Editor’s note: The following essay represents the authors’ abridgement of several related research papers that appear in a special issue of the journal Ocean & Coastal Management, published July 2005 (Volume 48, pp. 205-483). The papers present the findings of a three-year project to assess the sustainability of integrated coastal management programs in Indonesia and the Philippines. Patrick Christie, an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Marine Affairs, USA, was project leader. Nicole Milne, Risa Oram, Leila Sievanen, Joel Simonetti, and Monika Thiele were project assistants.

All papers from the special issue of Ocean & Coastal Management are available in PDF format at http://www.sma.washington.edu/Research/ICM_pubs/index.html. The website also provides a link to a workbook on making integrated coastal management more sustainable.

By Patrick Christie, Nicole Milne, Risa Oram, Leila Sievanen, Joel Simonetti, and Monika Thiele
University of Washington School of Marine Affairs

The process of integrated coastal management (ICM), which often involves the creation of community-based MPAs, is designed to help make rational decisions on conservation and use of resources in a given area. While definitions vary, ICM consists of a multi-sectoral planning process that balances economic development with environmental management. To ensure the decisions are respected by the community – and are thereby effective over time – ICM usually seeks the active and sustained involvement of stakeholders in decision-making.

ICM has frequently been implemented in a developing nation context: the model attempts to address the complex issues that span fishery declines, pollution, deforestation, and habitat degradation, among other challenges. In Southeast Asia, ICM was introduced two decades ago by foreign institutions, and has been applied through a tremendous expenditure of effort, involving hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid and expertise. In the context of the Philippines and Indonesia – our research project’s focal countries – several factors have likely elevated the importance to stakeholders of participatory and conflict-resolution processes, including general cynicism toward government and the high reliance of coastal communities on coastal and marine resources.

In these countries, much has been accomplished through ICM. This includes considerable environmental improvement in locales like Bunaken National Park (Indonesia), and the fact that more than 100 municipalities and cities in the Philippines have adopted some form of ICM – totaling one-sixth of the nation’s coastline. Nonetheless, as demonstrated by worsening coral reef conditions and/or declining catch-per-unit-effort in several ICM sites, improvements are not guaranteed.

What makes some ICM projects succeed while others fail? And how can sustainability be assured after foreign aid funds and personnel leave at project’s end? Our team examined nine project sites for factors influencing the sustainability of ICM planning processes over time. Among our findings:

  • Early involvement and participation by stakeholders in ICM are influenced by perceptions of initial and future project benefits. This involvement enhances the likelihood that ultimate benefits will be those desired by the target population. Over time, the improvement of economic and environmental conditions fosters ICM success and sustainability: achievement of benefits stimulates continuing involvement, thus sustaining the ICM process. Importantly, it takes both community involvement and the achievement of desired benefits to effect ICM sustainability.
  • The links between environmental improvement and motivation to support ICM appear to be strong for self-described environmentalists and coastal-dependent business owners (e.g., dive tourism brokers). Most coastal inhabitants expect environmental improvement through ICM, particularly via increased and sustained fish yields and the meeting of basic needs. Interestingly, resource user perceptions of environmental conditions do not always correlate with scientific observations from the field, thus suggesting that both should be included in research. Perceptions, while sometimes dismissed as ungrounded and inconsequential, underpin actions by donors, decision makers, and resource users.
  • Management processes are undermined by the absence of robust institutions to ensure equitable distribution of benefits among and within multiple stakeholder groups, including fishing communities and tourism operators. There should be conflict-resolution mechanisms available to resolve inevitable tensions. Poorly managed conflict can result in further marginalization of resource user groups, cynicism regarding resource management, and, eventually, declining environmental conditions.
  • Institutional and legal frameworks that mandate governance reform are lagging behind the pace of ICM project evolution. In the Philippines, laws that would encourage sustainable resource use are increasingly adopted and enforced at local levels, but remain underdeveloped at the national level. Some laws and policies developed at the national level have contradicted successful local initiatives. There are few clear incentives for networks of national institutions to adopt ICM as an overarching framework and to collaborate across sector lines. In both countries, the divisions between municipal and national agencies and among various national agencies limit the expansion of ICM across these institutional boundaries.
  • Short project time horizons are not conducive to sustained ICM processes beyond project termination. The development of a clear direction and effective staff requires approximately 2-3 years. The most recent Philippine ICM project, the Coastal Resource Management Project, “reached its stride” and accomplished a tremendous amount in years 3-7 of an 8-year effort. New ICM projects, even those sponsored by donors with previous ICM-supporting experience, usually focus on new sites. The rationale behind site changes is not always clear.
  • While perceived as valuable by national and local leaders and NGOs, ICM will not likely become a government budget line item on par with health, education, and poverty reduction. Experiments in establishing internally generated financing are important examples of sustainability. Diver fee collection systems in both countries have the potential to support protected areas. Management of these financial resources needs to be consistent, efficient, transparent, and equitable.
  • The successes of individual ICM efforts can often be traced directly to relatively small groups of committed individuals who have dedicated their careers to this effort. Investment in capacity development in project staffs, local and national agencies and NGOs are resources well-spent. The development of capable staffs and institutional linkages is a slow process requiring years of attention. If ICM program sites are to be changed, the maintenance of a cadre of dedicated ICM experts from project to project, as in the case of the Coastal Resource Management Project or the Fisheries Improved for Sustainable Harvests project (http://www.oneocean.org), is essential. One policy reform worth considering is for donors to make long-term commitments to particular international and national practitioners of ICM in developing countries (similar to the Pew Fellowships for Marine Conservation offered by the Pew Charitable Trusts).


While conditions worsen at many project sites and ICM is rarely self-sustaining, this does not necessarily indicate the failure of this management model nor suggest that divestment is an appropriate policy response. Rather, it indicates the sporadic commitment to ICM by national and international entities, the challenging contexts, and the potential areas for improvement in project design. Our research demonstrates that participative, rewarding, and just ICM processes, conducted in a supportive legal and institutional context, are capable of improving environmental conditions while maintaining services to society. ICM represents an appropriate middle ground between those advocating mainly for social and economic justice and those primarily concerned with environmental preservation. Now that ICM is part of the coastal management scenario in Indonesia and Philippines, let us learn from and build on this model.

For more information

Patrick Christie, School of Marine Affairs, University of Washington, 3707 Brooklyn Ave. NE, Seattle, WA 98105, USA. Tel: +1 206 685 6661; E-mail: patrickc@u.washington.edu