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Venice and the Environmental Hazards of Coastal Cities
(Released December 2006)

 
  by Carolyn Scearce  

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Over 15 centuries ago a group of refugees from the Italian mainland, fleeing from northern invaders, settled on the islands located in the Venice lagoon. During the centuries that followed, the lagoon provided for its inhabitants a degree of security that could not easily be found on the Italian mainland. As restless barbarians and ambitious empires sought to build territories, Venice grew in size and autonomy. By the tenth century, the city had become a powerful enough entity to form an independent republic that lasted until the time of Napoleon. The lagoon offered protection and easy access to important trade routes. Its locality helped propel Venice to its place of wealth and political dominance during the late Italian Renaissance. The waters of Venice, however, have not always been trouble free. The very physical features that made Venice so attractive for settlement now may bring the city to its end. The sea may soon lay claim to this historical monument. Due to sea level rise, scientists project that even drastic intervention will only delay the permanent flooding of Venice 100-200 years. Venice, once know as the "Queen of the seas," serves as a stark example of the difficulties that can arise from human settlement too close to the coastal zone.

island in the sea
One of the islands of the city of Venice
The distribution of human population forms very uneven patterns over the earth's surface. Coastal zone areas have historically served as important places of settlement providing important resources including water for navigation and human consumption, easy access to fisheries, and productive land. According to UN statistics, currently over 60 percent of the world's population live within 100 km of the coast (Getis et al., 2006), which means that people frequently exert intense, often destructive pressure on coastal habitats. Such pressure can take a variety of forms, including dramatic physical alteration of the landscape, pollution of coastal waters and sediments, and excessive harvesting of local species. Additionally, coastal populations are exposed to a number of hazards associated with close interaction with water, such as loss of life and property due to storms, flooding, and tsunamis.

The city of Venice, whose historical boundaries reside within a lagoon, maintains an unusually intimate relationship with the sea. The city is unusually vulnerable to human alterations of the surrounding environment. Some of the specific problems that Venice's citizens currently struggle with are unique to the city, but the broader issues, of habitat loss, erosion, subsidence, flooding, pollution, and the impact of physical alterations are extremely relevant global issues of human coastal zone interaction. A better understanding of the problems facing this city offers insight into how the interaction between the needs of the human and the natural environment must be balanced in order to maintain a sustainable association between man and the sea.

Go To Venice: The city on the lagoon

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