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Perspectives from a shrinking globe.

With summer approaching, many of us are considering where to spend our summer vacations. The beach is a universal favorite for vacationers. As we contemplate our favorite beach retreats this year, we might ask ourselves a few questions: Is there more traffic going to the shore this year, and are the cities or suburbs growing faster than before? Isn't that new resort complex built on what used to be wild beach grass or sea oats? Why does the surf seem so much closer to the parking lot this year, and the sand narrower? Why are those hypodermic needles being tossed ashore by the waves? What happened to that marsh creek we used to hike at low tide, where we got acquainted with all the crabs and small fish? Why are fish dying and washing ashore today, along with that yellowish foam and blobs of oil?

Contemplating these scenes, we may realize we are experiencing firsthand some direct results of the conflicting uses of the coastal zone. Our continued encroachment upon the shore places increased demands on coastal resources. How we address these demands is part of the legacy we leave our children. As the globe continues to shrink and we recognize the interconnectedness of coastal problems around the world, we must think hard about this global legacy. How habitable or functional will our coastal waters be 20 years hence? Will we be any wiser in our use of coastal areas, or more sympathetic with the natural functions of the coastal zone? Are we on the way to resolving our waste-disposal problems, and what role will the ocean play in this resolution? Will policy options be understood and implemented regionally, or will individual nations continue to ignore the realities of the common heritage that is the sea?

This is the first of two sequential Oceanus issues that focus on the coastal zone's scientific aspects and its intertwined and difficult policy and management issues. Conflicting use is a recurrent theme, as transportation, waste disposal, recreation, habitation, energy usage, and mariculture all struggle for coastal-zone access. And what of the natural ecosystem? What is its response to this crowding? How will the environment's decline affect the very habitat we are seeking to exploit? Common issues--difficult choices. Ed Goldberg explores some of these uses and their possible consequences. He notes some policy options in Europe that suggest we may be learning how to use our coastal areas more wisely.

Another recurrent theme is overdevelopment. Beth Millemann suggests that storms of the last 20 years have been benign, whereas the next 25 years may bring a cycle of "super-hurricanes" such as this past year's Andrew. John Williams and coauthors discuss Florida storms of the past century and their patterns through time, ending with a discussion of the most expensive US hurricane to date: Andrew. David Bush and Orrin Pilkey also focus on a difficult management decision: How to treat threats to the lighthouses of Cape Hatteras and Morris Island. These three articles discuss important aspects of coastal science and planning, questioning the best mix of policies and risk.

Wastewater management is a recurrent theme that is particularly topical in Massachusetts. The $6 billion Boston sewage treatment project is under continued scrutiny, as the already-high sewage rates promise to increase manyfold with the project nearing completion. Paul Levy describes the political conditions leading to the massive "big pipe" alternative, and Peter Shelley discusses the role of citizen groups in environmental issues. Dave Aubrey and Mike Connor discuss some of the big pipe controversies, from the perspectives of academic scientist and agency scientist. The exigencies of court orders and the limited duration of political lifetimes place interesting constraints on such a large project, and we discuss the role of scientific uncertainty in siting questions. Susan Peterson outlines some alternatives to the big pipe, including an interesting plea for decentralization of wastewater treatment toward more effective water management.

Scientific uncertainty plagues many coastal management decisions, as it does other societal problems. Because of the complex networks of interacting environmental components, scientists cannot predict exactly what will happen when a specific environmental button is pushed a certain distance. Scientists may be able to predict tendencies, but as the Boston Harbor outfall debate demonstrates, competing or offsetting biotic responses cannot always be assessed quantitatively. Clearly we need to improve our knowledge and reduce our uncertainties. Some of the scientific issues are addressed as Chris Garrett and Leo Maas discuss the orchestration of the tides, describing the dominant tones and underlying harmonics that give this music its richness and interest. Graham Giese and Dave Chapman then continue this spectral investigation by exploring a new class of coastal water motions previously unidentified, though known to contribute to this marine orchestral movement.

The issue is further rounded out with descriptions of two new programs to advance our scientific understanding of complex coastal systems, so we can manage them better and develop improved, enlightened policy options. Lauren Wenzel and Don Scavia elaborate on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association's Coastal Ocean Program and its focus on critical coastal zone management issues, while Ken Brink describes a program to examine Coastal Ocean Processes (CoOP) from an interdisciplinary, basic-science standpoint. Increased scientific focus on the coastal zone by many state, national, and international groups requires strong coordination and insightful problem identification--a challenge for the future.

Several general recommendations emerge from this mix of papers.

* First, strong partnerships must be built between the academic community and mission agencies responsible for management and policy. Such partnering may require changes in perspective from both groups: a willingness to incorporate complex scientific results into management and policy decisions on the agencies' part, and a commitment from the scientists to communicate their results more effectively to those agencies. Partnerships will help break down the implicit conflict between these two groups, and foster improved interaction.

* Mechanisms to improve translation, interpretation, and integration of basic scientific research into mainstream agencies must be implemented. The tension that still exists between natural scientists and social scientists must be eased by massaging the links between the groups, to encourage greater and more effective communication.

* Finally, coastal issues are global, and the interconnectedness of coastal areas is real. The appropriate and varied roles of local, state, national, and international policy and science initiatives must be clarified and coordinated. Effective regional policy and management require scientists working at common levels, with common techniques and analysis procedures. Discussion of results must be open and frequent, and must include peer review to maintain high academic standards. These relative roles should be defined early, and form the basis for international or regional accords.

David G. Aubrey is a Senior Scientist in the Department of Geology & Geophysics at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and former Director of the Institution's Coastal Research Center.

Editor's Note: Articles scheduled for the Coastal Science and Policy II issue include the status of fisheries (Michael Sissenwine), coastal pollution (Judy McDowell), the nutrient impact on various coastal systems (Scott Nixon), rivers and estuaries (Chuck Nittrouer and William Boicourt, respectively), and a profile on David Packard and Julie Packard (Nora Deans).
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Author:Aubrey, David G.
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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