All along our coasts, plants, animals and people live side by side, existing in a delicate ecosystem that’s home to 90% of the Earth’s marine species.
Coastal seas are the parts of the ocean that exist within 230km of land, and whilst these relatively shallow waters might not seem very far away from us, they are teaming with life.
Just a few miles off our coast there’s a world that exists, filled with birds, seals, whales, dolphins, sharks, and numerous other species. In fact, 95% of all marine production on the planet happens here.
A stone’s throw away, back on dry land, these coastal areas are home to over a billion people globally, making them some of the most densely populated on Earth.
The physical characteristics of our coastal regions are constantly changing. Storms, tides and other natural occurrences can cause vast changes in the landscape, whilst human activities like the building of ports, seawalls or infrastructure can change the way our coasts look forever.
Even with all the changes that we see along our coasts, one thing is clear: these diverse and incredibly rich habitats will remain a key destination for adventurers, conservationists, and those looking to explore what’s underneath the surface for a long time to come - so protecting them should be something that we’re all extremely conscious of.
• Sand or pebble beaches
• Sea cliffs
• Coral reefs
• Salt marshes
• Neritic zones (shallow water off the edge of the continental shelf, up to 200m deep)
Threats to coastal regions, unfortunately, are a reality. In fact, coasts are some of the most threatened environments on Earth - largely due to climate change, as well as human factors.
Rising sea levels due to climate change have the potential to lead to increased flooding and further coastal erosion. Areas that lay below sea level are most at risk.
Other threats to coastal regions come from rapid urbanisation and infrastructure building, and tourism that is badly managed. Loss of coastal habitats and natural resources are likely consequences of this. These events are likely to have the biggest impact on communities that rely on coastlines for the economy, for example fishing communities.
Heading to the coast brings to mind a wealth of glorious images: brightly coloured coral reefs hiding just below the surface, sunshine bouncing off looming coastal cliffs, whales breaching a couple of miles off-shore. A coastal trip might include opportunities for rock-climbing, watersports and hikes along breezy sea paths, as well as opportunities to spot often-elusive wildlife hiding between the mangroves or flying low over salt marshes. Afternoons could be spent exploring shady caves or secluded coves, or indulging in a life-affirming drive - think South Africa’s Garden Route, or Australia’s Great Ocean Road. There’s a reason why people have been exploring coasts for centuries: because they provide a soothing escape from the realities of urban life. Read on for more inspiration ahead of your coastal adventure…
The coast is a go-to for explorers and those chasing adventure, so it’s not a secret that they’re often packed with stunning natural features. From coral reefs to coastal cliffs to white sand beaches that stretch for miles against calm blue sea, the Earth’s coasts offer an almost unlimited number of vistas. Here are some that we’re just itching to explore…
Whilst coastlines make up less than 10% of the world’s land, they contain 28% of its biological diversity. Animals found at the coast include seals, whales, turtles, sea otters, crabs, dolphins, sharks, and numerous types of fish. Birds you might be able to spot at the coast include gulls, terns, curlews, peregrine falcons and redshanks. Don’t forget your binoculars.
There are lots of plants, grasses and trees that have adapted to saltwater conditions and now have the ability to grow along the coast. They are often grey or light green, as they’ve adapted over thousands (or millions) of years to reflect the sunlight that’s often found in coastal regions. This helps them to avoid drying out. Plants you might find along the coast include sea holly, marram and pampas grass, gorse, pine trees, sea sandwort, and various types of seaweed.
It goes without saying that some countries have many thousands more miles of coastline than others. Whether a country has a significant coastline can influence its tourism, its ecology, the animals and plants that call it home, and much more. If countries have lots of islands this can increase the number of coastlines that they have, too. The countries with the largest coastlines in the world are (in ascending order) Canada, Indonesia, Greenland, Russia, The Philippines, Japan, Australia and Norway.