunisia, and Spain. (The Fall 1993 Oceanus will feature marine protected areas.)


Fish, shellfish, and algae farming usually damage the physical appearance and the quality of coastal-zone waters, but make significant economic contributions to some nations and fortify diets around the world. Fresh- and saltwater aquaculture accounts for about 10 percent of the world fish and shellfish harvest. It is dominated by freshwater finfish culture, but marine activities are clearly increasing. Worldwide crustacean cultivation increased nearly tenfold between 1975 and 1985; the price of shrimp correspondingly decreased 25 percent.

Demands for protein, coupled with technical improvements in aquaculture and the decreasing availability of fish in the wild, clearly will advance mariculture in the coastal zone. For example, genetic engineering promises to increase the efficiency of fish farming in the very near future. In a mid-1980s investigation, fish fed synthetic growth hormones gained twice as much weight as fish in control groups. Though economics were against implementing this approach on a commercial basis (the synthetic hormones were expensive, and their uptake efficiency was low), the research continues and may give aquaculture an additional boost.

Four types of mariculture are dominant: seaweed, shrimp, mussel, and salmon. Of these, shrimp have become one of the most valuable. In 1989, 26 percent of the world's shrimp supply came from farming, with a harvest of 565,000 tons. Asia is the largest producer, followed by South America. The producing countries utilize about 15 percent of the crop, and the remainder is exported to the US, Japan, and Europe.

Mariculture production can disturb the quality of the coastal environment. The pens themselves can be aesthetically unpleasant. Natural habitats are lost, such as the mangrove forests--a valuable but declining ecosystem--that are being displaced by shrimp farming in the southeast Pacific and Central and South America. But the creation of anoxic environments is perhaps more important. Fish farming in cages produces organic residues from uneaten food and metabolic wastes. The materials sink to the bottom, and through microbial decomposition release dissolved nutrients such as phosphate, nitrate, silicate, and ammonia. Enhanced algal growth in the water column can follow and serious pollution problems can develop. Hong Kong Island, for example, has degraded environments under cages located in waters that were once considered clean and beautiful. This situation outrages another competitor for this coastal space, the Hong Kong Yachting Association, which represents user communities that want to use the waters for boating, windsurfing, swimming, and diving. Mariculture accounts for 50 percent of Hong Kong's total fresh-fish consumption and has an annual value of $25 million, which is probably comparable to the Yacht Club's cash flow.

Waste Space

A weak contender today for coastal-ocean space is domestic and industrial waste accommodation. Over the past several decades, environmental groups and regulatory agencies in the developed world have been effective in creating the perception that marine systems cannot accommodate societal discards without resource loss. On the other hand, social and natural scientists and engineers have shown that comparisons of disposal options (air, sea, and land) for a specific waste in a particular region do not exclude the ocean and, in fact, in some cases favor it.

But these arguments will pale in the face of future economic forces. Land available for waste disposal is running out near populated areas, especially those along the coasts. In the US, domestic wastes are shipped across state boundaries, for example, from New York and New Jersey to Pennsylvania and Ohio. For hazardous wastes, the situation is even more pressing. California's stringent regulations on hazardous-waste disposal (compared to federal restrictions) have driven instate disposal costs to a range of $261 to $1,011 per ton. On the other hand, wastes can be transported to other states, such as Utah, for disposal at about $142 per ton. This is changing, however. Utah and other states that receive California's toxic wastes are reacting both by restricting the amounts they are willing to take and by proposing increased fees.

A return to ocean-waste disposal is likely as scientific and engineering judgments dominate the policy decision processes and displace perceptions that are often emotionally based. When the economic, social, scientific, and engineering aspects of land and air (incineration) disposal are dispassionately compared with those of coastal-ocean disposal, a rejuvenated competitor for coastal-ocean space will most likely appear.


Improved and expanded harbor facilities for increasing transoceanic world trade comprise another contender for coastal-zone space. As the rising world population demands more materials and energy to achieve higher standards of living, countries that produce or import high-volume, low-cost commodities, such as coal, oil, timber, and grain, may employ large, ocean-traversing carriers (150,000 dead-weight tons or more) that at present primarily transport petroleum and petroleum products. For example, shifting Mediterranean industrialization from northern to southern and eastern countries will create a need for improved harbor facilities. Steel production in northern Europe will probably decrease in the near future as a consequence of competition from the outside. As part of their industrialization, southern and eastern Mediterranean countries will begin to import iron ore and coal, and large vessels will probably be employed where there are appropriate ship and cargo-handling facilities.

Harbor improvement for handling the larger vessels usually consists of deepening channels through extensive and continuous dredging, which alters life processes in and surrounding the port area; for example, fishing and fish-nursery grounds may be changed or eliminated. The dredging itself can interfere with sediment-transport processes. Finally, increased ship loading and unloading can place additional stresses upon space in the port vicinity through the entry of alien materials and nonindigenous organisms to the waters.

Some Other Competitors

In addition to these contenders for coastal-ocean space, there are some minor competitors from the mining, energy, and fishing industries. Today all have potential, but none loom as serious challengers.

Energy. The continuous recovery of energy from the sea remains elusive although it is often discussed in the popular media. The economics of constructing appropriate structures are formidable. Still, advocates of the various possible schemes remain committed. They are especially encouraged by the argument that the three promising technologies, ocean thermal, tidal, and wave energy conversions, do not contribute greenhouse gases to the environment.

The most notorious of these, ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), utilizes the temperature difference between warm surface and cold deep waters to run a turbine in closed or open cycles. The plausible geographical zone for OTEC centers on the equator and extends north and south by about 20|degrees~ latitude. Only three developed nations are within this belt: Australia, Japan, and the US. A basic requirement to bring OTEC into serious competition for coastal-ocean space is the construction of a successful prototype in the range of 1 to 50 megawatts.

Energy can be drawn from ocean tides generated by gravitational forces exerted by the moon and the sun upon the earth. A straightforward way to harness this tidal energy involves placing a barrier with sluices and turbines across a marine basin. The appropriate coupling of tidal forces with basin geometry limits power generation to between 50|degrees~ and 60|degrees~ latitude. The only successful operating plant, which was completed in 1967 at the mouth of the river Rance in Brittany, produces 240,000 watts. Smaller plants have been built in China, Canada, and the former Soviet Union. There are probably 30 sites in the world that could be successfully employed for tidal energy.

Many ideas for harnessing wave energy have been proposed, but today most devices involve compressing air to run a turbine connected to a generator. Japan and Norway, which have successfully demonstrated pilot models, appear to be at the forefront of wave-energy activity, with the UK not far behind.

Fishing. The commercial fishing industry's needs for US coastal-ocean space have decreased over the past decade. Although demand for marine food products has been rising, a number of factors combine to lessen the requirements for support facilities in harbor areas. First, changes in fishing techniques as small fishing boats are replaced by large catcher/processor vessels create a need for different types of port space. Second, mariculture products are competing successfully with wild-caught marine food, and mariculture production is increasing annually. Finally, the productivity of some existing fisheries is being diminished by physical alteration of estuaries and wetlands, which reduces breeding areas and nursery grounds. (See also "Helping a Diminished Industry" on page 89.)

Mining. Of the solid minerals extracted from the marine environment, the two most important groups are sea salt for use as a condiment and as an industrial chemical, and sand and gravel for use in concrete production, beach replenishment, roadfill, landfill, and artificial-island construction. In addition, there are placer minerals that have been beneficiated from the sediments, including gold, titanium oxides, phosphites, and chromites. The largest coastal sand and gravel exploitation takes place in Japan and Great Britain, but the needs of all countries are increasing. This mining can impact fish nursery and breeding grounds. Further, these activities interfere with erosional processes and the integrity of submarine cables and oil and gas pipelines.

Sand and gravel resources from the sea compete with their land-based counterparts. Distances from the quarry site to the use site are ever-increasing in developed areas. The relative transport costs of land and sea-derived sand and gravel, coupled with the qualities of the materials, will largely determine which will have the competitive advantage. In some cases the rental of shore space for marine activities will enter the financial picture.

A New Direction for Coastal Ocean Space

In this last decade of the 20th century, social and political changes are reordering priorities for coastal-zone space utilization in many eastern European countries. Military activities with their associated space needs are on the downswing. In the 1970s and 1980s, military uses, and engineering research to support them, were given the highest priorities for coastal-ocean space. These were followed by bioresource utilization to satisfy the increasing need for animal protein. Recreation, tourism, and environmental protection had the lowest priorities. As social and economic patterns stabilize, tourist-related activities that can attract hard currencies from the west will increase, and tourism could become the most important coastal-space occupant in these countries.

The Discontented Locals

Over the past several centuries, citizens of the developed world have been acquiring coastal-zone space in the developing world for additional habitat, recreation, and for the profitable activities previously discussed. Resentment can build up among local people as they see a valuable part of their homeland exploited by outsiders and sometimes made unavailable to them. Stresses can develop among all concerned.

Such has been the case in Barbados. in the past, shipping, fishing, some agriculture, and small-boat construction occupied the coastal zone. These uses have been challenged by, and in some cases lost to, tourism. Over the past 25 years or so, the west side of Barbados, with a nearly 150-kilometer coastline, has become the site for major hotel development, primarily for the winter season. Part of the shoreline has been beautified by the development of beaches. However, other beaches have been destroyed and reduced to coral rubble. Pollution from domestic wastes threatens the reefs and swimmers. Public beach access has been minimized through resort construction. Fishing boats have gone. Land prices have skyrocketed and land purchases are no longer readily available to the native population.

The unaffected northeastern part of the island contrasts with the tourist areas near the major city, Bridgetown, to the west, and the airport to the southeast. Natives can still enjoy a relatively unaffected east coast, albeit with its somewhat less-desirable climate, but this is perhaps some compensation to the local citizens who benefit from tourist contributions to the economy.

Demands for coastal space will clearly exceed what is available. Besides tourism and recreation, mariculture, habitat, waste space, transportation, and the lingering military, there are some minor players: energy development such as tidal power and ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC), coastal mining--especially sand and gravel, and the declining fishing industry. All have their government patrons. If the past is a guide to the future, the scientific and engineering communities will have but a small say in the allocation of any available coastal space. Economics and social pressures will prevail. Still, guidance from scholars may help to maintain and improve coastal-zone quality.

A few countries are taking steps to minimize use conflicts. For example, France, Italy, and Spain are inventorying existing and potential resources. Of Spain's 8,000-kilometer coastal zone, 42 percent is as yet unoccupied, and new laws and policies have been formulated to minimize unregulated development. The new policies define the coastal strip as public domain with limited access. Similarly, Israel's 190-kilometer coastal region is to a large extent unoccupied, or used for activities that do not require a coastal-zone location. Environmental agencies in many nations are responding to the increasing demand for expanded recreational activities by preparing regulations for resource protection. These are hopeful steps toward reducing conflict in the world's coastal zone.

Edward D. Goldberg has been a geochemist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography for the past 44 years. His present research involves the nature of seawater's colloidal state and platinum group elements in the marine environment. Both his science and his nature are benign.
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:recreation facilities, transportation facilities, mariculture, waste disposal, fishing, energy harnessing amd mining in the coastal areas
Author:Goldberg, Edward D.
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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