Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

CSI info 15


Against a background of mounting shoreline erosion, increased hurricane frequency, rising sea levels and economic dependency on coastal tourism, the small islands of the Caribbean face a major dilemma – how to maintain and expand their coastal tourism industries while at the same time conserving their beaches for residents and tourists alike. This report describes a project designed to help the islands belonging to the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St Kitts-Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines) and the Turks and Caicos Islands, develop the institutional capability to effectively manage and find solutions to these problems. 

The project was funded by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and executed through a cooperation agreement with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The project focused on one specific aspect of beach management, namely the monitoring of physical changes in beaches, and sought to strengthen in-country capability to analyse and interpret beach change data, and apply the knowledge gained to the planning and management of beach resources. Specially designed software (Beach Profile Analysis) was installed in environmental and planning agencies in the countries/territories included in this project, and training was provided in its use and application to beach management. Follow-up visits provided the opportunity to assess the results of the training, and provide additional assistance where necessary. Awareness workshops were held to sensitize islanders about beach changes and to discuss the many issues relating to beach management in small islands.

This CDB-UNESCO project was built on the foundation laid by the ‘Coast and Beach Stability in the Caribbean’ (COSALC) project. Established in 1985 by UNESCO, and jointly sponsored by the University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program, this initiative (refocused in 1996 under the new UNESCO initiative on Coastal Regions and Small Islands) has responded to regional concerns about beach erosion and its effects on tourism (initially voiced in the 1980s) by developing in-country skills to understand and monitor beach changes. The COSALC project resulted in beach monitoring becoming an accepted activity in the islands; however, most of the data analysis was carried out by the COSALC Coordination Centre.

As a result of this CDB-UNESCO project, seven of the eleven countries/territories now have vibrant beach-monitoring programmes with the data analysis and interpretation being conducted in the country/territory. These monitoring programmes can be expected to become self-sufficient in the future and continue without external support. In the other four countries/territories, it is expected that further assistance will be required in the field of beach monitoring.

Many islands now have significant beach change databases covering more than five years and in a few cases more than ten years. This is a critical quantitative record showing the results of natural factors such as hurricanes, and human activities such as sand mining. Such data sets represent a solid foundation on which to base future decisions concerning beach management, such as the planning of new beachfront buildings, the development of tourism activities, and the design of erosion mitigation measures. The temporal scale of the data sets also illustrates the commitment of the islands to beach monitoring.

The monitoring of beach changes provides important information about beach resources; such information is a prerequisite for sound management and informed decision-making. This report discusses monitoring within a framework of integrated coastal management, in particular the tangible and intangible benefits of monitoring; the difficulties of capacity building in small island states; problems associated with integrated approaches; and the nature of management – whether top-down or bottom-up.

The results of stakeholder workshops on ‘Wise Coastal Practices for Beach Management’ in nine of the countries/territories identified several major conflicts over beach resources between different user groups, e.g. between coastal landowners and the public. Ways to provide for the equitable sharing of beach resources form the basis for the resolution of these conflicts, and several ideas were identified.

Recommendations for future work, arising from the workshops and the consultant’s assessment, include: island-specific initiatives; further technological skills transference, especially in developing an interface between the beach change databases and geographical information systems; enhanced information sharing, such as through face-to-face and electronic means; and the further development of concepts and tools for coastal stewardship and the equitable sharing of beach resources.


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