Chapter 3.14 Coastal and Marine Zones - Environment in EU at the turn of the century

Some 85% of European coasts, where about a third of Europe’s population lives, are at high or moderate risk from different kinds of pressures and impacts, among which sea level rise from climate change. Remaining poor water quality, coastal erosion and the lack of integrated coastal zone management are the main problems. Coastal erosion, caused by human activities or natural causes, is a major issue in some regions in the EU with 25% of the coast length subject to erosion, 50% stable while 15% is receiving material (aggradation); for the remaining 10%, the evolution is unknown.

Among the 25 less favoured areas in EU in 1983, 23 were coastal areas. The fact that 19 remain so in 1996 shows that in spite of the high expenditure under EU financial instruments (about two-third of the EU Structural funds are allocated to coastal areas) the cohesion results have not been achieved. This lack of economic growth curbs the conditions for environmental management. Coastal areas could provide the best example of environmental integration. To date, an integrated approach to Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) is still missing at national level, where a sectoral approach dominates. Key areas of action for ICZM are environmental impact assessment, coastal land planning, habitat management and pollution control. The results of the EU “Integrated Coastal Zone Management Demonstration Programme” and the initiative of the proposed Water Framework Directive should provide concrete examples on how to tackle the coastal zone management issues as they occur in the Member States.

The Mediterranean is the world’s leading tourist destination, accounting for 30% of international tourist arrivals and for one-third of the receipts from international tourism. The number of tourists in the Mediterranean coastal region is set to rise from 135 million in 1990 to 235-353 million in 2025. Tourism is also important for other coastal regions including the Baltic Sea states, the North Sea and North East Atlantic coasts. Overall, the annual growth rate for tourism in Europe is 3.7% per year. Whether this growth rate will continue depends on Europe maintaining its market share in competition with other tourism destinations.

Urbanisation, in general, has increased from 1975 to 1990 in the coastal zones in the EU Member States. Agriculture, although being a declining source of employment, remains a major economic activity there. Recent reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) have had an effect – for instance, set-aside is expected to lead to a decline of at least 10% in the area of arable land under cultivation on the North Sea coasts, while a further 4-5% of arable land will be farmed less intensively, chiefly because of stricter environmental controls.

All EU regional seas are covered by Conventions which share the aim of protecting the marine environment. The Conventions are relatively complete (by means of appropriate scientific and management tools) but they still need to be enforced and above all co-ordinated to provide comparable information.

The North Sea catchment area and coasts are densely populated with considerable industrial development, and the offshore oil and gas industry as a major economic activity. Large areas such as the industrialised estuaries have concentrations of contaminants clearly above the North Atlantic background level. Synthetic organic compounds could be found in the North Sea although higher concentrations are clearly identifiable in some areas; known distributions are strongly influenced by sampling distribution. Contaminants come from major rivers – Elbe, Weser, Rhine, Meuse, Scheldt, Seine, Thames, Humber – and also from dredged material and atmospheric inputs. Nutrient levels are high, especially in the southern part of the North sea.

Areas surrounding the European Arctic seas are sparsely populated, with little industry. The major sources of pollutants and radionuclides are atmospheric long-range transport, Russian rivers, ice-drift and ocean currents. High levels of persistent organic pollutants are found in some top predators.

In the Baltic Sea, maritime traffic is intense. There is considerable transport of oil, which is likely to increase. There have been improvements in the marine environment: discharges of organo-halogen compounds from pulp industry have been reduced by nearly 90% since 1987, and concentrations of polychlorinated byphenyl (PCBs), dychlorildypheniltrichoretane (DDT), hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH) and hexechlorobenzene (HCB) have also declined – although they are still several times higher than in the open North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. Eutrophication is a serious problem due to a combination of excessive nutrients, topography, and the physical and chemical nature of the Baltic Sea. The Baltic Sea states decided in 1988 to reduce nutrients, heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants by 50% by 1995 but this common objective is not yet reached by all countries.

In the Mediterranean, there are serious problems with increasing concentrations of hydrocarbons, which contaminate water and beaches. Heavy metals and PCBs, while present, are not a major environmental threat. Eutrophication is a problem in places, and while the situation has been mitigated by the installation of urban waste-water treatment plants, much of the municipal sewage in the Mediterranean is still untreated. In the last 30 years the Black Sea has increasingly attracted the attention of scientists, governments and the public as a region suffering ecological deterioration. In the 1973-1990 period, 60 million tonnes of bottom living animals were found dead (including 5 000 tonnes of fish). These phenomena may be linked to the increase in mineral and nutrients river discharge.

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