Coastal areas play a crucial role in the economical, social and political development of most countries; they support diverse and productive coastal ecosystems that provide valuable goods and services. Globally flooding and coastal erosion represent serious threats along many coastlines, and will become more serious as a consequence of human-induced changes and accelerated sea-level rise. Over the past century, hard coastal defence structures have become ubiquitous features of coastal landscapes as a response to these threats. The proliferation of defence works can affect over half of the shoreline in some regions and results in dramatic changes to the coastal environment. Surprisingly little attention has been paid to the ecological consequences of coastal defence. Results from the DELOS (Environmental Design of Low Crested Coastal Defence Structures, EVK3-CT-2000-00041) project indicate that the construction of coastal defence structures will affect coastal ecosystems. The consequences can be seen on a local scale, as disruption of surrounding soft-bottom environments and introduction of new artificial hard-bottom habitats, with consequent changes to the native assemblages of the areas. Proliferation of coastal defence structures can also have critical impacts on regional species diversity, removing isolating barriers, favouring the spread of non-native species and increasing habitat heterogeneity. Knowledge of the environmental context in which coastal defence structures are placed is fundamental to an effective management of these structures as, while there are some general consequences of such construction, many effects are site specific. Advice is provided to meet specific management goals, which include mitigating specific impacts on the environment, such as minimising changes to surrounding sediments, spread of exotic species or growth of nuisance species, and/or enhancing specific natural resources, for example enhancing fish recruitment or promoting diverse assemblages for eco-tourism. The DELOS project points out that the downstream effects of defence structures on coastal processes and regional-scale impacts on biodiversity necessitate planning and management at a regional (large coastline) scale. To effectively understand and manage coastal defences, environmental management goals must be clearly stated and incorporated into the planning, construction, and monitoring stages. © 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
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