Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

CSI info 15


All the islands involved in this project are small islands - some are Small Island Developing States (SIDS), some are territories. As such, they face similar problems: small size and populations, the importance of their coastal areas environmentally and economically, their dependence on outside influences (e.g. economic factors in North America), and their vulnerability to natural disasters.

Well-designed environmental monitoring programmes provide information needed for management and thus are an integral part of management. While the beach-monitoring activities focus on just one geographical part of the coastal system, their implementation involves all aspects/principles of integrated coastal management. The following discussion focuses on monitoring within the wider context of integrated coastal management. 

6.1 Tangible and Intangible Benefits of Environmental Monitoring 

A monitoring programme may be divided into four components: data collection, data analysis, data interpretation and data application.  To simplify the differences a comparison may be drawn: ‘oceans of data, seas of information, rivers of knowledge and drops of wisdom’.  Thus the goal of the monitoring may be seen as deriving a few drops of wisdom, or wise decisions, from the oceans of data, or hundreds of beach profile graphs. 

In order for the maximum benefit to be derived from a beach-monitoring programme, all four components (data collection, analysis, interpretation and application) should be in place in the island.  However, even if only one component is ongoing, e.g. data collection, an island may derive considerable benefit. For example, regular monitoring visits to the beaches, provides information about seasonal erosion and accretion cycles, and other simple observations may show the loss of a beach access or excessive garbage on the beach.  Armed with such information, persons involved in monitoring become knowledgeable about their island’s beaches and can then play an active role in beach management. 

6.2 Building Institutional Capacity 

Through the beach-monitoring activities over the past decade, data collection has become an established activity in most islands.  With the help of this CDB-UNESCO project, data analysis and data interpretation are also becoming established activities in most islands. However, the application of scientific data to coastal decision-making, e.g. ways to use the information in the review of coastal planning applications, or in the selection of beaches for mining, is a very difficult skill to transfer. It involves individuals, their perceptions and background-training, as well as institutional procedures for decision-making. Some of the islands have the potential to move forward on to the data application stage, particularly those islands where the monitoring is in the hands of persons with tertiary (university) education.  For instance, individuals in Antigua and Barbuda, and Nevis and  St. Kitts have used the beach change database to develop coastal erosion hazard maps (see Sections 4.2.2, 4.2.7, 4.2.8). 

However, it is one matter to strengthen institutional capacity at the technical and professional levels, and yet another matter to actually use that enhanced institutional capacity.  All too often island governments prefer to call in outside experts, rather than to consult and listen to the opinion and advice of their own professionals.  This is a significant problem that needs to be addressed. Unless island governments listen to, and heed the advice of their own support staff and professionals, efforts at training persons at this level will be under-utilized, and valuable staff members will become part of an overseas ‘brain-drain.’ 

The reality, in the smaller islands in particular, shows small environmental agencies, with very few persons with tertiary education, and difficulties in keeping good staff.  These problems are evident in many different ways in the islands. For example, in many cases environmental agencies are fairly new and environmental monitoring may be a relatively recent activity. Thus while there is often considerable enthusiasm for collecting the data in the field, there is often less interest in the data analysis aspects because of unfamiliarity with the objectives and results of environmental monitoring. 

Some islands have found innovative ways to maximize their institutional capacity.  For instance, Anguilla has used secretarial staff to enter monitoring data on computer. In addition, by ensuring that these staff members have the opportunity to take part in field data collection on occasion, the data entry becomes more meaningful, interesting and accurate. 

Utilizing the assistance of NGOs in the monitoring activities is another way of developing institutional capacity and also a means for involving members of the public in environmental management. This has worked particularly well in Nevis, and also in St. Lucia. Similarly in Dominica, communities taking part in the Environmental and Coastal Resources project (ENCORE) were involved in beach-monitoring activities for a three-year period (1994-1996). While unfortunately their involvement did not continue once the ENCORE project finished, those persons residing in the communities who were involved in monitoring now have the benefit of increased knowledge about the changes taking place on their community’s beaches and how to deal with those problems. In a further effort to build capacity at the community level, Dominica plans to hold decentralized ‘Wise Practices for Beach Management’ workshops in 2001, as a follow-up activity to the workshops held during this CDB-UNESCO project. 

Involving schools in beach monitoring, is another way of imparting information about beach changes and beach management to students, their parents and communities.  The students learn about science and its applications to their island environments.  This has been illustrated successfully in Carriacou, in Grenada’s Grenadine Islands, where students have been monitoring the island’s beaches for more than three years.  A similar programme started within this CDB-UNESCO project in Bequia, in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.  Involvement of high school students in the beach monitoring is also being considered in the Turks and Caicos Islands. 

These different ways to maximize institutional capacity and to involve other groups require considerable effort and time from the main partner agency.  Often, it takes the partner agency more time to coordinate and train another group, as well as to oversee the quality of the data, than for the partner agency to do the actual monitoring.  Thus commitment to the overall goals of integrated coastal management are crucial.  Furthermore, in order for such efforts to work, the monitoring protocols, particularly for data collection and analysis, must be standardized and simple. 

6.3  Sectoral and Integrated Approaches  

Proponents of integrated coastal management have long deplored the sectoral nature of government institutions.  However, there is a long history of sectoral government in the Caribbean islands, which continues up until today. Hence, perhaps the focus should be on ways to strengthen the sectors whilst at the same time promoting ways to share ideas, exchange information and coordinate actions.  While considerable efforts are being made in this direction, especially through projects and committees, true integration is some distance away in most of the islands. 

Grenada is one island that has made an effort to integrate its beach-monitoring activities.  Four different agencies from two different ministries work together to collect and analyse the data.  However, mechanisms still have to be established in Grenada to share the updated databases. 

The difficulties of coordination can be seen in Anguilla, and Antigua and Barbuda, where beach-monitoring programmes were initially established with both planning and environmental agencies playing key roles.  However, after two or three years, the planning agency ceased its input to the data collection process as other priorities took precedence, and the environmental agency was left to continue the monitoring activity on its own. 

While integrated coastal management calls for the sharing of information, the difficulties involved in actually sharing data have yet to be fully resolved.  Some islands have put in place a system whereby the public has to pay for such information, e.g. for use in environmental impact assessments, although the payment usually covers only the printing costs not the actual cost of the data collection.  The question arises whether such information should be given freely to other government departments and statutory bodies.  Issues regarding data ownership and monetary value require further discussion within the region. 

As a result of this CDB-UNESCO project, environmental and planning agencies in most islands are now involved in the beach-monitoring activities, if not directly with data collection, at least with data interpretation and application.  However, in most islands it is the department with responsibility for public works, which is directly concerned with sea defences and the control of beach sand mining. These agencies therefore have an important role to play in beach management, especially in view of the fact that beaches provide natural, flexible barriers, which protect infrastructure such as roads. It is often difficult to involve agencies with responsibility for public works in environmental and planning initiatives; for instance, they were only represented in a few of the island workshops despite being invited to all the workshops. Nevertheless, their involvement in beach management, as partners with planning and environmental agencies, as well as with coastal communities and other groups from civil society, must be an ultimate goal. 

6.4  Top-down and Bottom-up Approaches

Recent trends in integrated coastal management have pointed to the need for a bottom-up approach rather than the traditional top-down approach.  But perhaps, a common ground needs to be developed, which brings together the top and the bottom, a difficult task indeed.  A recent paper by Courtney and White (2000) points to this very problem ‘…..issues facing Philippine coasts and their human communities are too complex and caused by too many factors to find viable solutions by intervening only at the local level.’ 

The monitoring activities described in this report fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between top and bottom. Aiming as they do to strengthen institutional capacity at the professional and technical level, they have also attempted in some islands to enhance capabilities at the community, NGO and school levels. 

The need to continue focusing efforts on the bottom-up approach was clearly illustrated in many of the island workshops.  In St. Kitts, the construction of a seawall, which restricted access along the beach during a seasonal erosion episode, resulted in considerable concern and debate about a lack of transparency and public involvement in the permitting and approval process. Ways to give islanders a voice and a role in the management of their resources must continue to be sought, as one workshop participant in the Turks and Caicos Islands asked ‘Where can the public express their viewpoints on issues such as these (in reference to a dredging permit)?’ 

Yet efforts directed at the bottom-up approach should not dilute efforts at the top-down approach.  In many of the islands, all major, and sometimes too all minor development decisions are made by the political directorate, with or without the advice of their technical support staff.  Marginalization of technical agencies, especially planning, was an issue brought out at several of the island workshops.  Thus innovative ways must be found to provide essential environmental information to the political and senior administrative level, so as to assist them in the making of informed decisions.  This will not be a simple or clear-cut task, because while it is relatively easy to provide training to technical and professional persons through workshops and other means, time constraints make it impossible to apply similar methods to politicians and senior administrators.  This was evidenced by the fact that at nearly all the workshops, senior administrators and ministers were only present for the opening ceremonies.  (The one exception was Anguilla, where several senior administrators and government ministers remained for the entire morning session). Thus methods must be found that have continuity and relay the information in a concise, easily understandable and relevant manner, and which recognize that politicians have other agendas to consider besides the environmental one. 

6.5  From Local to Regional to Global Levels

There does not as yet exist any formal mechanism for reporting environmental monitoring results to a central agency; this is an area that merits further consideration.  With many aid agencies basing their monetary assistance solely on economic indicators such as gross domestic product (GDP), incorporating environmental indicators such as the loss/reduction in size of an island’s beaches because of a particularly severe hurricane or as a result of inappropriate coastal construction, might go some way towards providing a more realistic picture of an island’s true state of development. 

Similarly, there is no mechanism within the sub-region for exchanging information about beach management issues.  For example, after Hurricane Lenny, several islands were considering offshore dredging to replace eroded beaches, but did not know where to turn to for advice, apart from coastal engineering firms.  Yet there exists a wealth of hands-on experience about such activities in a number of islands, e.g. Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, St. Lucia.  Establishing a focused, electronic list for sharing such information regionally could provide for information exchange and practical advice.  While the region faces many limitations with e-mail and Internet access, these should improve in the future and should not deter the start of such an information exchange network. 

Moving beyond the regional level to the global level, small island developing states and island-territories all over the world face similar problems relating to sustainable development and environmental management.  Exchanging information globally is yet another way to benefit from the experiences of others in similar situations.  However, in order for such exchanges to be maximized and not too time consuming, they have to be focused, for instance the global forum on ‘Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development’ (user name = csi, password = wise) moderated by UNESCO’s Coasts and Small Islands platform seeks to define, assess and implement wise coastal management practices.


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