You are here

Coastal Hazards

Coastal and Marine Human Uses and Benefits Research

Image of WetNZ device and cable transfer

Photo Credit: Pat Kight, Oregon Sea Grant (2012)

People receive many benefits from coastal and marine environments, whether they live near or far from the ocean. Coastal uses and benefits can be classified as social, economic, or ecological, and provide resources to both individuals and communities. Research on this topic may include assessments of value, development of new technologies, and measurements of environmental impacts of certain uses. Common human uses of the marine environment include aesthetic/cultural values, aquaculture, development/urbanization, marine renewable energy, recreation, and tourism (in alphabetical order).

  • Aesthetic and cultural values refer to socio-psychological benefits associated with ecosystems, typically as a result of visiting them. For example, people take part in wildlife or nature viewing. Spiritual and religious importance are often assigned to specific places as well.
  • Aquaculture is the practice of breeding, rearing, and harvesting of marine organisms in coastal waters and/or the open ocean for seafood, or other products. Some examples of marine aquaculture in the U.S. are oysters, clams, mussels, seaweed, salmon, and shrimp.
  • Development and urbanization along the coast is increasing with an ongoing trend of coastal migration. In general, population density tends to be higher along coasts compared to non-coastal areas. This growth in population and development place significant pressure on coastal ecosystems and their natural resources through increased use and pollution.
  • Marine renewable energy refers to using the ocean to generate electrical power. Typical sources of marine energy are wave, wind, tide, current, salinity, and thermal features. In the Pacific Northwest, wave energy may be the most promising source of power from the ocean.
  • Recreation and tourism: Coastal areas are rich in recreational opportunities. Both local residents and tourists visit these spots to participate in activities such as beachgoing, tidepooling, boating, wildlife viewing, surfing, swimming, hiking, etc. Recreation and tourism provide both social and economic benefits to coastal communities.

Oregon Research Highlights

In 2011, a study was conducted to quantify and summarize non-consumptive coastal and ocean recreation in Oregon. This work was completed as a joint project by NaturalEquity, the Surfrider Foundation, and Ecotrust. The purpose of this was to aid in planning for future uses of the Oregon coast, specifically development of marine renewable energy. The researchers used online surveys with a mapping tool to collect spatial data across large stretches of coastline. They asked Oregon citizens about visits to the coast, specific activities and areas visited and financial expenditures. By focusing on private, shore-based visits, they were able to provide a quantitative baseline of coastal visitation. A key finding from this study was that the majority of coastal trips in Oregon are non-consumptive. Click here for the full report.


Cooper, N., Brady, E., Steen, H., & Bryce, R. (2016). Aesthetic and spiritual values of ecosystems: Recognising the ontological and axiological plurality of cultural ecosystem ‘services.’ Ecosystem Services, 21, 218–229.

Neumann, B., Vafeidis, A. T., Zimmermann, J., & Nicholls, R. J. (2015). Future Coastal Population Growth and Exposure to Sea-Level Rise and Coastal Flooding - A Global Assessment. PLoS ONE, 10(3), 1–34.

Authored by Amy Ehrhart, Portland State University (2017)