The Coastal Zone
Coastal zones are the ever changing frontiers between land and sea - constantly being influenced by wind, weather and tide; they are among the most dynamic and sensitive of the earth’s ocean habitats.
At 650 km in length, the coast of Northern Ireland is relatively short - yet it supports an exceptional diversity of wildlife and habitats. The coast includes biologically diverse ecosystems, and physical features that serve as critical natural defences against storms and floods. These dynamic coastal habitats also change as sea level rises. They have adapted in the past during major changes in sea level over the past 20,000 years. Coastal waters are extremely productive and they support a diverse marine ecosystem that is the life support system of our sea – many local communities make a living from the sea and maintaining it is important for the long-term economic and social sustainability of Northern Ireland’s coast. Three quarters of the length of our beautiful coastline is protected for its special conservation value and several of its coastal habitats and species are of international importance.
There is no single accepted definition of the coastal zone, particularly in terms of how far inland coastal zones reach. However, in the UK, the devolved administrations have responsibility for many issues relating to the area up to 12 nautical miles offshore. For planning purposes in Northern Ireland the seaward limit is the mean low water mark.
The coastal zone, however, cannot be isolated as a defined ‘coastal strip’ and treated as entirely separate from the land or waters. For some issues, notably pollution, the whole of Northern Ireland could be treated as the coastal zone. The boundary of the coastal zone is thus in practice a moveable one. This fact underlines the need for a flexible and pragmatic approach to coastal zone management in Northern Ireland, which integrates land use planning, and management of coastal resources with management of the Province’s resources as a whole.