Human Settlements on the Coast

The ever more popular coasts

Historically, cities have been located on coastlines because there are many transport, food and ecological benefits. Products - and therefore money - traditionally flows into countries through their ports. This has set a precedence for populations to naturally migrate towards coastal areas. Eight of the top ten largest cities in the world are located by the coast.

Top Ten Largest Cities:

  1. Tokyo, Japan (coastal)
  2. Mexico Cisty, Mexico
  3. Mumbai, India (coastal)
  4. Sáo Paulo, Brazil
  5. New York City, USA (coastal)
  6. Shanghai, China (coastal)
  7. Lagos, Nigeria (coastal)
  8. Los Angeles, USA (coastal)
  9. Calcutta, India (coastal)
  10. Buenos Aires, Argentina (coastal)

In 1999 the world population hit six billion people -- nearly tripling in one century. In 2010, the global population surpassed over 6.8 billion and on course to increase to ten billion by 2030. And, in a historic turning point, there are more urban than rural dwellers.

44 % of the world's population (more people than inhabited the entire globe in 1950) live within 150 kilometers of the coast. In 2001 over half the world's population lived within 200km of a coastline. The rate of population growth in coastal areas is accelerating and increasing tourism adds to pressure on the environment. One example of this incredible growth is Casablanca whose population soared from 600 in 1839 to 29,000 in 1900, and to almost 5 million today. The United States has clearly mapped its population expansion where around 53% of the population lives near the coast and where, since 1970, there have been 2000 homes per day erected in coastal areas. In China alone, where the urban population is expected to increase by over 125% in the next 25 years, over 400 million live on the coast.

With more people crowding into coastal areas, the greater the pressure on both land and sea. Natural landscapes and habitats are altered, overwhelmed and destroyed to accommodate growing populations. Lagoons and coastal waters are 'reclaimed', wetlands are drained and covered with rubbish, the floodplains around estuaries are built over and reduced, and mangroves and other forests are cut down. Ecosystems are damaged, frequently lost forever. Fish stocks, fresh water, soils and beach sands are often overexploited, at great economic and ecological cost.

Increasing volumes of waste, particularly sewage, are sluiced out into coastal waters; this can cause eutrophication and endanger public health. Rubbish is often dumped on important habitats, like wetlands and mangroves; they are destroyed, and contaminants leach from the rubbish into coastal waters. The waste itself is increasingly getting into the sea, either by accident or design. Coastal areas are some of the most productive and biologically diverse on the planet. Of the 13,200 known species of marine fish, almost 80% are coastal. The world's oceans play a crucial role in maintaining the health of the planet's ecosystems and serve as a valuable current and future food source for humankind. The oceans provide the only means of subsistence for many communities around the world, particularly the expanding coastal populations.

Ironically, the great wealth of coastal areas, whether in terms of fishing, tourism, international trade, or natural resources, is what attracts these abundant populations, making them the seeds of its own destruction.

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