Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
colbartn.gif (4535 octets)

CSI papers 1


As in other parts of the world, beaches in the Caribbean are special places for recreation, for scenery and for revitalizing the soul. Moreover, in the Caribbean Islands, beaches are the economic "lifeblood" of the countries. Tourism is the main industry in many of these islands, and although some islands are trying to diversify their product to include nature, historical and cultural tourism, the vistas of waving palm trees, white sand beaches and aquamarine seas remain at the forefront of the tourist brochures.

Yet these very beaches are under threat and have been for decades. In every island one can see evidence of coastal erosion, walls replacing sand beaches, buildings replacing natural coastal vegetation, and sometimes muddy coloured seas. And everywhere there is evidence of the proliferation of houses, condominiums, hotels, restaurants and roads either on or behind the beach.

1995, the second most active year for hurricanes since records began, was a "wake-up call" for many of the Caribbean Islands. Within a three week period, one tropical storm and two hurricanes moved through the Eastern Caribbean Islands wreaking a path of damage and destruction to man-made infrastructure and the natural environment. Some islands which had not experienced a hurricane for more than thirty years, and whose younger generations had no experience of what was to come, found themselves directly in the path of a category four hurricane. Predictions lead us to believe that this may only be a foretaste of the future.

Against this background, work has been ongoing for more than a decade to help the islands manage their beach resources within an overall framework of integrated coastal management. A regional programme "Coast and Beach Stability in the Lesser Antilles" (COSALC) was started by UNESCO in 1985, in response to a request from the islands for help with the problems they were experiencing with coastal erosion and its effects on the vital tourist industry. Since 1994, COSALC has been jointly sponsored by the University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program (UPR/SGCP).

Within the framework of this programme, environmentalists and physical planners, scientists, regional agencies and non government organizations (NGOs), hotel owners and sand miners, from the Eastern Caribbean Islands, met in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico between the 21st and the 25th October, 1996, to discuss the problems facing their islands' beaches, to exchange information on solutions and case studies and to determine what needs to be done in the area of beach management. This meeting was sponsored by UNESCO within its Coastal Regions and Small Islands endeavor (CSI), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO and the UPR/SGCP.

The papers presented at the meeting are contained in this volume. They cover four main management areas: coastal erosion, beach sand mining, traditional and cultural beach practices, beaches as a tourism resource. They represent the full range of beach management issues in the islands and provide an insight into current ideas and approaches to solutions.

It is hoped that this volume will be useful to coastal resource users and managers throughout the Caribbean as well as to small island developing states in other oceans of the world.

Gillian Cambers,
University of Puerto Rico,
30th December, 1996

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