The Algarve region, in the south of Portugal, covers some 4 991 km² with a population of 341 404. The region's main economic activities are agriculture, fisheries and especially tourism. In terms of land use and planning, mass tourism and urbanisation have had a substantial impact, especially on the western part of the region. The eastern coast is still relatively well preserved but nevertheless has specific characteristics relevant to their management (fragile ecosystems, wetlands, etc.). The region's coastal zone consists primarily of wetland (Ria Formosa). The Ria Formosa is a low-lying coast 60 km long covering some 18,400 km². It consists of a lagoon system which is over-nourished by the sea and river sediments.
The Ria is a very important and biologically rich reserve with a highly diversified fauna. The landscape has been radically transformed by human intervention (canals, salt production, farming). The Ria is classed as a nature park under Portuguese law, is covered by the Ramsar Convention, and contains a special protection area for birds (in line with the Community Directive on Conservation of Wild Birds) and biotope identified in CORINE (a database inventory of sites of major importance for nature conservation). The various problems affecting this coastal zone (uncontrolled pressure from tourism, protection of the Ria, ill-matched harbour and coastal infrastructures, and promotion of economic activities near the wetland) gave rise to the need for an integrated strategy for the coastal zone.