Coastal Development

It is important to know what ecosystem goods and services will be affected by coastal development or management and how these goods and services create value for different members of society. Read more about the value of ecosystem services from NOAA.

The following economic studies have been undertaken to estimate the economic value of oceans sector in each Atlantic Province:

What is the price of ecosystem services?

Not covered in the provincial economic value studies above, although sometimes mentioned, is the economic value of ecosystem goods and services provided by coastal and ocean ecosystems. Communities must often choose between competing uses of the coastal environment and the myriad goods and services provided by healthy, functioning ecosystems.

Should this shoreline be cleared and stabilized to provide new land for urban development, or should it be restored to its natural state to serve as wildlife habitat? Should that wetland be drained and converted to agriculture, or should more wetland area be created to provide water filtration services?

To choose from these competing options, it is important to know what ecosystem goods and services will be affected by coastal development or management and how these goods and services create value for different members of society.

Topics related to Coastal Development

How can we ensure enough public access to the coast?

Public coastal access is about people’s ability to view, reach, and move along the shoreline of both the mainland and nearby islands. In Nova Scotia, access to the coast provides valued recreational space for residents and visitors. It also supports local economic development, particularly for the tourism industry. In Nova Scotia the public has expressed concern about changes in land ownership and increased development in coastal areas. This is particularly true for those areas that have had more pressure from population growth and higher levels of development.


Specific issues include whether the public can: 

• view or physically use the coast

• pass over land legally to reach the coast

• access coastal lands from the water

• afford to access the coast through fees or other expenses

• use coastal areas without placing undue stress on ecosystems


The public gains access to the coast through privately and publicly owned land, and through trail networks developed over both these types of land.


Access through publicly owned land

Public access in many areas is reached through public, or government-owned, land. With few exceptions, the strip of land between low and high tide is Crown land, and is an asset for the public to enjoy and explore. Public access to the coast is normally available through Crown land, harbours, public road rights-of-way, historic sites, and through national, provincial, and municipal parks. But not all publicly owned land is accessible to the general public. For example, some public land may be restricted to protect natural ecosystems or to allow for licensed extraction of natural resources, such as mining or forestry.


All National Parks in Atlantic Canada provide public access to the coast. Map courtesy of the Atlas of Canada


Access through privately owned land 

The public can also access the coast across privately owned land. They can ask for permission or pay the land owner. They can pay for a service provided on private coastal land, such as renting a hotel room and accessing the beach through hotel property.


People can also purchase coastal property, ensuring private access for their families and guests.


Coastal development can make access difficult, and it’s happening more frequently along roads or highways running parallel to oceanfront lots. As more lots are subdivided and land is developed, areas of the coast that people have traditionally and informally accessed have become more restricted.


Trail networks

Views across private property are another way that the public can access the coast, and views from roads and trails are generally plentiful. But restriction of views is an issue in urban centres like Halifax, where most of the tall buildings are built.


Trails throughout the province also provide access to coastal views, beaches, and wetlands. Community trail associations and the Trans Canada Trail system work with all levels of government to develop, maintain, and promote individual and broader trail networks. Formal trails are relatively new to the region, but more are being developed than ever before. They ensure access to many different locations, including the coast.

Segments of the Trans-Canada Trail can be found at Trans-Canada Trail website.


In Nova Scotia there are the following information gaps:

  • No record of public access points that is comprehensive or consistently maintained, making it difficult to create an overall picture of provincial trends and the status of coastal access.
  • No inventory of permitted pathways across private land. 


The status or importance of these places for coastal access must be determined. Much of the conflict and public concern is about informal access across privately owned land. Many traditional pathways have been reduced or cut off as more land is developed and land owners no longer grant permission to cross their land. 

Note: The text for this article relies heavily on the Nova Scotia State of the Coast Public Access Fact Sheet, which is no longer available online.The Nova Scotia Government is currently conducting consultation on Coastal Protection Legislation. Follow this link to learn more from the consultation document and submit a survey.


Provincial Links 

Nova Scotia's Fact Sheet on Public Coastal Access

New Brunswick Coastal Areas Protection Policy

"appropriate public access to coastal areas is secured for public purposes" was a recognized operating principle of the 2002 proposed policy 

The Newfoundland and Labrador Discussion Paper on their Coastal and Ocean Management Strategy

recognizes the Department of Environment and Conservation's responsibility for "conserving natural areas and providing the public with opportunities for access and recreation".

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador also recognizes that a provincial coastal land use plan is needed and that is should apply to land use throughout the province, ensuring public access to coastal Crown Land and limiting nearshore development.


Other Links

We All Share the Coast: A Workshop on Coastal Access 7 May 2009

The Canadian Institute of Planners defines planning as the “scientific, aesthetic, and orderly disposition of land, resources, facilities and services with a view to securing the physical, economic and social efficiency, health and wellbeing of urban and rural communities”.

Source: Prince Edward Island: Land use planning


Land-use planning is an essential element in the integrated management of Canada’s coastal zone as human usage of land and water invariably results in impacts to the environment. For planning in the coastal zone - a broad region including watersheds and lands bordering the ocean, as well as the coastal ocean itself - this means looking at and involving social, economic, political and environmental elements.


Community involvement and public education are important tools in coastal planning. Many land-use issues may be best approached using planning approaches that involve or educate the public. Community involvement gives property owners an opportunity for input into management decisions regarding land-use, improves communication and increases environmental awareness of agencies, governments, non-government organizations and the community.

Source: A Guide to Land Use Planning in Coastal Areas of the Maritime Provinces


The 2003 report “A Guide to Land Use Planning in Coastal Areas of the Maritime Provinces” from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans provides a comprehensive guide to land use planning in the Maritimes. Among things covered in the report are overviews of common coastal ecosystems, tools used in land use planning, coastal structures and more.


There are many tools that can be used to facilitate land use planning. In one project from the Ecosystem-Based Management Tools Network, three tools are evaluated for interoperability, and how they can be used in coordinating development and conservation goals.


When development ventures beyond the coastline, marine spatial planning becomes an important tool, serving a similar purpose as land use planning. For more information about marine spatial planning and ecosystem-based management, check out the ICOM Methods page.


Information about land use planning can be found from various municipalities throughout the four Atlantic Provinces:


Provincial Information:


Land Use and Climate Change

With the impending impacts of climate change on coastal areas such as sea-level rise and severe storms, attention is being directed towards how land use planning may better equip communities to face such changes. The “Spatial Planning in Coastal Regions: Facing the Impact of Climate Change” report from the International Federation of Surveyors highlights the core issues of coastal adaptation to climate change and discusses the impacts of climate change on spatial planning in coastal regions. For more information about climate change adaptation, check out the Atlantic Climate Adaptation Solutions Association or theAdaptation theme page.


Links on this page:

Tourism in coastal communities is an important part of the economies of all four Atlantic Provinces.  With many internationally renowned attractions, Atlantic Canada benefits from many thousands of direct and indirect jobs along with billions of dollars in revenue from visitors arriving from around the world. In Nova Scotia, tourism is a $1.82 billion industry, contributing to the $646 million provincial gross domestic product (see more Nova Scotia Tourism Industry Facts, also see New Brunswick Tourism Indicators Summary Report 2013).


There are many tourism resources available from the four Atlantic Provinces, from how to plan your trip, to industry information:


Sustainability and Ecotourism

More often than not, it is the natural beauty of a coastal destination or the community that surrounds it that makes it sought out by tourists. As such, the health and endurance of coastal ecosystems and communities must be a priority to ensure the sustainability of the destination. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has released the Sustainable Coastal Tourism handbook to explain how the tourism sector can coordinate effectively in the overall development of coastal zones and contribute to the long-term sustainability of these areas.  In 2006, the Nova Scotia Strategy for Sustainable Coastal Tourism Development was submitted by the Nova Scotia Vision for Tourism Team. National Geographic’s Centre for Sustainable Destinations offers sustainable tourism resources for travelers and members of the industry, as well as a guide to sustainable travel destinations around the world.


Sustainability is especially important in the growing field of ecotourism.  Ecotourism involves nature-based tourism where the goal of both tourists and the operator is the observation, appreciation and preservation of nature and traditional cultures. Ecotourism ideally helps protect natural areas by bringing economic benefits and new jobs to local communities through preservation efforts. Ecotourism includes many outdoor activities, attractions and wildlife-sighting that Atlantic Canada is famed for.

Source: Atlantic Canada Ecotourism


Tourism in Marine Environments is an interdisciplinary journal dealing with a variety of management issues in marine settings. It is a scientific journal that draws upon the expertise of academics and practitioners from various disciplines related to the marine environment, including tourism, marine science, geography, social sciences, psychology, environmental studies, economics, marketing, and many more.


Links on this page:

Working waterfronts in Atlantic Canada are sites or facilities used for ocean-dependent activities and businesses. The waterfronts provide services and physical access to the sea. These facilities have always been the traditional lifeblood of our coastal communities, and while this is still true for many coastal areas, the situation is changing in some places. The social and economic well-being of many of these communities has been threatened by the decline of many fishery resources and shifts in the provincial economy. Other coastal communities have thrived, mainly due to the growth of other industries including tourism, offshore oil and gas, and aquaculture.


How do we support our working waterfronts?

As many communities shifted from fisheries-based jobs to other livelihoods, the federal government changed who was responsible for many of the waterfront facilities. Over a period of 15 years, the federal government divested many of these facilities, either by selling them or by giving up their management. The government sold some of the larger ports in Atlantic Canada outright, as well as some of the smaller harbours, but kept ownership of the majority of the smaller harbour facilities. While the federal government continues to own and fund those, it has handed over much of the day-to-day operations and maintenance to municipalities, local community groups, and the private sector.


Local management of harbour facilities has its benefits, but it can also pose significant challenges for the local groups that operate and maintain the facilities. Additional challenges come from major changes taking place in many coastal communities across the province. These include changes in demographics such as age and household income, and in population due to migration from rural to urban areas. These trends have had major social and economic effects on the communities and their ability to support their working waterfronts.


Working waterfront ports

 There are three broad types of ports with working waterfronts in Atlantic Canada

1. Canada Port Authority ports 

There are four in Atlantic Canada, Belledune and Saint John in New Brunswick, Halifax in Nova Scotia and St. John’s in Newfoundland and Labrador.

 2. Local and regional ports

 These ports are former Transport Canada ports e.g. Mulgrave Marine Terminal, Strait of Canso, but are now managed by private companies, municipalities, and not-for-profit organizations.


Information on Transport Canada’s Port Programs is available online. 


3. Small craft harbours

These harbours such as Baileys Brook (Lismore), Nova Scotia are now often managed by local community-based or private groups called Small Craft Harbour Authorities.

Small Craft Harbours were traditionally used only by the commercial fishery. Now they are also used by other sectors that benefit from direct access to the sea, such as tourism and recreation. Other industries that use Small Craft Harbours include aquaculture, marine construction, fish processing, ship and boat building, government services, water transportation, and offshore energy and renewable projects.

The federal government divested many of the Small Craft Harbours to local community groups, municipalities, or the private sector.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Small Craft Harbours Branch publishes a monthly bulletin available online, as well as the following provincial maps:


For more information on Small Craft Harbours visit the Department of Fisheries and Oceans website for Small Craft Harbours


Issues identified for working waterfronts

Issues for working waterfronts are identified in the State of Nova Scotia’s Coast Report, and stated as follows: 

Coastal communities that rely on working waterfronts face increasing

pressure on their human and financial resources.


This is a concern for the following reasons

  • SCH port authorities are dependent on volunteers.
  • Federal funding for wharf maintenance is limited. Current and projected funding levels aren’t enough to maintain the wharves and other facilities.
  • Small port authorities are generally not able to earn the extra money needed to upgrade the existing wharf infrastructure, let alone invest in new infrastructure and businesses.
  • Almost 21 per cent of Nova Scotia’s most active harbours were rated as substandard in 2004. DFO-SCH criteria concerning maintenance and operations were used by the Coastal Communities Network to rate the harbours.
  • Many current working waterfronts don’t have the infrastructure needed to expand to other businesses such as aquaculture and tourism.


The report Issues Scan of Selected Coastal and Ocean Areas of Newfoundland and Labrador (July 2008) recommended a Marine Infrastructure Strategy 

“Reports of deteriorating and inadequate marine infrastructure permeated the issues scan discussions. A thorough inventory and assessment of present and future marine infrastructure needs is required as soon as possible to provide the basis for an informed, practical, cost-effective and collaborative (among all levels of government and community) marine infrastructure strategy.”


Working waterfront communities

Many communities in Atlantic Canada are home to Small Craft Harbours.

These communities are especially vulnerable to the changes in the provincial economies because they: 

  • have economic bases that are narrower than those of the communities linked with the larger ports
  • have more of their economies tied to their working waterfronts than the communities around the larger ports
  • are mostly experiencing a drop in socio-economic health, which strongly affects the character and life of rural coastal communities
  • have a declining population base





Other concerns

The amount of waterfront maintenance and capital investment needed in these working waterfronts is much greater than the resources available.


Safety concerns over the harbour facilities are rising because of:

  • the age of the wharves
  • the use of larger fishing boats
  • wider range of users such as bulk carriers, tourism enterprises, aquaculture, and recreational users
  • increasingly crowded conditions
  • more frequent and stronger storms


Marine transport has been a part of Atlantic Canada’s identity since its very beginnings and is woven into the heritage of many Atlantic coastal communities. Today marine transport takes on many forms from fisheries, to tourism to shipping and tradeTransport Canada is the federal department responsible for marine transport in Canada. Canadian Marine Transportation Infrastructure reaches across the country and north into the Arctic Ocean. National Resources Canada produced a national map available for download.


On July 1, 2007, the Canada Shipping Act, 2001 (CSA 2001) replaced the old Canada Shipping Act (CSA) as the principal legislation that governs safety in marine transportation, recreational boating and the protection of the marine environment. It applies to Canadian vessels operating in all waters and to all vessels operating in Canadian waters (all vessels from canoes and kayaks to cruise ships and tankers).

Source: Transport Canada


Canadian Coast Guard

In 2011 the Canadian Coast Guard released the latest edition of Canadian Aids to Navigation System booklet. The booklet is a comprehensive guide to the latest standards in navigation aids for Canadian waters.


The Canadian Coast Guard owns and operates the federal government’s civilian fleet, and provides key maritime services to Canadians. As a Special Operating Agency of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, the Canadian Coast Guard helps DFO meet its responsibility to ensure safe and accessible waterways for Canadians. The Canadian Coast Guard also plays a key role in ensuring the sustainable use and development of Canada’s oceans and waterways.

Source: Canadian Coast Guard



The industry of marine transport contributes significantly to the Canadian economy and allows us to continue to perform as a trading nation. Marine transport accounts for 90 percent of worldwide trade and “over 95 percent of the approximately 180 million tonnes of commodities and processed goods Canada exports to other countries annually.”  It is estimated that Canadian Port Authorities provide approximately 250,000 direct and indirect jobs across the country. Click here for more information about Working Waterfronts.

Source: Canadian Port Authorities


In terms of CO2 emissions per tonne of cargo transported one mile, shipping is recognized as the most efficient form of commercial transport.  However, the enormous scale of the industry means that it is nevertheless a significant contributor to the world's total greenhouse gas emissions.  According to a recent report of an International Maritime Organization expert working group, shipping probably accounts for around 4% of global CO2 emissions.

Source: Mi-Net International Shipping Page


Recently, Irving Ship Building Company in Halifax, Nova Scotia was awarded a $25 billion contract from the Department of National Defence as part of the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy to build 21 ships over 30 years. This will create jobs in the region and provide a significant boost to the Nova Scotian economy. Vancouver Shipyards Co. Ltd. (SeaSpan) was selected to build the non-combat vessel work package.


Marine Traffic                                                                                                                  

A significant amount of international and domestic commercial shipping traffic occurs over the Scotian Shelf. Commercial shipping in this area is generally in the form of tankers and general, bulk and containerized cargo carriers. The area is also transited by a range of fishing vessels, cruise ships and various government vessels. The primary commodities being moved in the region include crude oil and gas, minerals and chemicals, paper and forest products, coal and coke, and various containerized goods.

Source: Fisheries and Oceans Canada


Real time locations and speeds of vessels around the world can be seen in the Marine Traffic Map though the collection of long range identification and tracking (LRIT) data. The report “Development and Applications of Vessel Traffic Maps Based on Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) Data in Atlantic Canada” describes geographic information system (GIS) techniques used for a retrospective vessel traffic analysis to produce 13 monthly maps and one 12-month composite map of shipping activity in Atlantic Canada. The application and limitations of LRIT data for marine conservation, environmental protection and response, and integrated coastal and oceans management are also discussed.


Marine traffic can have dangerous consequences if not managed correctly, even more so when involving large vessels. The practice of following predetermined routes for shipping originated in 1898 and was adopted, for reasons of safety, by shipping companies operating passenger ships across the North Atlantic. Today ship routeing systems and traffic separation schemes exist to manage marine traffic in most major ports and congested shipping areas. For more information, see the International Maritime Organization’s page about Ships’ Routeing.


Marine traffic can have ecological impacts and risks as well. In the early 1990s, several endangered right whales were killed when they were struck by vessels in a high traffic area within the Bay of Fundy. Shipping lanes had to be altered in order to reduce their impact on the whale population.


Links and sources of information on this page:


Canada’s Oceans Action Plan states that “Canadian firms have established themselves as world leaders in oceans technology niches”. The Atlantic Canadian ocean technology sector is defined by the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) as any firm engaged in the delivery or creation of technology for marine applications, consisting of 137 identified firms. The ocean technology sector includes products and services, the range of products offered includes:

  • Acoustic systems and equipment,
  • Defense systems and equipment,
  • Imaging systems and equipment,
  • Instrumentation and information systems,
  • Marine communications,
  • Navigation, and
  • Platforms and vehicles.

An Industry Profile for Canada’s Ocean Technology, by Industry Canada, illustrates the distribution of firms by province: New Brunswick with 5%, Newfoundland with 6%, Nova Scotia with 13%, and Prince Edward Island with 1%. Other provinces with ocean technology firms include British Columbia (22%), Ontario (29%), and Quebec (16%).


The oceans technologies being widely used in Canada, and by province, are found on the Canadian Ocean Technology Sector interactive asset map, an initiative led by NRC’s Industrial Research Assistance Program, Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, and Ocean Science and Technology Partnership. This interactive map includes knowledge based companies that invent, develop and produce technological products for specific use in or on the ocean, or provide knowledge-intensive, technology-based services, unique to the ocean. 


Atlantic Canada

Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) outlines Atlantic Canada’s expertise in ocean technology to be cold water engineering, ocean mapping and charting, instruments and communication, ocean and marine shipboard technology, remote sensing, survival, training, and underwater acoustics. Firms that specialize in these areas are outlined in a four page summary published by ACOA.

The Ocean Technology Council of Nova Scotia (OTCNS) is a not-for profit, business organization that represents the collective interests of companies working in the ocean technology sector in Atlantic Canada. The objectives of the council are: providing information, advocacy, coordination of interests and activities, human resources, and business and export development.  Complete lists of members and associate members are available at

New Brunswick

In the report Economic Impact of the New Brunswick Ocean Sector, 2003-2008, marine technology and marine professional services were highlighted to be included in a future update. Marine technology includes navigation equipment, data collection devices and biotechnology, which already exist in New Brunswick but they are difficult to distinguish from land or air technology research and development. It may be possible to track these more clearly in the future.

Newfoundland and Labrador

A thriving oceans technology cluster in Newfoundland and Labrador is represented by Oceans Advance Inc. and consists of more than 50 companies. Oceans of Opportunity: Newfoundland and Labrador’s Ocean Technology Sector Strategy provides a framework for expanding, developing and attracting ocean’s technology, research, and government policy and programs. 

The Marine Institute of Memorial University, St. John’s Newfoundland, is Canada’s most compressive center for education, training, applied research and industrial support for the oceans industries. The Marine Institute provides more than 20 industry-drive programs ranging from technical certificates to master’s degrees. The Marine Institute’s School of Ocean Technology has taken on the responsibility of developing and delivering education and training, applied research and development programs in various aspects of ocean technology.

The Journal of Ocean Technology is an open access independent quarterly periodical published by the fisheries and Marine Institute of Memorial University, Newfoundland. Its mission is to expand global knowledge and understanding of ocean technologies, to serve as the medium for publishing world-leading research and to promote innovation that contributes to responsible ocean utilization and management.

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia is home to over 450 PhD’s in oceans-related disciplines, the highest in the world. Defined by the Sea: Nova Scotia’s Ocean Technology Sector, Present and Future reports that the world’s oceans hold untold benefits; ocean’s technology opportunities go beyond the purely economic to include answers to questions on climate change, medical advance, healthy, nutritious food, and alternative energy sources.

The Bedford Institute of Oceanography highlights three new technologies that are currently in use: operational remote sensing, seahorse, and real-time Arctic Ocean observatory.

Halifax Marine Research Institute (HMRI) is building partnerships among groups to boost marine research and translate it into real economic opportunity; groups include federal research laboratories, universities, and the private sector.

Prince Edward Island

Marine technology is a significant and growing sector of the Prince Edward Island economy. This sector is concentrated in aquaculture supply and the manufacture of fish processing equipment, although other areas of activity exist such as supplying the shipping and shipbuilding/repair industry. The level of exports for these industries was reported in The Value of the Oceans Sector to the Economy of PEI, 2002, as 95% on average and up to 100% of the production.

An excerpt from Canada’s Ocean Action Plan

 “The marketplace is moving toward integrated technology-based solutionsand Canadian firms will need partnerships with each other to increase their capacity to respond. Ocean science and technology networks and organizations, as well as National Research Council institutions, government labs, and consortia of private firms are emerging as focal points for information-sharing and innovation .

Explore more resources related to coastal and industrial development

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