Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Haiti and San Andrés Join COSALC

Early this year, Haiti and the San Andrés archipelago of Colombia joined the network of Coast and Beach Stability in the Caribbean (COSALC). COSALC is a project of UNESCO, co-sponsored by the University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program, created in order to help the islands address problems associated with beach management, including beach  erosion and other manifestations of coastal change.Below, COSALC coordinator Dr. Gillian Cambers shares her impressions of COSALC’s new members.

 HAITI

This country, which occupies the western third of Hispaniola, has 1,770 km of coastline, and is populated by seven million people.  Haiti is a beautiful country, however deforestation has caused grave environmental problems.  A full 98% of the forest cover has been destroyed, and few new trees have been planted.  Deforestation has caused massive erosion and sedimentation, which gravely affect marine resources.

Decades of political unrest have left a large part of the population impoverished.  Environmental considerations are secondary to survival-related needs, which dictate the capture of undersized fish as a food source, for instance, and the use of any remaining trees as a source of charcoal or firewood for cooking.

In terms of the integrity of Haiti’s coastline and marine resources, the Coastal Zone Management Project, an initiative of Haiti’s Ministry of the Environment (with assistance from the Interamerican Development Bank), is developing the institutional capacity for coastal management through research, monitoring, planning, and community involvement in several micro-projects.  Links were established with COSALC last year, and in March of 1999, a beach monitoring project was initiated, involving people from the Ministry of the Environment’s Coastal Zone Management Project, the University of Quisqueya, and the Fondation Pour la Protection de la Biodiversité Marine, a non-governmental organization.  The team spent a week visiting beaches, discussing beach-related problems, measuring beaches and learning how to analyze and use the relevant data. 

Haiti’s beaches face many severe problems, ranging from pollution to erosion.  Even areas remote from human habitation are affected by trash from distant cities and siltation resulting from deforestation.  In Port au Prince Bay, plastic debris covers the beach, while in St. Marc Bay, 80 km to the north, buildings are threatened by erosion, and the beaches are covered with all sorts of debris.

Simple monitoring programs, such as those set up by COSALC, provide information and training designed to help the Haitian people meet some of the challenges that lie ahead.

SAN ANDRÉS

The archipelago of San Andrés lies 400 miles northwest of the Colombian city of Cartagena and just 100 miles east of Nicaragua.  Amidst dozens of cays, the archipelago has three inhabited islands: San Andrés, Providencia and Santa Catalina.  (These last two are connected by a bridge!)  The archipelago’s land base measures only 57 km2, but its marine territory spans 350,000 km2.  San Andrés is a low-lying limestone island, while Providencia and Santa Catalina are characterized by volcanic soil and mountainous terrain.   

The San Andrés archipelago is unique in many ways.  While having close cultural and historical links to the rest of the insular Caribbean, it is a department of Colombia, so its Antillean heritage is enhanced by a Latin American ambience.  Spanish is San Andrés’ official language, but English is also spoken, especially by older residents.  Tourism, agriculture and fishing are the archipelago’s principal economic activities. 

During the (Inter) National Marine Educators’ Association conference held in Puerto Rico during August of 1998, contact was established between COSALC and CORALINA, Colombia’s national agency in charge of administering the environmental and natural resources of the San Andrés archipelago. 

COSALC’s work with CORALINA to monitor beach changes complements this agency’s ongoing monitoring programs in coral reefs, seagrass beds and water quality.  During a ten-day visit in April 99, beach monitoring programs were set up in the archipelago with CORALINA, the local college and other agencies involved with tourism and resource management.  

The San Andrés archipelago has a range of beach management problems ranging from extensive beach sand mining in Providencia to dense areas of slum dwellings and untreated sewage runoff in San Andrés.  Also, since much of the archipelago is surrounded by seagrass beds and coral reefs, large quantities of dead seagrass are washed up on the beach every day.   Since tourists prefer to see white sand beaches unmarred by the presence of seagrass, this organic material is buried right on the beach.  However, beach managers are running out of space and seek recycling-oriented alternatives to this practice.  Other problems include the dramatic erosion of sandy, offshore cays, which are important tourist destinations.  Several restaurants on the cays have literally been stranded in the water.   

Despite the historical and cultural links with other territories and nations of our region, the San Andrés archipelago has been isolated from the rest of the Caribbean by a lack of air service.  However, problems experienced in San Andrés, both on the beaches and island-wide, are similar in scope to those found throughout the Antilles.  The opportunity for further communication and collaboration between this archipelago and the rest of the Caribbean islands will undoubtedly benefit the entire region.

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