Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
colbartn.gif (4535 octets)

Sustainable Coastal Development:
The Role of Communication and Education

People develop coasts, so people have to know how and why to make development sustainable. At PACSICOM, communication and education specialists worked on this facet of coastal development. The UNESCO platform "Coastal Regions and Small Islands (CSI) took the lead in organizing a workshop on Sustainable Coastal Development: The Role of Communication and Education, in cooperation with UNESCO's Communication and Education sectors.

Coastal regions and small islands face increasing demographic and economic pressure. Many of the Earth's most diverse, complex and productive ecosystems are in coastal areas. Coastal resources are of utmost importance for food security. Small Island Developing States - coastal regions in their entirety - by making the most of restricted resources, provide lessons on living in a finite yet global world.

African coastal countries face serious coastal management and development problems. Education and communication are critical for raising awareness and improving the capacity of people to understand issues and problems. Education and communication are also critical in any efforts to reinforce and develop suitable knowledge, values, attitudes and practices, skills and participation required for sustainable development of coastal regions.

The presenters at the workshop described many of the problems and what can be done about them. This article uses edited extracts from their papers to give you the flavour of the issues raised. At the end you will find a summary of the Workshop recommendations.

Threats from human activities

Michèle Martin summarized some of the pollution problems in the Seychelles:

As Seychelles is an archipelago of small islands, most of its land area can be considered to be 'coastal', and most human activities have a direct impact on the coastal environment. For example, as new roads and housing developments cut into the hillside, the rain washes loose red earth into the sea where it settles on sea grass beds and coral reefs. Pesticide and fertilizer run-off from agricultural activities eventually finds its way to the sea. Sewage from faulty domestic septic systems along hillsides and on the coast seeps into rivers and is then washed down to the sea. Most industrial developments are along the coast, where their effluent poses a potential hazard to coastal and marine life. The dumping site on the main island of Mahe is located on reclaimed land 'coral fill' along the coast where leachate seeps into the adjacent sea.

The coast - a source of conflict

Jacqueline Nkoyok from Cameroon explains:

Everyone these days knows about the economic and socio-cultural importance of coastal and marine ecosystems. But in most of Africa, they are under constant attack as industry develops and unthinking use of natural resources increases. In Cameroon, for example, the coast and sea are afflicted by serious ecological problems.

Such areas are much in demand because of the copious natural riches they contain, so there are many environmental conflicts over the gathering and use of resources such as fish, oil, minerals, timber and farm products. Disputes about maritime pollution are quite common along the coast of Cameroon. One example is the conflict, in the southwestern province, between the local population and ministry officials over the use of chemicals by inshore fishermen. Another is between the wealthy people of the province and the oil companies, which have polluted the waters of the Rio del Rey, which are often used for domestic purposes. Then there are the ongoing battles involving local fishermen angry at low prices for their catch and, sometimes, at trawlers which destroy their nets.

Women - different skills, different needs

Margaret Karembu from Kenya focussed on the constraints and opportunities arising from woman's role in African societies:

Within the African context, most societies are patrilinear and exclude women from ownership of resources. In terms of access to and control of resources and decision making, women are marginalized in terms of inputs and benefits. The content of information made available to women is usually determined without their advice or consent. Relative to men, women have little power at the local, national and international levels of society and let others (read the male voice) decide what is important for them, but with what consequences? Women end up being mere receivers of information, which often is irrelevant and inappropriate to their needs and aspirations.

In Africa, men and women have distinctive roles and responsibilities largely based on social customs and norms. While the men are primarily concentrated in the productive sector, women perform the triple roles of reproduction, production (women account for 80% of agricultural production), and community service. The knowledge and experiences gained from undertaking these roles, as well as their requirements lead women and men to have different needs and aspirations.

Women continuously experiment, observe and learn from the environment. In the process, they acquire specialized knowledge and experience in managing resources sustainably. In managing water supply to the family for example, women have learnt about the various areas they can locate quality and reliable local water sources. They are thus custodians of valuable indigenous knowledge which in most cases has a "scientific orientation'. This gives them a vital role in informal education. Unfortunately the value of women's local knowledge and expertise is unrecognized and considered of low status. When their knowledge is recognized as crucial, they tend to lose ownership of it. Communication strategies should recognize the value of women's local knowledge and promote its use.

Getting people involved

Aboubakari Boina from the Comores stressed the importance of participation:

The strength of African countries is the involvement of their people in development programmes. This implies involvement in the conception and execution of a project and in safeguarding its achievements. In this respect, participation is at the heart of integrated sustainable management of coastal regions.

To understand this better, let's imagine a situation in which communication and education remain a monopoly of official bodies, with no regard for the eventual beneficiaries. That would make it impossible to achieve the set goals, much less inclusion of the beneficiaries and long-term use of the resources.

In the Comores Islands, for example, the ministry of fisheries provided fish aggregating devices. But because nobody trained local people how to use them properly, some fishermen unfastened the equipment to re-use the rope it contained. On the other hand, in some coastal villages fishermen organised themselves independently of the authorities to protect sea turtles and the rare coelacanth fish and to oppose practices, which were destroying marine resources, such as the use of fine-mesh nets, poison and dynamite.

Participation provides only advantages and opportunities. We must come up with flexible ways to include people, suitable methods of communication, appropriate topics and training methods and ways to solve the tricky problems which come with involvement, such as how to make decisions and how to implement environmental laws and programmes.

Starting in the schools

Michèle Martin describes how Seychelles has developed environmental education and awareness at school level:

Various sustainable coastal development initiatives in the Seychelles have recognized the vital role education must play in the development of a society able to live sustainably in coastal areas. Since the early eighties, the Seychelles Ministry of Education has placed a strong emphasis on the environment in the National Curriculum at primary and secondary levels. Seychellois students have been learning about the sea and coast in a range of subjects. The Ministry of Education's Environmental Education Policy is committed to the further development of environmental education in the national curriculum from Crèche to Polytechnic. Part of the strategy is to provide training in EE for in-service and pre-service teachers. Teacher training initiatives have aimed to provide teachers with opportunities to learn more about the local environment and ecology, environmental problems, and provide them with first-hand experiences through field trips and project work.

In general, the situation in Seychelles is presently very conducive to environmental education initiatives, particularly in primary and secondary schools where there now exists a network of committed and enthusiastic teachers. The Ministry of Education's close partnership in awareness activities with the Division of Environment and the Wildlife Clubs of Seychelles is producing results: we are slowly beginning to see the development of a new generation of youth concerned about and committed to sustainability, including sustainable coastal development.

How universities can help

Prof. Salif Diop, Cheikh Anta Diop University, Senegal:

Tertiary education - through education, training, research and communication - can play a part in promoting the sustainable development of the continent's coastal regions and small islands. Education and training appears essential if we want individuals and communities to grasp the complexity of the environment and coastal regions. The complexity arises from their physical, biological, social, economic and cultural characteristics.

The Cheikh Anta Diop University set up a chair in integrated management and sustainable development in coastal regions and small islands, which deals with aspects of sustainable development backed up by pilot projects in the field. The cross-disciplinary approach has been stressed with courses, seminars and instruction covering not just natural sciences but also social sciences, the humanities, law, economics and anthropology. The practical work (remote detection, GIS, building computer models) and the field research, closely related to the pilot projects, have highlighted the aspect of sustainable development of coastal regions.

The idea of the Chair is to encourage dialogue between experts in marine and coastal environment, but also managers, decision-makers and NGOs. Using this integrated and novel approach, the Chair aims to strengthen people's understanding of the complex relationship between socio-economic development and sustainable development of coastal regions. Coastal communities, along with local officials and other parties involved, are associated with field programmes through pilot-projects. Using such an approach, which involves implementing inter-sectoral plans, sustainable and fair solutions can be worked out with the local people, who of course are the main beneficiaries of the research results. And the results of these practical activities can and must be distilled into a list of "wise practices" to guide the sustainable development and management of the coastal environment and its natural and cultural resources.

Examples of work on "wise practices in sustainable management of coastal regions" include the rehabilitation of some estuaries and deltas in Senegal where the local population uses the mangroves as a source of firewood and building material, as a good place to grow rice, and for many other purposes. The mangrove ecosystem along the country's entire south coast has been badly damaged by a combination of natural forces (salinization of water and soil, acidification of the subsoil) and the action of humans. Various experiments to restore these special and vulnerable ecosystems have been launched both in the laboratory and in the field. The aim is to see how far the results (for example from reforestation tests) can be passed on to the local people concerned.

It has become clear that sustainable management of ecosystems must involve local people and communities, if only to ensure long-term follow-up of restoration efforts. The need for rehabilitation must be understood from the beginning by the local population, which means working out suitable communication plans. But we must also remember the need to incorporate local indigenous knowledge into the body of scientific data, which is why anthropological surveys should be carried out at the same time.

These examples show that an integrated research-training-communication formula is an important way to better understand and manage the natural resources of coastal regions, taking into account all the actors involved - scientists and researchers, decision-makers and managers, local people, local communities and NGOs.

Making the public aware

The workshop did hear some success stories. One of them came from André Share:

Over the past 15 years South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism has developed an effective national information exchange, educational and capacity building programme for coastal management known as CoastCARE.

The objectives of CoastCARE are:

CoastCARE initiates, co-ordinates and manages projects that centre around the participation of a diverse range of interest groups. Among projects currently under the CoastCARE umbrella are:

It is important to note that all of these projects are being developed and implemented in close co-operation with a wide variety of other role players, interest groups and organisations including the private sector. CoastCARE strives for the effective exchange of information instead of a top-down government approach, which would alienate the very people that you want to reach out to.

When the media take the lead

Marylène François describes how the press in Mauritius has forced coastal development issues into the open:

Can news - fleeting information - help people to understand better the notion of integrated management of coastal regions in a context of sustainable development? Definitely yes. Because the media, mainly the independent written press, is the last resort for those who have been pushed aside by a development project which has taken scant notice of the socio-economic and ecological factors involved. There, they can express themselves and even vent their anger about it.

An example is the reporting by the newspaper Weekend of a scandal over construction of a hotel, started in 1989, at Balaclava on the northwest coast, which has the only bay in Mauritius where 90% of the coral is still living. The coral reefs at this unique spot, which has been earmarked as the site of the island's first underwater park, were bulldozed to build a water-skiing lane. The outcry led to the passing in 1991 of an environmental protection law, which requires all new tourist projects along the coast to undergo an environmental impact assessment before getting the go-ahead.

But another crucial part of sustainable development – the social aspect – was not dealt with. Once more through Weekend, exasperated fishermen protested in 1993 against the dredging of a lagoon at Trou d'Eau Douce, on the East Coast, to build an artificial island for the Sun Resorts hotel group. The dredging permanently changed the water currents and jeopardised the inshore fishing, which was one of the local community's main economic activities.

The upshot of the media protest was that the hotel developer recognised the harm the project had done to the community and the fishermen were paid compensation. But the lagoon's ecological balance has still not been restored and the fishermen, with the help of the money they got, have turned to other work related to tourist development.

Another example of the crucial part the press can play comes from Tanzania. As Revocatus Makaranga puts it:

The Rufiji Delta Prawns Project is a proposal by one foreign investor to start prawn farming at the delta of the Rufiji River, which is the largest river in Tanzania. The project will involve the construction of ponds in an area covering 15,000 ha. The project has generated a lot of controversy, because of the number of the villagers who would be displaced and the long-term effects of environmental degradation to the area. The Rufiji Delta people themselves are divided. There are those who support the project, citing the economic benefits (including employment) and those who oppose it.

Those against the project are supported by a myriad of environmentalists and vocal non-governmental organizations. The National Environmental Management Council (NEMC) conducted an environment impact assessment (EIA) and advised the government against the project. Despite all the opposition, the government went ahead and approved the project. The people of Rufiji have now gone to court to protest it.

Let me point out the very commendable job done by the media in Tanzania in creating awareness and generating debate on the Rufiji Prawns Project. The people of Rufiji came to know of the prawns project after the media had intercepted some documents about it and immediately made them public knowledge.

Workshop Recommendations

Many good ideas were put forward in workshop presentations and the extensive discussions. Participants distilled these down into the workshop recommendations, summarized below.

Higher Education

School Education


Where next?

The recommendations of the workshop show the way forward for UNESCO activities on this theme. UNESCO looks forward to working with its partners in Africa to implement the workshop recommendations. The ultimate value of PACSICOM will be proved when these actions lead to a better living conditions for the men, women and children who live on the African coastline, now and in the future.

Trevor Sankey in UNESCO Nairobi Office Bulletin, Vol.33, No. 2, July-December 1998, p. 13-16

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