Some 37% of the world’s population lives within 100 km of the coast, at a population density twice the global average. Heavy population pressure on the coasts is causing more and more of the natural environment to be paved over or converted into ports, tourist beaches, and new communities.
In spite of their value and productivity, coastal wetlands are favourite sites development. Refineries, power stations, home builders, aquaculture installations, marinas and tourist facilities compete for ever-shrinking space.
Coastal development often entails dredging up bottom sediments and/or the wholesale cutting of mangrove forests and other habitat to reshape the shoreline. This alters local current patterns, and interferes with normal sediment transport. The result is severe erosion of beaches and excessive sedimentation. Entire benthic habitats such as seagrass beds are destroyed, while corals and other marine invertebrates – particularly delicate filter feeders – are killed.
A recent global assessment of the risks of coastal degradation from development-related activities shows that 34% of the world's coasts are at high risk and another 17% at medium risk. The most threatened regions are Europe with 86% and Asia with 69% of their coastal ecosystems at risk.
The pressures of coastal development are faced by all of the Regional Seas, many of which address them through programmes for integrated coastal zone management [link] and the promotion of environmentally sound tourism.
The Wider Caribbean is one of the Regional Seas where tourism is a mainstay of the economy. In 1996, the Caribbean Environment Network (CEN) Project was implemented by the Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP) as a joint venture with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The goal of the CEN Project was to improve environmental quality and coastal and marine natural resource protection by promoting the use of environmentally sound practices by the tourism industry.
The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) has been associated with a project to develop an integrated strategy for sustainable tourism for Samoa, along with a set of indicators for monitoring the country’s progress.