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Oceans and Coastal Areas

Coastal threats

New calculations show that 37 percent of the world's population live within 100 kilometres of the coast (Cohen et al., 1997). Since the coastal 100 kilometre strip represents 18.7% of the total land area (27,491,108 km2 out of 146,874,796 km2)(Dao, 1998), the average human population density in coastal areas is about 80 persons per square kilometre, twice the global average. Considering that many coastlines are sparsely populated or uninhabited (Antarctica, the far North, etc.), the actual population pressure on the coast in more habitable areas is very high.

A recent global assessment of the risks of coastal degradation from development-related activities shows that 34 percent of the world's coasts are at high risk and another 17 percent at medium risk. The most threatened regions are Europe with 86 percent and Asia with 69 percent of their coastal ecosystems at risk (WRI/UNEP/UNDP/WB, 1996). The international response to this growing risk to ocean resources has been the adoption of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities at the Washington Conference in November 1995 (UNEP, 1995). New uses of the sea such as deep mineral exploitation will also create environmental impacts that need to be anticipated.


Cohen, J.E., C. Small, A. Mellinger, J. Gallup, and J. Sachs. 1997. Estimates of coastal populations. Science 278 (5341): 1211-1212.

Dao, Hy. 1998. Calculated for Earthwatch by Hy DAO, Department of Geography, University of Geneva, using ArcWorld (1:3,000,000) with horizontal distances corrected for latitude.

UNEP. 1995. Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities. UNEP(OCA)/LBA/IG.2/7.

World Resources Institute/United Nations Environment Programme/United Nations Development Programme/World Bank. 1996. World Resources 1996-97. Oxford University Press, New York and Oxford.



Emerging Issues


UNEP/DEWA/Earthwatch 1996-2003