Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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CSI info 6


3.1 Beach monitoring programmes
  3.1.1 Description of activities
  3.1.2 Assessment
3.2 Utilization of beach change databases
3.3 Development of wise management practices

Several activities of the project are helping Caribbean institutions to manage their beach resources in a sustainable manner. The specific activities are:


The beach monitoring programmes represent one of the important foundations of the project. They provide a mechanism for continual training and information transfer and they also provide a much needed database on beach changes.

Staff from government agencies and non-government organizations on each island have been trained to measure profiles or cross sections at selected beaches in their countries/territories. The monitoring is conducted every three months and the data are analyzed using specially designed software. The databases are stored on each island and a regional database is stored as a back-up at the UPR-SGCP in MayagŁez, Puerto Rico.

The beach monitoring programmes were started at different times, so the various countries/territories are at different stages of implementation. Appendix II summarizes the details regarding the beach monitoring programme in each country/territory as of 31 December 1997. The ultimate goal is to ensure that the beach monitoring programmes become self-sufficient and therefore continue without outside assistance. A statement as to each country’s likely attainment of that goal is made under the heading ‘Assessment’in Appendix II.


The islands were supplied with one set of monitoring equipment at the onset of the monitoring programmes. During 1996, additional sets of monitoring equipment were supplied to most of the islands, see Appendix III. A full set of equipment consists of an Abney level, 30 m tape measure, and two ranging poles. In addition cameras were supplied to most islands.

During 1996 and 1997 visits were made to the islands by the project coordinator with a view to assisting the ongoing management of the beach monitoring programmes.

Assistance was provided to Anguilla in 1996 and 1997 to maintain and update the beach change database. In September, 1995, Hurricane Luis had destroyed more than 50% of the profile reference points, so new points had to be established and the database re-organized. Training was provided in using an updated version of the BEACH analysis software. In conjunction with a hurricane assessment project funded by the Dependent Territories Regional Secretariat, assistance was provided in the preparation of a technical report (3), summarizing beach changes between 1992 and 1995.

Antigua and Barbuda were also impacted by Hurricane Luis in 1995. During 1996 assistance was provided in compiling a technical report assessing the impacts of the hurricane on the beaches (4). This involved meetings and collaboration with several government agencies. During 1997, Antigua and Barbuda were the focus of a pilot project to determine the necessary steps for making the beach monitoring programme self-sufficient. While the field data collection and computer entry are well established in Antigua and Barbuda, there is a need for further training in data quality control and data analysis. As part of the pilot project, a manual was prepared which contained data summaries and procedures for data quality control and analysis. Training was provided in the use of this manual.

During a visit to the British Virgin Islands in 1996, the Conservation and Fisheries Department indicated that they wished to use more sophisticated instrumentation (theodolites) for their beach monitoring programme. Unfortunately such equipment is beyond the scope of the budget of the project. As of 1997 the Conservation and Fisheries Department had not purchased the necessary equipment. They had stopped all monitoring in the interim, so there is a data gap of three years, see Appendix II.

Dominica was another island impacted by the 1995 hurricanes and some of the damage was assessed during a visit early in 1996. The beach monitoring programme is continuing in Dominica, as there is a need to establish a computer database there.

Visits were made to Grenada in 1996 and 1997. Together with four government agencies, a technical report on beach changes (5) was produced in 1996 and was presented at a small workshop held at the National Science and Technology Council in July, 1996. Assistance with database development was provided in 1997.

The volcanic crisis in Montserrat has necessitated some serious decisions regarding beach management and the supply of sand aggregate. In order to assist with this process, assistance was provided to compile and analyze all the beach profile data in a technical report (6). The beach monitoring ceased in Montserrat at the end of 1996 due to a short age of human resources and the serious nature of the volcanic crisis. However, the monitoring is planned to restart by mid 1998.

Visits were made to Nevis in 1996 and 1997. New data collectors from the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society were trained in 1996. Nevis was the focus of a pilot project in 1997, similar to that described above for Antigua and Barbuda, the goal of which was to determine the necessary steps to make the beach monitoring programme fully self-sufficient. In Nevis, training in the use of a manual for data quality control and data analysis was provided to persons from the Physical Planning Unit and the Fisheries Division.

Visits were made to St. Kitts in 1996 and 1997. Meetings were held with the main government agencies and further training was provided in data entry. A new Department of the Environment, established in 1996, has become the key focal point for the project.

Assistance was provided to St. Lucia in 1996 with the preparation of a technical report (7), which summarized the beach change data. During 1997, the Fisheries Department in St. Lucia was working on a beach inventory and temporarily ceased beach monitoring activities.

Visits were made to St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 1996 and 1997. Meetings were held with several government agencies to discuss the monitoring programme. Further training was provided in computer data entry in 1997 and the database was updated.

During a visit to the Turks and Caicos Islands in 1997, further training was provided in field techniques and in computer data entry.


As can be seen from the preceding section the monitoring programmes are at different stages on the various islands. However, on no island can they yet be said to be completely self-sufficient. The results of the 1997 pilot projects in Antigua and Barbuda and Nevis showed that while field data collection and data entry are well established on these islands and that there are established databases covering more than five years, further training is needed in data quality control, analysis and interpretation.

One of the major recommendations of the pilot project in Antigua and Barbuda and Nevis is to revise the BEACH software, possibly using a spreadsheet programme such as Excel, and to include the data quality control and analysis procedures in the software. (The original BEACH software, developed in 1993, was based on Lotus for the DOS operating system, and although it was updated to work on the WINDOWS operating system in 1997, some functions were lost). Once the revision has been completed, it is hoped that with some further training, the monitoring programmes may become self-sufficient on at least some of the islands.

Furthermore it is hoped to ensure installation of beach change databases in several agencies in each country/territory, e.g. planning, public works and environmental agencies. This will help to ensure continuity of the monitoring activities and the use and application of the data-bases during and beyond the life of the project. Annual reporting of data results to a regional agency for use as environmental indicators of economic development would also help to ensure continuity of the monitoring (see also Section 5.2).


Assistance has also been given to the islands in the area of interpretation of beach changes as well as to some individual countries/territories in the application of their databases to specific planning projects. One of the findings of the project is that extreme events such as hurricanes are the major cause of shoreline changes, these may be considered ‘permanent’ in a time scale of decades. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo passed over Montserrat, St. Croix and the eastern part of Puerto Rico before proceeding to the eastern seaboard of the USA. Prior to this event, beach change databases had been established and maintained in the British Virgin Islands, Dominica and Nevis. These were used to assess the impact and recovery from this event.

In 1995 three major storms passed through the eastern Caribbean islands:

Tropical Storm Iris 25-28 August
Hurricane Luis 4-6 September
Hurricane Marilyn 14-18 September

While affecting all the eastern Caribbean islands to some degree, the most severe impacts from the 1995 hurricanes were experienced in the northern islands, Dominica to the Virgin Islands. Beaches were measured immediately after these hurricanes and on a near-monthly basis as the beaches recovered. The project focused on these islands to analyze the databases to determine the magnitude of shoreline changes resulting from these hurricane events.

In collaboration with the islands, a technical report was prepared on the impacts of the hurricanes (8). While the purpose of this present report is not to discuss data results in detail, some of the major findings will be summarized below. In the Caribbean islands, hurricanes are the major events and result in shoreline erosion, that is retreat of the land edge or dune edge. While the beaches are re-established after the hurricane, their position is further inland than before the hurricane. The average shoreline retreat that took place behind beaches during Hurricane Luis (a category 4 hurricane) in 1995 ranged from 10 feet (3 m) in Dominica, 113 miles (180 km) from the storm center, to an average retreat of 60 ft (18 m) in Barbuda, which experienced the centre (eye) of the hurricane. Furthermore, these shoreline retreat figures were averages, the maximum shoreline retreat recorded was 100 ft (30 m).

The years 1996 and 1997 were relatively quiet ‘hurricane years’. However, the beach change data indicated that there remained a certain amount of instability in the system after the severe 1995 hurricanes. The hurricane impact report (8) has been circulated to all COSALC countries/territories. Although the 1995 hurricanes had most impact in the northern islands, this will not always be the case and the southern islands also need to plan for future hurricanes.

Besides this regional activity, assistance in the use of the beach change database to review various coastal planning applications has been provided to some individual islands. Through this process, training is provided in actually using the beach monitoring data in the planning process. For instance in Anguilla, during 1996 and 1997, assistance was provided in reviewing planning applications and environmental impact assessments at Shoal Bay, Sandy Island, Prickly Pear Island, Meads Bay, Barnes Bay and Forest Bay. In Nevis assistance was provided in applying the beach change database to proposals for a port at Long Point and a marina at Jones Bay.

In Antigua and Barbuda, the beach monitoring data and especially the impact of the 1995 hurricanes were used to assess the nature of a serious beach erosion problem in Runaway Bay, where several buildings and hotels were threatened by inundation by the sea in 1997 (9). In the same country, the beach monitoring data were used by the Fisheries Division in an assessment of climate change on the coastal zone of Antigua and Barbuda (10).

In Anguilla and Nevis the beach monitoring database was used to assess the effectiveness of the beach nourishment projects at Maunday’s Bay and Pinney’s Beach respectively.

In the Turks and Caicos Islands the project assisted government agencies with using the beach change database as well as experience from other islands to reach a decision concerning a proposed dredging and beach nourishment project at the north-eastern end of Providenciales.

In Montserrat, the Physical Planning Unit used the beach monitoring database to prepare a case study updating the beach sand mining situation since the volcanic crisis (11).

Gradually as the databases become well established and cover longer time periods, they are being used and applied, particularly by planners, in the review of coastal planning applications.


One of the dominant characteristics of beaches is their constant change in form, shape and position. The best way to conserve beaches is to allow them space to move - in a seaward direction during accretionary phases and in a land-wards direction during erosionary phases. Establishing a safe distance between buildings and the active beach zone (a coastal development setback) 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. A coastal development setback is defined as a prescribed distance to a coastal feature, such as the line of permanent vegetation, within which all or certain types of development are prohibited.

In 1995 Hurricane Luis caused tremendous damage to beaches and coastal infrastructure in many islands. In Anguilla, during the course of a study on the impacts of Hurricane Luis on beach resources, funded by the Dependent Territories Regional Secretariat, and conducted in conjunction with the project, guidelines for new coastal development setbacks were developed (12). These guidelines have been incorporated into Anguilla’s Land Use Plan and are being implemented in Anguilla.

During 1996 and 1997, the methodology used in the Anguillan coastal development guidelines was developed in a generic form and reviewed by several Caribbean experts. The methodology consists of using the beach change database as well as other information sources to determine coastal development setbacks for individual beaches on an island. The setback calculation is based on historical shoreline changes, impacts likely to occur during a major hurricane, sea level rise and site specific planning and geographical factors. These guidelines have been published (13), and together with a poster entitled ‘The sea at your doorstep’ (14), were distributed in 1998.

During 1997, the project worked with the Physical Planning Department in Anguilla to prepare a case study on the implementation of the new coastal development setbacks (15).

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