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Coastal Zone Management, More Than Meets the Eye

Mark Padover,
Manager of Marine Operation,
Aqua Survey, Inc.


It is estimated that 40 percent of the world’s population lives in coastal areas. The United States alone has more than 12,000 miles of general coastline and almost 89,000 miles of tidal shoreline. The management of coastal zones and the development of ocean resources require governmental, institutional and private party involvement to be successful. Issues currently at the forefront in the field include water quality and offshore renewable energy, with problems often coming from unexpected sources.

The focus of water quality study and work in the past has been on the point source polluters, such as sewage treatment plants and industrial sites, that spill and dump their waste directly into the waterways. Their contamination is relatively easy to locate, with the responsible parties held accountable.

The modern threat to our waters comes from nonpoint source pollution. The runoff from highways, farms, streets and even residences introduces contaminants to coastal waters on a daily basis. In 1990, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) required 29 states and territories to develop Coastal Nonpoint Pollution Control Programs. In 1995, those states submitted their programs to the EPA and NOAA for review and approval. Implementation started in 2004 and has often eliminated or significantly reduced certain nonpoint source pollutants.

A little recognized yet significant nonpoint source of pollution, as discussed at the 2014 Sediment Symposium hosted by Aqua Survey, Inc. (Flemington, New Jersey) in June, is the ritualistic and homeopathic use of mercury among practitioners of the Orisha tradition religions, such as Santeria, Palo, Voodoo and Espiritismo. Its use is prevalent among thousands of people to bring good luck, cure gastrointestinal duress and even help find a spouse. Though it is a relatively small population of practitioners, relatively large amounts of mercury can be involved. In the New York/New Jersey Harbor, mercury emissions from religious and cultural use have been found to equal that of power plants in the area.

Renewable energy is another key issue for coastal management. While there are enough wind resources in the United States and Canada to meet North America’s electrical needs, they are far removed from the coastal populations that would be the prime electrical consumers.

There are vast wind resources off the United States East Coast that could meet the electrical demands of at least one-third of the country. New technologies that can generate electricity from waves, tides and currents are being developed worldwide, and the common denominator between all these solutions is the need for infrastructure and transmission networks to bring the electricity into the grid. Obstacles to making this happen are political, financial, environmental and, sometimes, explosive.

For instance, unexploded ordnance can be found in coastal waters throughout the world as a result of wartime and military activities, accidents and intentional dumping. In order to bring power ashore safely, it is necessary to conduct environmental impact and geophysical studies to understand not only the geology but to ensure the location of each monopole to be planted is safe for cable installation. Follow-up surveys are also necessary not only to inspect the condition of the cables but to insure no ordnance has migrated that has the potential to cause damage.

The old idiom “there’s so much more than meets the eye” applies to coastal management. Pollution is not just from industry; it can originate in the most unlikely of places. Obstacles to the production and distribution of renewable offshore energy can come from our historic past, buried beneath the sea. Effective coastal zone management is a complex and ever-evolving process that needs to incorporate both the obvious and obscure.

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