Coastal land use and land cover changes, emphasizing the alterations of coastal lagoons, were assessed in northwest Mexico using satellite imagery processing. Supervised classifications of a Landsat series (1973–1997) and the coefficients Kappa (K) and Tau (τ), were used to assess the area and verify the accuracy of the classification of six informational classes (urban area, aquatic systems, mangrove, agriculture, natural vegetation, and aquaculture). Pixel-by-pixel change detection among dates was evaluated using the Kappa Index of Agreement (KIA). Besides the overall estimation of the aquatic systems class, variations in the three lagoons present in the study area were analyzed individually. Measures of agreement between the classification and reference data indicate that the accuracy for the classification ranked from moderate to high (K = 0.76 ± 0.07; τ = 0.77 ± 0.06). From 1973 to 1997 urban area has doubled, growing to the north and the northeast, extending mainly over natural vegetation and agricultural land. La Escopama and El Sabalo, two of the lagoons studied, reduced their size to less than half that estimated in 1973, but the main estuarine system in the study area, Estero de Urias - El Infiernillo, has maintained its area without noticeable changes. However, the surrounding landscape in Estero de Urias - Infiernillo is changing from natural vegetation and agriculture to urban land use. Consequently, to limit as much as possible changes in the area to natural causes, some management measures must be considered to design urban development plans and to recover and preserve the natural areas, on a broad scale rather than a local spatial scale.
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