Marine problems: Tourism & coastal development

Humans may live in almost every corner of the globe, but our favourite place is the sea. As coastlines around the world are steadily turned into new housing, holiday homes, and tourist developments, this intense human presence is taking a huge toll on marine ecosystems and species.
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Seaside resort, Tabarka, Tunisia. rel=
Seaside resort, Tabarka, Tunisia.
© WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER
Beautiful coastlines disappearing under concrete

Coastal areas are some of the most productive and biologically diverse on the planet. They're also the most densely populated: according to the UN, 60% of the world's population - more people than inhabited the entire planet in 1960 - live within 60km of the coast.

On top of this, 80% of all tourism takes place in coastal areas, with beaches and coral reefs amongst the most popular destinations.

Some of the most pressing tourism and coastal development problems are caused by:


In addition, in many cases local people do not benefit from tourism. Mass tourism often destroys local culture without contributing significantly to local income - most of the profits flow to foreign tour operators and investors. A knock-on effect can be reduced support by local people for protecting their environment.

The Mediterranean: a sea under siege

Tourist beach, Mediterranean Sea, Turkey. / ©: WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER
Tourist beach, Mediterranean Sea, Turkey.
© WWF-Canon / Michel GUNTHER

The Mediterranean region is the world's leading tourist destination - and mass tourism is one of the main causes behind ecological loss in the region.  

Of the 220 million tourists to the region every year, over 100 million flock to the beaches. In less than 20 years, the annual number of tourists visiting the area is expected to increase to 350 million.

The huge tourism infrastructure developments have dramatically altered the natural dynamics of Mediterranean coastal ecosystems. For example, more than half of the 46,000km coastline is now urbanized, mainly along the European shores. This infrastructure is a major cause of habitat loss in the region, and some locations are now beyond repair. Other problems associated with tourism include further pressure on resources such as water.

As well as destroying their environment, this tourism does not even contribute significantly to the income of local people: 2/3 of the income from Mediterranean tourism from 2001-2004 went to fewer than 10 tour operators from northern Europe.

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