Coastal zones are complex places. They are physically dynamic, subject to multiple resource demands, carry risk for risk for coastal populations, and are ecologically very important. The coasts of Central and Eastern Europe face particular challenges related to the management of spatial resources at the coast, including population growth, increased tourism pressure, economic restructuring, and a legacy of pollution. The complexity of coastal zones makes them inherently difficult to manage, however, good quality and timely information can assist better decisions. This places a particular importance on managing information for those tasked with making important decisions about coastal areas.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are decision-support systems, which can be used in the management of spatial resources. GIS reflect many of the underlying principles of ICM; GIS is interdisciplinary, holistic and facilitates integration of data and interests. GIS are increasingly seen as a key tool in the preparation, delivery and monitoring of ICM programmes. The use of GIS within ICM programmes offers several benefits, in particular:
- a convenient technology to store and manage large sets of spatial data
- an effective tool to identify spatial relationships and patterns
- a recognised methodology to assist in decision-making
- a mechanism for the production of high quality maps
More generally, GIS can facilitate improved use of information to inform management decisions. For example, in a coastal management programme in the Strymonikos and Ierissos Gulfs, Greece, it was commented that "good knowledge of the environmental, social, economic and administrative features of the area to be managed is the first essential step in planning integrated management and sustainable development" (Go to the Strymonikos practice example)
Specific uses for GIS in ICM programmes might include:
- conflict mapping
- development planning
- hazard management
- Environmental Impact Assessment
- public participation
In fact, a GIS can be used to assist in any situation in which spatial data is important.
However, GIS also have inherent problems, which need to be addressed by GIS users to avoid misleading analysis. Typical problems might include:
- Collecting accurate spatial data
- Deciding on the format of data
- Entering the data into the GIS
- Maintaining data quality
- Integrating a GIS into a decision-making process
GIS therefore have much to offer to the coastal manger, but in order for GIS output to be useful, the user needs to have an understanding of how GIS works and how the strengths of GIS can be maximised and the weaknesses minimised for any given study.