Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Planning for Coastal Change in the Eastern Caribbean

(Summary of the COSALC project activities, 1996-97)

12 February 1998

The beaches of the Caribbean islands are essential to the economic, environmental and social well-being of these countries' inhabitants. They also constitute one of the most dynamic and vulnerable parts of the coastal system. Beach erosion in the Caribbean and elsewhere, resulting from global change or induced and accelerated by human mismanagement, is a matter of growing concern. On many islands, erosion caused by sand mining from beaches, changes in coastal dynamics due to hotel installations and other coastal construction works, is coupled with natural processes, like massive removal of sand from the beaches during tropical storms and hurricanes, e.g. Hurricane Luis in 1995.

To address the above problems, a project on Coast and Beach Stability in the Lesser Antilles (COSALC) was originally established by UNESCO in 1985, and refocused in 1996 in the context of the Coastal Regions and Small Island (CSI) endeavour with a view to integrating environmental, socio-economic and educational components. Stakeholders in the UNESCO Member States of the region are provided with the necessary information on beach erosion and recovery, and advice on coastal-related development scenarios. The general public is informed about the existing coastal problems and their causes, and are educated regarding the need for cautious human interaction with the natural coastal system. Project activities have been implemented in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Turks and Caicos Islands, where long-term beach monitoring projects have been established. Activities in 1998 started with launching a beach monitoring project in the US Virgin Island.

To address both natural and societal aspects of coastline instability, a regional workshop was held in Puerto Rico with the theme: 'Integrated Framework for the Management of Beach Resources within the Small Caribbean Islands' (October 1996). The workshop results and a volume on managing beach resources were published by UNESCO (CSI series) in 1997. Based on the workshop recommendations, institution-strengthening activities were launched in 1997 in four islands and archipelagos and extended to three more islands in 1998. Funds provided through the University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program, at the MayagŁez campus where the COSALC co-ordinating office is located, were used for the recent purchase of the coastal monitoring equipment needed for the Island States and territories involved.

Many islands have seen that the growth of the tourism industry, which depends largely on beaches, often creates problems for those same beaches. All too often, developers wish to position their properties as close as possible to the water, having little regard for seasonal beach changes or the infrequent, yet catastrophic hurricanes. To help protect coastal installations (including hotels, roads, airports etc.), guidelines for construction 'setbacks' (i.e. a safe distance between coastal construction and the active beach zone) in the Eastern Caribbean Islands were developed, published and distributed in the region early in 1998. These guidelines are addressed to the coastal planners, managers and other concerned stakeholder groups. Resulting from the COSALC project, the guidelines represent an example of 'lessons learned' - the focus of the CSI endeavour.

To further facilitate the decision-making process to Member States in the Caribbean, a practical application of the 'safe setbacks' concept was implemented at the end of 1997 on three Caribbean islands, involving national planning agencies. When finalized (by mid-1998), the national authorities will have in their hands a complete set of information and recommendations, on which they can base their decisions regarding national coastal development plans.

To promote public awareness in sustainable coastal development, a manual for the general public on the coastal processes as well as protection and management issues in the Eastern Caribbean has been prepared and will be published during 1998. Audio-visual materials on the impacts of 1995 hurricanes on beaches in the Eastern Caribbean islands were produced and distributed in the region. The materials are used on the islands for public awareness and environmental education purposes. Several island-specific training courses were organized; public information and awareness campaigns on integrated coastal management were implemented in 1996-97 through the local and regional news media (press, radio and television) and through a series of public meetings. Follow-up activities are foreseen for 1998-99.

For further information on the COSALC project, contact:

Dr. Gillian Cambers,
COSALC Co-ordinator,
University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program,
P.O. Box 9011, College Station,
MayagŁez, Puerto Rico 00681-9011
Fax: (1-787) 265-2880,

For further information on CSI activities in general, contact:

Coastal Regions and Small Islands (CSI) Unit,
UNESCO, 1 rue Miollis,
75732 Paris cedex 15, France,
Fax: (33-1) 45 68 58 06/08

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