Exploring coastal spaces : towards linking social and ecological systems.
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Coastal zone definitions are typically guided by the presence of absolute demarcations. As a result, the coastal zone becomes confined to, and identified as, an absolute space. This research challenges the ‘fixed’ nature of the coastal zone and suggests that there are a wide range of relational spaces that overlap and engage with each other to form the coastal space. These spaces and their sphere of influence extend beyond the ‘boundaries’ of what is legally defined as the coastal zone. Multiple coastal spaces have been identified based upon coastal stakeholder perceptions of what is relevant to the management of the coastal zone. Although there is a place for the absolute manner in which coastal zones are defined, definitions founded on absolute parameters tend not only to create a fixed abstract space, but they also naturalize a geographical construct to an unhelpful scale in terms of the functioning of coastal socio-economic and environmental systems. The absolute manner in which the coastal zone is defined and the reduced scale at which such a definition and the associated legislation is directed, severs and discounts, both temporarily and spatially, the influences of relational spaces that function at broader scales. The complication arises when the influences of such spaces are enmeshed within and beyond that legally defined coastal space. The legal definition and the associated legislation, in essence, attempts to address and solve issues occurring within the legal space, but disregards causative mechanisms that may lie outside of that legal space. This study suggests that a broader scaled and more holistic approach to defining the coastal zone, namely a system characterized by flows of interrelated spaces, will enable higher levels of sustainability to be achieved.