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Coastal Waters of the World
Posted: 18 Oct 2000

by Don Hinrichsen
Island Press, Washington DC, 1998, $60hb

"Our coastal areas are suffering from gigantism," a civil servant from Bombay tells author Don Hinrichsen. "They are becoming like Frankenstein monsters: They are too big and out of control for us to manage." This fear of the current plight of the planet's coasts as the global population migrates to where water meets land is the thread running through this book.

Don Hinrichsen is not a scientist or economist. But he is a first-rate working journalist. In that role he explores the state of our coasts today, how they came to be in that condition, and the future challenges and complexities of managing their resources. Hinrichsen delivers a call for attention to the pressures being inflicted on coastal resources that is clear and compelling to any reader.

The author bolsters his presentation with demographics and statistics that make the case for the need for immediate action to sustain coastal resources. He does this without overwhelming the reader or neglecting the need to substantiate the anecdotal claims of his many sources and interviewees. He has travelled extensively, and done the legwork required to bring the real voice of coastal residents into play to create an on-the-scene vision of living on the edge.

This epitomised by his prologue on the island-dwelling Kuna Indians of San Blas, Panama. These effective de facto coastal managers have long recognised the value of the resources that surround them, and succeeded in working to sustain their use. This stewardship effort has been accomplished in the face of substantial outside pressures, including direct confrontation with the government of Panama itself.

Hinrichsen emphasises the need for such local ownership of coastal management efforts - hopefully in combination with top-level policy guidance - the necessity of an informed process of governance, and the benchmarking and evaluation of coastal projects as key strategies to effective management. He also calls upon his colleagues in the media to take responsibility to help disseminate knowledge about coastal issues.

By breaking down the main body of the book into an evaluation of the coasts along the world's regional seas, Hinrichsen provides a logical and concise way to compare and contrast past and ongoing efforts in coastal management. Combined with the tightly - focused case studies, this body of information allows the author to lay out the bigger picture-one which drives his summary recommendations. These identify the need for global alliances that weave together current management initiatives worldwide.

Coastal Waters of the World provides an excellent overview of the variety and value of the world's coastlines, and the effort to ensure their qualities are not forever lost. Coastal professionals are often asked by laymen what they are attempting to do. The practitioners frequently have a difficult time providing a clear response to this question of "What's the problem?" If that inquisitive person really wants to know, this is the book to hand them.

Reviewer: Lynne Zeitlin Hale
Lynne Hale is Associate Director of the Coastal Resources Center at the University of Rhode Island, USA, and has led the Center's field projects in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania and Mexico, among other international and US sites.

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