Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Managing beaches in small islands: an integrated approach

Against a background of mounting shoreline erosion, increased frequency of hurricanes, rising sea levels and an economic dependency on coastal tourism, the small islands of the Caribbean face a major dilemma - how to maintain and expand their coastal tourism industries while at the same time conserving their beaches for tourists and residents alike. To contribute to the solving of the above problems, UNESCO and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) have joined forces: in mid-1999, a co-operation agreement was signed between two organisations, and CDB provided UNESCO, through its Unit for Coastal Regions and Small Islands, with a US$90.000 grant to execute a project entitled 'Institutional Strengthening of Beach Management Capabilities in the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States and the Turks and Caicos Islands'.

The project is designed to help these islands develop the institutional capability to effectively manage and find solutions to the problems associated with changing shorelines and heavily used beaches. Building on the foundation laid by the UNESCO/University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program project on ‘Coast and Beach Stability in the Caribbean' (COSALC), and over an eighteen month period starting in October, 1999, the nine countries/territories of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States 1 , and the Turks and Caicos Islands, started receiving assistance and training in the monitoring, understanding and management of beach change phenomena.

The project utilises the cross-sectoral principles of integrated coastal management (ICM) as well as past lessons learnt from the COSALC project. ICM attempts to work across traditional institutional and sectoral boundaries, and this project does likewise by working with government agencies responsible for the environment, planning and public works, as well as non government organisations, in an effort to better manage beach change phenomena. The methodology keeps one agency (usually an environmental agency) in each island ultimately responsible for data collection, analysis and database management, however, the databases are also stored in other agencies and updated annually or more frequently. Representatives from all participating agencies started to be trained in the use of the databases. Besides fulfilling ICM guidelines, this approach will also result in more sustainable monitoring programmes, accommodating such problems as frequent staff turn-over in the islands.

In order to assist the member countries with the management of their beaches, an electronic network is being established to share information about techniques and problem solving, case studies, success stories and wise practices.

The focus of the project is on training, which is being conducted in-country. Using the cross sectoral and inter-disciplinary approaches of integrated coastal management, persons from a range of government and non-government agencies are being trained in the measurement, analysis, interpretation and application of beach change information, so that in the short term, erosion phenomena can be effectively managed, and in the longer term, wise practices can be developed for the reduction of hurricane impact and the accommodation of rising sea levels.

The project, which covers an eighteen month period, has been divided into two phases. The first phase is concentrated on skills development in the main counterpart agency, while the second phase will spread this activity to other agencies in the island. The phasing will also allow some evaluation of the project’s success at least as regards institutional strengthening in the main counterpart agency.

The objective of the project is to ensure that existing beach monitoring programmes are sustainable at the national level by strengthening in-country capability through the installation of specially prepared software and through the provision of the necessary training required to analyse and interpret the data.

Short term goals are to ensure that beach change data are analysed, interpreted and applied in a competent manner in each country/territory. The long term goal is to ensure that the beach monitoring activities (from data collection to analysis to interpretation/application) become completely self-sufficient (without needing support from the COSALC project) in at least half of the countries/territories involved.

Within the project, new Beach Profile Analysis software is being installed at the offices of the main environmental counterpart agency of the countries/territories involved. The existing beach change databases are being converted to the new software and assessed for quality control. Sessions with individual staff on the use of the software are being conducted to analyse the data and determine beach change trends at particular sites. Competency with retrieving, updating and saving the database are ensured. Training needs have been assessed and a training programme is being developed and implemented. Customised manuals for utilisation of the database are being designed and will be provided to the counterpart agencies in each country/territory.

A decade of managing changing shorelines

Shorelines are areas of continuous change where the natural forces of wind and water interact with the land. These changes have been taking place for millennia. History provides the example of Cockburn Town in the Turks and Caicos Islands, where Back Street had to be renamed Front Street at the beginning of this century as erosion took its toll. Shoreline changes are the result of both natural forces and human activities, such as sand mining and construction close to the beach.

These shifts between water and land have taken on paramount importance in the Caribbean islands since tourism became one of the major industries in the 1970’s. Despite their economic value in a region where tourism is dependent for the most part on sun, sea and sand, beaches have unfortunately not been perceived as areas needing management, protection and funding, but rather as permanent features of the landscape.

In addition to the tourism aspects, Caribbean beaches are highly valued by residents for relaxation, sports and simple enjoyment. Most islanders are proud of their beaches, they represent a part of their national heritage and they wish to conserve them for posterity. Beaches also fulfil other important functions such as protecting valuable land and infrastructure from seawater inundation during storms and hurricanes, and fish landing sites.

The COSALC project has focused on assisting countries/territories with the measurement and management of beach erosion and accretion phenomena, disaster (hurricane) impact reduction and planning for coastal changes including those resulting from sea level rise. Awareness and education activities have been major components of these foci. Through COSALC, beach monitoring programmes have been established in each island whereby government agencies and non government organisations measure beach changes on a regular basis using standardised techniques. The information is used in many different applications including:

As a result of the COSALC project, it is now an accepted activity in each of the member countries that beaches are monitored on a regular basis and especially after tropical storms and hurricanes.

At a regional workshop, ‘Integrated framework for the management of beach resources within the smaller Caribbean islands’ held in October 1996, the countries universally endorsed the beach monitoring programme and recommended that it should continue (UNESCO, 1997). The Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) was one of the three co-sponsors of the workshop.

While the beach data collection is an established national activity, considerable outside assistance is still required for data analysis, database management, and interpretation and application of the results to coastal planning and beach erosion issues. National capability needs to be strengthened in these areas.

As a response to this need, new software for data analysis was developed between January and October 1999. Funding was provided by UPR-SGCP and UNESCO. This software consists of a fully compiled programme, written using the Delphi language, and utilising the Windows (95 or higher) operating system. It provides for data analysis and the graphical representation of beach change trends, and specifically the following:

The software is user-friendly and has been specially developed for people with little computing experience. This software (Beach Profile Analysis (‘Profile’) Version 3.0) will be installed in the COSALC member islands during the CDB/UNESCO project.

A second programme (‘BeachAn’) is under preparation which will allow for compilation and summary of an entire island's data within one application. This programme is scheduled for completion early in 2000.

A third programme is at present under consideration whereby a graphic interface will be developed so that planners can utilise the beach change databases within their Geographical Information Systems (GIS). (This proposal will be considered for funding during the period 2000-2001).

The COSALC project has shown that, aside from anthropogenic causes, such as beach sand mining, badly designed sea defences and pollution leading to coral reef death, a major cause of beach erosion is due to hurricanes. As the Caribbean becomes increasingly dependent on the tourism industry, and against a background of sea level rise and predictions for increased hurricane activity during the next two decades, the need for sound beach management practices has never been greater.

1 Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

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