Governing for Sustainable Coasts: Complexity, Climate Change, and Coastal Ecosystem Protection

Jane Lubchenco, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently noted that ―all ocean ecosystems [are] rich in  beauty, bounty, and history but fragile in [their] susceptibility to unsustainable practices on land and in the oceans. Estuaries and coasts are the most productive and important, but also the most complex, of ecosystems on the planet. Their unsustainable use arises from many sources, including fishing and coastal development, and additional threats to their integrity abound—from land-based pollution, from water-based pollution, and, most recently, from climate change. In the face of such complexity and the intensifying problem of climate change, designing sustainable governance institutions for estuaries and coasts is an ambitious, perhaps even audacious, undertaking.

Nevertheless, facing up to that challenge is necessary. Present use of coasts is unsustainable under any definition, and increased protection of ecosystems and ecosystem function—physically, chemically, and biologically—is critical to achieving sustainability. Given the inherent complexities of coastal ecosystems and the added complications of climate change, coastal managers need governance institutions that are simultaneously stronger and more flexible than many used to date. Unfortunately, sustainable governance institutions for coasts are still largely at the drawing board.

This article suggests that, in the face of multiple threats to these complex ecosystems, and particularly in an era of climate change, changing the law to allow for increased use of place-based regulation that incorporates adaptive management and increased use of innovative regulatory strategies, especially market-based mechanisms, presents the best next step forward toward sustainable governance of the coasts. Part I reviews the obstacles to achieving sustainability in coastal and estuarine ecosystems, including the goals for and problems plaguing these ecosystems identified in the Rio Conference in 1992, the World Summit on Sustainability in 2002, and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment in 2005. Part II provides a survey of the general principles of sustainable governance, together with examples of how these principles have already been applied in coastal and estuarine governance. Part III then looks at place-based management tools and non-traditional means of regulation, such as market-based mechanisms, concluding that they could provide the comprehensiveness and flexibility that is currently lacking in coastal and estuarine regulation and hence increase the potential for sustainable governance of those ecosystems.

Read the full article here in PDF format.

Citation: Craig, R.K.;Ruhl, J. Governing for Sustainable Coasts: Complexity, Climate Change, and Coastal Ecosystem Protection. Sustainability 2010, 2, 1361-1388.

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