Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Beaches are one of the most dynamic systems in nature, they show visible changes over hours, days, months and years. They also represent one of the most important natural and economic resources to small island states. The tourism industry, the mainstay of the economy in many of the small Eastern Caribbean Islands, is still very much beach orientated.

Yet many islands have seen that the growth of the tourism industry, which depends largely on the 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. It is not only tourism properties which are positioned adjacent to the beach or coastline, but other infrastructure as well, such as houses, roads, airports and commercial enterprises. In many volcanic islands, the land adjacent to the beach is the only flat land available, hence its attractiveness for development.

One of the dominant characteristics of beaches is their constant changes in form, shape and sometimes the very material of which they are composed. The best way to conserve beaches is to allow them the space to move - in a seaward direction during accretionary phases and in a landwards direction during erosionary phases. The prudent use of coastal development setbacks or establishing a safe distance between buildings and the active beach zone can ensure that space is provided for a beach to move naturally, both during normal events and infrequent hurricanes, thereby ensuring the beach is conserved for all to enjoy and that coastal infrastructure remains intact.

This paper develops a methodology for coastal development setbacks, which was first developed for the island of Anguilla in 1996 as part of a study sponsored by the British Development Division in the Caribbean on the Impact of Hurricane Luis on the Coastal and Marine Resources of Anguilla. The guidelines developed for Anguilla (Cambers, 1996a) have been incorporated into the National Land-use Development Plan and are being implemented. The present paper further develops and generalizes these guidelines so that they can be applied to other small islands in the Caribbean. They may also be applicable to small island states in tropical regions in other parts of the world.

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