Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)

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Definition of Integrated Coastal Zone Management:
Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) is a resource management system following an integrative, holistic approach and an interactive planning process in addressing the complex management issues in the coastal area [1].

This concept was borne in 1992 during the Earth Summit of Rio de Janeiro. The policy regarding ICZM is set out in the proceedings of the summit within Agenda 21, Chapter 17. The European Commission defines ICZM as “a dynamic, multidisciplinary and iterative process to promote sustainable management of coastal zones. It covers the full cycle of information collection, planning (in its broadest sense), decision making, management and monitoring of implementation. ICZM uses the informed participation and cooperation of all stakeholders to assess the societal goals in a given coastal area, and to take actions towards meeting these objectives. ICZM seeks, over the long-term, to balance environmental, economic, social, cultural and recreational objectives, all within the limits set by natural dynamics. 'Integrated' in ICZM refers to the integration of objectives and also to the integration of the many instruments needed to meet these objectives. It means integration of all relevant policy areas, sectors, and levels of administration. It means integration of the terrestrial and marine components of the target territory, in both time and space”[2].

See also Some definitions of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)
This is the common definition for Integrated Coastal Zone Management, other definitions can be discussed in the article

In many cases, existing practice is that structural, legal or institutional adjustments to coastal zone management are made only after a calamitous event has occurred. These adjustments often focus on tackling the most urgent problems without a well-considered long-term strategy. Integrated Coastal Zone Management is aimed at preventing disasters (or alleviating their impact) and at promoting sustainable development of the coastal zone, taking into account diverse interests and possible futures.

The specific character of coastal zones

A well-informed science-based coastal zone management strategy embedded in an adequate social, institutional and legal framework, can prevent many future coastal problems. This is now usually called ICZM, Integrated Coastal Zone Management. As far as the technical aspects are concerned, experienced coastal authorities are capable to overview most of the coastal engineering issues associated with the future developments of the coastal zone. However, ICZM requires a broader view of coastal issues. ICZM is a governance process for the coastal zone, which differs from usual territorial governance processes due to its specific characteristics:

  1. The coastal zone has no fixed administrative boundary; it is defined by the environmental (physical, ecological) interaction processes between the land environment and the marine environment.
  2. The coastal zone has no dedicated government; coastal zone governance is an interplay of several local, regional and national institutions with different mandates and responsibilities.
  3. The coastal zone environment (the physical and ecological state) is highly dynamic due to the interaction processes between the land environment and the marine environment.
  4. Settlements in low-lying coastal zones are very vulnerable to extreme climatic events and to the impact climate change (sea level rise, in particular).

Because of these particular characteristics many studies and experiments have been carried out for defining a coherent ICZM governance process for coastal zones. Studies and experiments for developing and implementing ICZM are listed in the category Integrated Coastal Zone Management.

Why it is difficult to put ICZM into practice

The problems with which coastal zones are confronted often have an insidious character, think, for example, of urban or touristic development, decline of biodiversity or climate change and sea level rise. When problems are perceived as urgent the situation is often already irreversibly deteriorated. Who feels responsible for a well-balanced future-proof development of the coastal zone? At national level, different interests are represented by different sectoral authorities. Local government is often the only body responsible for weighing and integrating different interests. But the means to do this are limited, because often the situation is that:

  • local authorities can be overruled by sectoral authorities on a higher governance level (region, state);
  • local authorities have little or no staff with profound knowledge of the complex interactions that take place in the coastal zone;
  • local authorities have limited financial resources for monitoring and assessment of the state of the coast and for restoration measures;
  • local authorities have limited (man)power to enforce regulations;
  • The local interests that local authorities represent are often short-term interests.

These limitations can be overcome, at least in part, by delegating more powers to local authorities and by promoting public participation and involvement of civil society organizations (NGOs) in coastal policy processes.

ICZM implementation

Figure 1. Measurable ICZM indicators proposed by the DEDUCE project [3].

The natural and social characteristics of different parts of the coastal zone can be highly diverse. Coastal zone policy can therefore be determined only partly at the national level. The primary focus at the national level is to establish a legal, institutional and administrative framework for integrated coastal zone management. Of crucial importance is the institutional embedding of the ICZM process. The institutional framework must provide the mandate and resources for the local implementation of ICZM. Implementation of ICZM requires that sufficient powers be delegated to local authorities. This can be a problem in countries with a strongly centralized governance culture.

The coastal zone is constantly evolving through natural and socio-economic processes. ICZM should therefore not consist of a one-time static plan or as a series of ad hoc actions, but must be shaped as a continuous process that goes through a fixed cycle according to the schedule:

Plan development => Implementation => Monitoring => Evaluation => Plan revision => Implementation => Monitoring => Evaluation, etc.

This cycle is implemented at both local and national level:

  • At local level, detailed concrete plans are developed and carried out (after endorsement at the national level) in consultation with all local and national stakeholders;
  • At national level, national objectives and targets are defined, local plans are integrated in a national strategy and mandate and resources are allocated for implementation.

The cycle period should be adjusted to the rate at which developments take place in the coastal zone. A cycle of one year may be too short; a cycle of 5 years or 10 years can be more appropriate. The cycle period at the local level may be shorter than at the national level.

Monitoring and evaluation are essential process steps to determine which progress has been realized in the implementation of the ICZM plan. This is only possible if measurable indicators and quantitative targets have been defined for this purpose. Defining indicators and targets is a major component of the ICZM plan process. Various examples of ICZM indicators have been described in the literature. ICZM indicators proposed by Marti et al. (2007) [3] are shown for illustration in Figure 1. Successful implementation of ICZM is highly dependent on the definition and monitoring of adequate indicators and targets.

Institutional arrangements

In small countries with a homogeneous coastal zone (natural and socio-economical), local and national level can coincide. This will not be the case for large countries with very diverse coastal zones. Both at local and national level, sufficient expertise must be available to implement the ICZM policy cycle. At the national level, a coordinating ministry must be designated that steers the policy cycle at the national level. This coordinating ministry should have internally sufficient general ICZM expertise to coordinate coast-related policies of other ministries and be capable to mobilize expertise of public and private organizations on specific topics. At the local level, a department of local government is responsible for implementation. The staff of this local department should have expertise in the fields of planning, communication, organizing public participation, administrative and technical implementation aspects and cooperation with private parties.

Complex infrastructural works and works that transcend the local scale do not fit within the aforementioned scheme. The steering of design and implementation in these cases lies with institutions at national level that are mandated for this and possess the required expertise.

The issue of climate change, which has far-reaching consequences for low-lying coastal areas, in many cases exceeds the local scale in terms of extent and complexity. A national adaptation strategy will be leading here for the development of adaptation measures on a local scale, see the Coastal Wiki article Climate adaptation policies for the coastal zone.

See also

General introductions to theory, practice and tools for ICZM can be found in the articles:

Some definitions of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)
The Integrated approach to Coastal Zone Management (ICZM)
Policy instruments for integrated coastal zone management
Shoreline management
Climate adaptation policies for the coastal zone
Multifunctionality and Valuation in coastal zones: concepts, approaches, tools and case studies
Multifunctionality and Valuation in coastal zones: introduction

Other Coastal Wiki articles related to Integrated Coastal Zone Management are listed under the category IZCM.

Further reading

There is a comprehensive bibliography on ICZM. A selection of useful documents is indicated below.

Website European Commission with information about EU strategy (EU recommendation on ICZM of 30 May 2002 (2002/413/EC)) and ICZM information platforms.

Report on the state of the environment in the coastal areas of Europe.

Assessment of European coastal erosion policies in relation to ICZM (Conscience project 2010).

Cummins, V., O Mahony, C., & Connolly, N. 2004. Review Of Integrated Coastal Zone Management & Principles Of Best Practice.

US National Coastal Zone Management Program.

IOC 2006. A handbook for measuring the progress and outcomes of integrated coastal and ocean management. Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, Manuals and Guides, 46; ICAM Dossier, 2.

DEFRA 2008. A strategy for promoting an integrated approach to the management of coastal areas in England. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

OURCOAST database (2011) with lessons learned from the coastal management experiences and practices in European countries.


  1. Thia-Eng, C. 1993. Essential elements of integrated coastal zone management. Ocean and Coastal Management 21:81-108
  2. COM(2000) 547 final
  3. 3.0 3.1 Martí, X., Lescrauwaet, A-K., Borg, M. and Valls, M. 2007. Indicators Guidelines To adopt an indicators-based approach to evaluate coastal sustainable development. Deduce project, Department of the Environment and Housing, Government of Catalonia.

The main author of this article is Job Dronkers
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Job Dronkers (2019): Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM). Available from [accessed on 21-09-2019]