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Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum

Use of remote sensing in wise practices for coastal management / Worldwide.

Posted By: R. Sudarshana
Date: Friday, 17 September 1999, at 2:08 p.m.

Key words: BILKO, regulations, UNESCO Chairs.


The information revolution has necessitated wise practices in environmental management since it is now possible to visualise consequences of natural succession and human actions over large spaces and long periods of time. Ironically, such an enlarged vision might also generate over- capacity that could lead to abuse and misuse of technological power if it is not judiciously managed. Therefore, wisdom mandates us to build wise capacity, wise applications and wise regulations with a view to safeguard our environmental interests for posterity. I attempt here to provide a conceptual framework for wise practices in the coastal zone in the context of the capacity being generated by remote sensing technology. It is hoped that elaboration of definitions of wise practices could lead us towards guiding coastal management activities with a sound basis grounded in sustainability.


The most general understanding of the phrase 'wise coastal practice' is that it is an activity accepted as useful and productive over a period of time and space. If an activity is repeated in time with or without some context-based modifications, or if it is emulated elsewhere under similar conditions, and if it applies to a considerably wide geographic area, it is accepted to be a wise practice. Elements of culture, society, science, policy and environment are eventually discernible as specific characteristics in such an accepted activity. When we debate on 'Can remote sensing play a role in wise coastal practices?' it is these two general features of space and time that come to the mind. Firstly, remote sensing can detect any specific character of an activity that is geographically wide. Secondly, it can detect the time component of the activity since repetitive viewing is possible. Therefore, it is not incorrect to believe at the outset that remote sensing has a direct application in studying, reporting, monitoring and many a times - testing wise practices in the coastal zone. Around the world today, there are many important applications of remote sensing that have complemented the efforts of wise coastal management.


The very first requirement is that there should be a sound social capacity to develop, sustain and ensure wise practices. This essentially means that we should have enough knowledgeable manpower, good sources of information and information analysis devices. Secondly, there should be wise methods of using the information for judicious exploitation of resources and/or management of environment. Thirdly, we ought to have enough regulations that safeguard resources and environmental sustainability. There should also be a timely and periodic mechanism to modify these regulations on the basis of a compound wisdom. These three domains, namely, knowledgeable manpower, knowledgeable applications and knowledgeable regulations form an interactive framework that could serve as the basis of wise practices in the coastal zone. Remote sensing has been found to play an important role at each of these three levels. In all, wise practices exist at the intersection of three domains, namely, capacity (human resource), applications (actual coastal activity) and regulations (governing principles). It is imperative that these three are interconnected and inter-contributory.


Information gathering has come of age with the growth of remote sensing. A number of satellites and global programmes target information on a variety of parameters. These parameters are interpretable towards an understanding of earth processes that yield resources, sustain environments and hold the key for environmental management for the common benefit of society. Information has become very highly technical over the years and the world is getting obsessed with concepts of 'accuracy' and 'precision.? We ought to realise that the technology is an important tool today in generating information of social relevance. There are dozens of satellites today in orbit with a diverse variety of sensors, each one promising some application or the other in the coastal zone. Likewise, there are a number of global programmes that promote satellite- based information gathering, specifically GOOS, Earth science enterprise (NASA), Earth Observation Systems (India), European Remote Sensing programme (ESA), etc. There are global and regional programmes like IGBP-LOICZ, UNEP-GEF, UNESCO-CSI, UN/CSD-SIDS etc. which in one way or the other promote remote sensing research for academic excellence as well as for social relevance.

In the broad general domain of coastal management, there have been a number of initiatives for knowledge dissemination by in situ and ex situ methods. UNESCO has in the past conducted several international programmes of training in remote sensing for coastal management in Kenya, Senegal, Saudi Arabia and Tanzania. Scientists have been drawn from various backgrounds so that the message of remote sensing application can address every significant social purpose. Realising the need to increase the number of knowledgeable persons by way of virtual teaching, UNESCO has also embarked upon a novel initiative called BILKO wherein a large number of remote sensing based lessons for coastal environment have been put together and circulated around the world. BILKO may be termed as one of very few operational wise practices of virtual knowledge dissemination in coastal management. UNESCO has also established a network of pilot projects and UNESCO chairs around the world under whose umbrella, coastal research activities of broad social relevance are taken up. Several of the activities are taking the help of remote sensing.


Wise coastal activities evolve around resource identification, resource exploitation, environmental management, services and surveillance. These are activities in which there is direct social dependence, social influence and social benefit. Under the 'wise practices' yard stick, these activities must be amenable to cultural respect, transferability, participation, human rights, sustainability, consensus, long-term benefit, etc. These are tough measures that can only be satisfied if an activity is based on a sound foundation of mature information and applied knowledge of environmental processes and resources. Remote sensing is one very good way of providing such information especially since the information is devoid of human bias. The information is also reasonably accurate and temporally-spatially relevant. With the kind of continuous, regular and periodic earth viewing we now have, satellite data is easily a source of past and present events while being a reliable future source. With this character of temporal continuity, measures such as 'culturally respectful, transferable, sustainable and long-term benefit' are addressed satisfactorily. Therefore, remote sensing is undoubtedly a part of wise practices in coastal management.

In today's world of rapidly advancing remote sensing scenario, there are a number of possible wise applications in the coastal zone. Some have proven useful, some are being tested on the anvil of time and some are being conceptualised. However, commitment and caution must always accompany the remote sensing applications since inefficiency may easily give rise to misinterpretations of satellite data.


Coastal regulations are the instruments to enforce wisdom that is time tested and accumulated on the basis of past successes and failures. Formulating the rules, modifying them as and when the need arises, and enforcing them as well as monitoring whether they are complied with - are the only options available to us to ensure that a socially and environmentally sustainable coastal activity is initiated and promoted. Regulations are an instrument to evaluate and establish the character of a punishable act. Remote sensing comes in very useful in this endeavour. Formulation, enforcement and timely modifications of coastal zone regulations with the help of information extracted through remote sensing could very well become a valuable activity in the future, especially in those parts of the world that are endowed with enviable environmental resources coupled with remoteness. The knowledge with which regulations are formulated and the earnestness with which they are practised will become the key elements that determine the success of our passage towards a sustainable and hospitable state of the planet. Remote sensing has a very important role to play in this direction due to its capability of providing global and local information alike. With a tool like this, it should be possible to both think and act globally and locally, which we presume is 'wise.'


Wise practices in the coastal zone emerge from transitional and cumulative knowledge climbing continuously over small steps. The preparations that result in wise coastal management are slow as they involve individuals, environment, societies, science, technology and common sense - all of which gradually mature without an upper limit. Patience, perseverance, commitment and caution underline all our good efforts. The path to wise practices and sustainable operationalisation of coastal management started way back in ages and is passing beyond us below our feet. Remote sensing is a new pair of shoes for a better grip and a youthful run.

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