Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

CSI info 15


Shorelines are areas of continuous change where the natural forces of wind and water interact with the land.  Here, both natural forces such as storms and hurricanes, and human activities such as sand mining and construction too close to the beach, result in changes, which are often dramatic in nature.  Such changes have taken on paramount importance in the Caribbean islands since tourism has become one of the major industries.  Statistics show that for the last two decades tourism has been the only steady growth industry in the region (Patullo, 1996). Yet all too often, shorelines, and particularly beaches, one of the main reasons visitors come to the Caribbean, are regarded as permanent features of the landscape requiring little in the way of special management. 

Besides tourism, Caribbean beaches are highly valued by island residents for relaxation, sports and simple enjoyment.  They represent an important part of islanders’ natural heritage and also provide areas for fish landing sites and fulfil the role of flexible barriers protecting valuable land and infrastructure during storms and hurricanes. Furthermore, in many islands, beaches and dunes are used as a source of construction sand. 

Photograph 1. A Caribbean beach: 
beauty awaiting development.

Against this background, a project, entitled ‘Institutional Strengthening of Beach Management Capabilities in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States 1 (OECS) and the Turks and Caicos Islands’ was executed through a cooperation agreement between the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The project focuses on one specific aspect of management, namely the monitoring of physical changes in beaches, and seeks to strengthen in-country capability to analyse and interpret beach change data, and apply it to the planning and management of beach resources.  For this purpose, specially designed software (‘Beach Profile Analysis’) has been prepared (through a grant from the University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program’s (UPR-SGCP) Multi-Programme and Regional Development sector).  This current CDB-UNESCO project provided for the installation of the software in the environmental and planning agencies in the countries/territories, training in the use of the software, and awareness workshops. The island countries/territories, covered by the project, now have the skills and knowledge to analyse and interpret their beach-monitoring results, and to apply the information to ensure the effective management of beach erosion phenomena. 

This CDB-UNESCO project builds on the foundations laid by another initiative: the ‘Coast and Beach Stability in the Caribbean’ project (COSALC), established by UNESCO in 1985, and administered by UNESCO’s platform for ‘Environment and Development in Coastal Regions and in Small Islands’ (CSI) since 1996, together with the UPR-SGCP (since 1994). This initiative responded to regional concerns about beach erosion and its effects on tourism, by developing in-country capabilities so that island states could measure and assess their own beach resources within an overall framework of integrated coastal management. The main focus was on monitoring and managing the physical changes in beaches, e.g. erosion and accretion, and establishing and maintaining beach-monitoring programmes using standardized methodology. Besides the OECS and the Turks and Caicos Islands, the COSALC project includes Haiti, the San Andres Archipelago of Colombia and the United States Virgin Islands.  However, by the end of the 1990s, while beach monitoring had become an accepted activity in islands covered by the COSALC project, most of the data analysis and interpretation was carried out by the COSALC Coordinating Centre at the UPR-SGCP.  In order to make the beach-monitoring activities sustainable, there was a need to provide the islands with further training and skills-transference in data analysis, interpretation and application, hence the need for the CDB-UNESCO project. 

Since 2000, the COSALC project has been renamed: ‘Managing beach resources and planning for coastline change, Caribbean islands’, and while retaining the focus on physical changes in beaches, the perspective has been broadened to include other aspects, such as coastal planning guidelines (building setback distances), awareness and education components. (Appendix I contains a summary of the COSALC project). 

As a result of the COSALC project and this present CDB-UNESCO project, 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 conservation, coastal development and tourism activities. The temporal scale of the data sets also illustrates the commitment of the islands to beach change monitoring, which is now an accepted activity, whereas ten to fifteen years ago this was not the case. 

The databases are also being incorporated into other ongoing projects.  For instance discussions are underway with the Global Environment Facility (GEF) project ‘Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to Climate Change’ (CPACC) to include the COSALC beach change database in their Coastal Resources Information System (CRIS).  Similarly, the Organization of American States and the US Agency for International Development (OAS-USAID), through the Post-Georges Disaster Mitigation project, used the beach change databases in Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis to develop beach erosion hazard maps based on geographical information systems (GIS), (James, 2001a and b, Daniel, 2001a and b).  These maps are available on the Web (follow the hazard mapping links). 

Experiences gained from this CDB-UNESCO project are also being incorporated into the wider framework of the UNESCOWise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development’ (WiCoP) Internet-based discussion forum (user name = csi, password = wise). This forum seeks to develop a comprehensive set of wise practices, which together with field-based activities will form the basis for the elaboration of ethical codes of practice tailored for specific domains, which in turn will promote equitable resource sharing in small islands and coastal regions.  Several of the forum contributions relate to beach management issues such as those discussed in this report, and one of the recent contributions, which reports on ways to reduce coastal conflicts, is a direct outcome of this CDB-UNESCO project ( see ‘Planning measures need the support of all/Anguilla’ by Sharon Roberts-Hodge; user name = csi, password = wise). 

The timing of this CDB-UNESCO project was extremely opportune, for shortly after the commencement of project activities, Hurricane Lenny, one of the most destructive hurricanes to affect the eastern Caribbean islands in the 20th century, caused massive coastal erosion along the leeward coasts of the islands from Grenada to Anguilla (November, 1999).     

The project was divided into two phases. The first phase covered the period 1 October, 1999 to 30 April 2000, and was the subject of an Interim Report (Cambers, 2000a).  During this phase, visits were made to all the islands,  the software was installed and training activities conducted.  During Phase 2, which ran from 1 May 2000 to 2 February 2001, the training activities were evaluated, consolidated and expanded; and, together with island partners, awareness workshops on ‘Wise Coastal Practices for Beach Management’ were conducted in nine islands. 

The following Chapters 2 and 3 of this report describe the project objectives and terms of reference; and the methodology.  The results of the beach-monitoring capacity-building activities are then discussed, firstly from an overall perspective, then from an island-by-island viewpoint (Chapter 4). Issues arising from the workshops on ‘Wise Coastal Practices for Beach Management’ are presented in Chapter 5. This is followed by a discussion chapter (Chapter 6) focusing on beach-monitoring activities within the framework of integrated coastal management.  The final Chapter 7 of the report contains conclusions and recommendations.  

1 The nine OECS countries/ territories are: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. For the purposes of this project, St. Kitts and Nevis have been treated as two individual islands, since the constitution of the Federation of St. Kitts-Nevis allows for separate government agencies in each island


Start Introduction Activities Publications Search
Wise Practices Regions Themes