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Coastal areas

Coastal areas function as interfaces between terrestrial and marine systems. The coastline is the physical environment where marine and terrestrial systems meet, geomorphologically varying from major indentations to long stretches of sandy beach. From a functional socio-economic perspective, the coastal zone is an area where the proximity to the coastline has a direct effect on socio-economic structures, trends and development perspectives, e.g. in terms of employment opportunities and residential attractiveness.

The project found that 23% of the ESPON space is within 45 minutes travel time of a coastline (35% of population) and 37% of the area is within 90 minutes travel time of a coastline (46% of population).


When seeking to understand how proximity to the coast influences socio-economic structures, trends and development perspectives, it seems more relevant to consider the distance of individual communities (i.e. LAU2 units) to the coast, than to define a fixed distance from the coastline. One can also consider the specific effects of contiguity and of proximity to so-called "landing points" where resources from the sea or transiting across the sea arrive. Therefore, GEOSPECS does not consider it meaningful to produce a fixed delineation of coastal zones. The objective is, on the contrary, to identify the various ranges of mobility and interaction associated with the different types of coastal effects. Two of the hypotheses to be tested are whether areas within commuting distance to the sea (45 minutes by the road) and contiguous to the sea exhibit specific socio-economic patterns.

Delineation Coast Map 1

Some Key Findings from the quantitative analysis of GEOSPECS

Coastal areas are generally perceived as desirable places to live because of their residential attractiveness, combined with the historic socio-economic development of cities around ports and landing points. In general, coastal population densities in the ESPON space are higher than inland population densities. However, these high numbers are not equally distributed along the coasts: there is a considerable variation, from very densely populated coasts to sparsely populated coasts as well as large areas of uninhabited coast.

Many coasts are host to a vast array of economic activities: shipping, transportation, heavy industry, aggregate and mineral extraction, aquaculture and fisheries, renewable energy, leisure and tourism. Economic activity along the European coastal zone, however, is highly variable. The structure of employment in coastal regions is not uniform. For example, the agricultural sector accounts for 32% of jobs in Romanian coastal regions, and only 2% in Swedish coastal regions. Coastal areas worldwide are a major tourism destination. For almost all coastal areas, where data is available, the percentage of employment in hotels and restaurants is higher for those municipalities that are directly contiguous to a coast than for those municipalities further inland (but still within commuting distance to the coast). Such patterns can be explained by the desire of tourists to spend their vacation directly or very close to the actual coastline because of the sea views and to take part in recreational activities that directly involve the sea and/or are close to the sea.

Employment German Baltic Sea coast

Hotspots of employment in the service industry in Baltic Sea Coast of Germany

As far as population ageing is concerned: a number of countries have a higher percentage of people aged 60 and over inhabiting their coastal areas compared to the entire country. Examples are most of the German coasts, the French coasts, some Spanish Atlantic Coasts, UK coasts, the Italian Mediterranean coast and the Belgium coast among others. However, in a number of coastal areas the opposite patterns is evident e.g. especially in the Outermost Regions, along some Spanish Atlantic coast and the coastal areas of the Bulgarian Black Sea. In those areas where the proportion of elderly people is high, the percentage is again highest in municipalities directly adjacent to the coast; the reasons are similar to those that attract tourists, namely the sea view, but also a certain level of services and infrastructure which ensures a certain standard of living. However, coastal areas favoured for retirement are not the coastal megacities but smaller coastal settlements, which can increase the urbanisation of an area.

These findings are just some samples from the extensive quantitative analysis that was undertaken for GEOSPECS. The entire analysis can be found in the Draft Final Scientific Report, downloadable on the ESPON website.

Photo This project is part-financed by the EU
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of the ESPON monitoring committee