There is little doubt that science is synonymous with the understanding of the world around us and the processes that shape it. In the same vain, scientific knowledge is integral to the good management of the coastal zone (McFadden, 2007). Inherent, however, is an interesting paradox of scientific research; the understanding and knowledge derived from science is almost always reactive. This is to say that we use science to understand physical processes and impacts, but only after an event or action has caused damage. Here, the role of science in integrated coastal zone management (ICZM) is examined with regard to scientific advances in the understanding of coastal zone processes.


In recent decades, much weight has been given to researching and understanding the effects that human activity has on oceanic and coastal areas. As a result, we understand concepts such as phytoplankton blooms as a result of overfishing (Daskalov, 2002), environmental destruction as a result of scallop dredging (Natural England, 2010) and the regional effects of local coastal protection. However, all of this research has been a result of man’s actions resulting in a negative outcome. This means that all understanding of a process is gained after the damage has been done. Even large scale initiatives such as the European Marine Strategy Directive were formulated as a result of the acceptance that harm was being caused by climate change, habitat destruction and pollution (Fletcher, 2007). Science is very much contributing too little, too late.


There is little doubt that science is of great benefit to management in the coastal zone, and the fact it is successful in understanding the effects of human action is evidence enough of its worth. It is the way it is integrated that creates problems; science needs to be integrated early on in the management of the coastal zone. Scientific understanding is needed before changes in use or new policies can be considered, so that scientific research can pre-empt a problem rather than merely explain the cause of a problem. Despite wide ranging databases of attributes of the coast and understanding of the behaviour of elements in the coastal system, there is more emphasis needed to integrate this knowledge to predict the total behaviour of the coast (McFadden, 2007). This scientific knowledge, however, takes large amounts of time to develop.


The nature of ICZM means that the drivers are often large formed bodies making the decisions. This means that rather than making policy decisions, scientists are often merely only support acts for the policy makers rather than primary drivers of policy decisions (Cheong, 2008). Furthermore, merely integrating different agencies and stakeholders has hindered ICZM from the start, so integrating scientists only looks to make things more complicated (Cheong, 2008). Furthermore, the case for involving scientists in the process is being made by scientists themselves, could they merely be trying to further their own interests and argue their worth?


The demands of government and the population mean that science will always struggle to be included early on in the ICZM process. Most stakeholders and government demand results in timescales outside of that required for a good base of scientific knowledge to be formulated on a subject. For this reason, the role of science is ICZM looks to remain somewhat peripheral until such time as complete integration is achieved.


Cheong, S-M., (2008) ‘A new direction in coastal management’, Marine Policy, 32: 1090-1093
Daskalov, G. M., (2002) ‘Overfishing drives a trophic cascade in the Black Sea’, Marine Ecology Progress Series, 225: 53-63
Fletcher, S., (2007) ‘Converting science to policy through stakeholder involvement: An analysis of the European Marine Strategy Directive’,Marine Pollution Bulletin, 54: 1881-1886
McFadden, L., (2007) ‘Governing Coastal Spaces: The Case of Disappearing Science in Integrated Coastal Zone Management’, Coastal Management, 35: 429-443
Natural England (2010) ‘Evidence Base for designation of Lyme Bay and Torbay Special Area of Conservation’. Produced by Natural England.