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The growing concern for coastal areas is one of the central issues in the environmental policies of many countries, to the extent that they already support more than half of the world population and the implementation of many activities and facilities that are logically located on the coast (fishing, aquaculture, ports, tourism, shipping, etc.), activities that are sometimes not easily compatible.

Since the approval of the US Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972 many countries started their protection and coastal management policies. And in the international instruments on the subject of the environment, the sustainability of the coast is recurrent (cf. E.g. Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 approved at the Conference of Rio de Janeiro in 1992).

“Integrated Coastal Zone Management” (also known under the acronym ICZM) aims “to balance in the long term, within the limits set by natural dynamics and the area’s load capacity, the benefits of economic development and uses of coastal areas by humans, of the protection, preservation and restoration of coastal zones, of the reduction of losses in terms of human lives and damage to property and public access and enjoyment of the coast” (J.M. BARRAGÁN). Currently, ICZM has had great scientific development and is the subject of monographs, journals, specialised courses, etc. Closely related to land management, ICZM is being introduced in public environmental policies throughout the world. In this section of the Coastal Observatory we aim to provide examples and models of ICZM and, in particular, the initiatives that are being developed in the Spanish State.

Another aspect on which this research group is focusing is maritime safety. The Prestige disaster represented a milestone in Spain’s recent history, with explicable international repercussions. It was important from an environmental and economic standpoint. It also had an impact on deep layers of collective spirit, which was shocked by the recurrence of accidents, very specially in the European Atlantic route bordering Galicia, and by the feeling of vulnerability. It was a new call to the international community and national authorities to make more decisive progress in prevention and intervention in emergencies and make them increasingly difficult to produce in a more frequently interconnected world, from which we must eliminate its negative effects. It must be acknowledged that, after a succession of disasters, the improvement of prevention mechanisms has been promoted, as well as the treatment and repair of damage. There is still a long way to go, because, to some extent, we run the risk of relaxing, after overcoming the critical moments and their immediate aftermath.

Legal institutions and Public Administrations have to adapt to new problems caused by the civilisation of risk in which we find ourselves, which logically, and increasingly urgently, calls for safety, which must be pursued hand in hand with progress and the promotion of a supportive and cooperative democracy. As recognised by the Green Paper on services of general interest presented by the Commission, “safety and protection have become a priority in Europe”, which the Prestige accident has made even more evident, as cited there.