IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

6.2.2 Increasing human utilisation of the coastal zone

Few of the world’s coastlines are now beyond the influence of human pressures, although not all coasts are inhabited (Buddemeier et al., 2002). Utilisation of the coast increased dramatically during the 20th century, a trend that seems certain to continue through the 21st century (Section 6.3.1). Coastal population growth in many of the world’s deltas, barrier islands and estuaries has led to widespread conversion of natural coastal landscapes to agriculture, aquaculture, silviculture, as well as industrial and residential uses (Valiela, 2006). It has been estimated that 23% of the world’s population lives both within 100 km distance of the coast and <100 m above sea level, and population densities in coastal regions are about three times higher than the global average (Small and Nicholls, 2003) (see also Box 6.6). The attractiveness of the coast has resulted in disproportionately rapid expansion of economic activity, settlements, urban centres and tourist resorts. Migration of people to coastal regions is common in both developed and developing nations. Sixty percent of the world’s 39 metropolises with a population of over 5 million are located within 100 km of the coast, including 12 of the world’s 16 cities with populations greater than 10 million. Rapid urbanisation has many consequences: for example, enlargement of natural coastal inlets and dredging of waterways for navigation, port facilities, and pipelines exacerbate saltwater intrusion into surface and ground waters. Increasing shoreline retreat and risk of flooding of coastal cities in Thailand (Durongdej, 2001; Saito, 2001), India (Mohanti, 2000), Vietnam (Thanh et al., 2004) and the United States (Scavia et al., 2002) have been attributed to degradation of coastal ecosystems by human activities, illustrating a widespread trend.

The direct impacts of human activities on the coastal zone have been more significant over the past century than impacts that can be directly attributed to observed climate change (Scavia et al., 2002; Lotze et al., 2006). The major direct impacts include drainage of coastal wetlands, deforestation and reclamation, and discharge of sewage, fertilisers and contaminants into coastal waters. Extractive activities include sand mining and hydrocarbon production, harvests of fisheries and other living resources, introductions of invasive species and construction of seawalls and other structures. Engineering structures, such as damming, channelisation and diversions of coastal waterways, harden the coast, change circulation patterns and alter freshwater, sediment and nutrient delivery. Natural systems are often directly or indirectly altered, even by soft engineering solutions, such as beach nourishment and foredune construction (Nordstrom, 2000; Hamm and Stive, 2002). Ecosystem services on the coast are often disrupted by human activities. For example, tropical and subtropical mangrove forests and temperate saltmarshes provide goods and services (they accumulate and transform nutrients, attenuate waves and storms, bind sediments and support rich ecological communities), which are reduced by large-scale ecosystem conversion for agriculture, industrial and urban development, and aquaculture (Section 6.4.2).