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News: Portugal has fastest coastal development

Population densities along European coast are higher and continue to grow faster than those inland, the "Changing faces of Europe's coastal areas" EEA report released this month says. Between 1990 and 2000 artificial surfaces (primarily roads and buildings) in coastal zones increased in almost all European countries.

The fastest development occurred in Portugal (34 % increase in ten years), then Ireland (27 %) and Spain (18 %), followed by France, Italy and Greece. The most affected regional seacoast is the Western Mediterranean.

Economic restructuring, much of it driven by EU subsidies, has been a driver for infrastructure development, which in turn has attracted residential sprawl. Climate change, an ageing, more affluent population, increased leisure and cheaper travel compound these pressures leading to a crises for Europe's coastline, the report says.  According to the EEA, at present 80 % of ocean pollution comes from land-based human activities.

"Think of the infrastructure required to get one family from Northern Europe to a beach in Spain: transport policies and subsidies, passport agreements, and funding, to name a few," said Professor Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the EEA.  "Now think of the impacts on the final destination. As tourists we may contribute to local income and employment, but we also bring pollution and eco-system degradation to areas that have little policy protection and are ill suited to withstand such an intense level of use."

Professor McGlade added: "While the impacts may be local, the pressures and solutions need to be on a pan-European scale".

'Point of no return' approaching

The report warns that Europe's unique coastal environment is under increasing threat from its own popularity.  It underlines that the rapid acceleration in the use of coastal space, mostly driven by the recreation and tourism industries, threatens to destroy the delicate balance of coastal ecosystems.

For example, approximately two thirds of Europe's wetlands (most of which are coastal) have been lost since the beginning of the 20th century.  Development along the Mediterranean has created the 'Med wall' where more than 50% of the coast is dominated by concrete, the report says.

"Our coastlines are the richest ecosystems in terms of the number and variety of plants and animals," said Professor McGlade. "Coasts also act as economic gateways to Europe; they are part of the fabric of many societies and are crucial to our quality of life."

Professor McGlade continued: "However, to protect our coastal areas, we need to value them not as playgrounds or transport lanes with unlimited building, living, recreational and shipping potential but as fragile systems that underpin landscapes and amenities at the core of many communities."

More holistic solutions needed

Despite this challenging situation, new opportunities are being offered to tackle coastal issues in a more holistic way that views our coastlines as mosaics of rivers and their catchments, coastal zones and marine regions. The on-going implementation of 'integrated coastal zone management' (ICZM), reviewed by the European Commission in 2006, is to be welcomed, the report says.

"There is a long history of policy initiatives to protect Europe's coastline but these have never been implemented in an integrated manner. ICZM involves all relevant stakeholders and takes a long-term view of the coastal zone in an attempt to balance the needs of development with protection of the very resources that sustain coastal economies. It also takes into account the public's concern about the deteriorating environmental, socio-economic and cultural state of the European coastline," Professor McGlade said.

To view the full report, go to http://reports.eea.europa.eu/eea_report_2006_6/en

To find out more about the EEA, visit their website at http://www.eea.europa.eu

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