Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Coastal region and small island papers 2

II. Background


During recent decades, many Small Island Developing States in particular have been subject to rapidly increasing socio-economic pressures, bringing upon their coastal areas probably the greatest impacts and changes in recorded history. These areas have served as centre stage for numerous and often conflicting human activities, such as settlements, fisheries, tourism and various other industries. Enter the need for integrated coastal management.

A first step to be taken by island countries and other nations bordering the sea, on their road toward improving the management of coastal resources, is to examine and evaluate these resources and the pressures bearing upon them. It has been in this spirit, initially, that UNESCO and Haiti have cooperated with regard to the latter’s coastal situation. The last part of this section enumerates the main actions that took place in 1996 in this context.

To launch the assessment, UNESCO, through its CSI endeavour and the Organization’s office in Haiti, together with the country’s authorities, Quisqueya University and the Foundation for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity (FoProBiM), initiated a pre-feasability study. Finally, a seminar (with working sessions) was held in Petionville, 10-14 December 1996. Specialists from Haiti and other countries of the Caribbean met and reviewed the situation, exchanged views and recommended measures for the study, management and preservation of the country’s coastal areas. A project document, for possible financing by funding agencies, was prepared by integrating all the topics considered and recommendations made.


Haiti’s coastline measures approximately 1,770 kms and the island’s shelf extension totals around 5000 km2 (see relief map of Haiti). In general, the shelf is narrow with some exceptions, such as Port-au-Prince Bay at the south-eastern end of the Gulf of La Gon‚ve. The bay, with maximum depth of 120-140 m, is separated from the rest of the Gulf of La Gon‚ve by two shallow-water elongated sills (20- 30m deep) that link the island of La Gon‚ve (located in the middle of the gulf) with both the central and southern parts of the main island.

The country is characterized by fairly narrow coastal plains lying between steep mountain ranges and the coastline. In general, the mountain-slope forests are consumed at an alarming rate for charcoal production, which is a major source of domestic energy. The coastal plains have been converted to intensive agriculture, while fishing occurs only in the shallow coastal waters due to the limited capacities of the country’s traditional fisheries. Uncontrolled over-exploitation of land resources on the island has caused excessive erosion and sedimentation in the watersheds and along the coast, where it affects the sustainability of the coastal resources. In addition, problems stemming from the lack of land-use planning, including for tourism development, are likely to increase in the near future.

Planners, builders and property owners in Haiti and throughout the
Caribbean can benefit from the experience and information accumulated
by the COSALC project on coastal stability.

A hotel near MayagŁez, Puerto Rico with its "feet" already in the water

Photo A. Suzyumov

With regard to coastal (terrestrial and marine) resources, the present situation is mixed. On the one hand, densely populated areas are for the most part severely impacted by human activities. A case in point is the relatively small Port-au-Prince Bay where human activities have caused seriously harmful effects including high sedimentation, estimated at 7,900,000m3 since 1958 (Haiti ECONET, October 1995, UNDP-Haiti), and large amounts of pollution – both visual (e.g. debris) and more nefarious pollution. The most significant example of the former is plastics of all types and, of the latter, petroleum products and sewage. A study by the Foundation for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity (‘Fondation pour la Protection de la Biodiversitť Marine’ – FoProBiM, April, 1996) indicated that more than 98% of debris found on the beach was composed of plastics. On the other hand, areas remote from human habitation are usually in good environmental condition although still affected by debris from distant cities and villages plus siltation caused by erosion due to a high rate of deforestation.

Other problems, such as over-fishing of near-shore waters and the destruction of mangrove forests, contribute to the creation of a coastal environment that is on the verge of irreversible damage.

When facing such extenuating social circumstances as high un- and under-employment, malnutrition and insufficient education, it is difficult to expect certain sectors of the population to embrace conservation and coastal protection; here the daily order of business is survival. However, there is some legislation regulating the exploitation of the coastal ecosystem.

There is also a serious lack of trained environmental specialists in matters concerning coastal resources. Very little documentation is available on activities undertaken concerning the coastal environment in Haiti, partly owing to the paucity of work that has been done. Another negative factor is that often much of the documentation on activities performed is scattered throughout the world, due to the fact that specialists working in Haiti have taken their work with them. Environmental issues that need to be addressed in Haiti include: pollution, eutrophication, over-exploitation, loss of biodiversity and lack of education. It is therefore imperative to gather as much data as possible concerning Haiti’s coastal environment in order to make informed judgements on possible interventions which will promote the sustainable use of the related resources.


A series of meetings was held in January and February in Port-au-Prince with a small group of institutions directly involved in coastal activities. It was decided that invitations should be forwarded to all concerned, including relevant environmental institutions, in order to obtain the greatest possible input into the planning of pertinent activities. An initial pre-project feasibility mission was eventually funded in order to conduct an in-country review evaluating local support for such a project, and to assess the logistics required to implement such a project as well as any technical constraints.

In March and April, the Haitian National Commission for UNESCO began a series of meetings in the country bringing together all concerned leaders f rom the private sector as well as from the government, the university and non-governmental organizations. The purpose was to provide adequate coordination for Haiti’s coastal activities. An ad hoc national committee was formed with the following members: coordinator – Dr. Ariel Azael, Quisqueya University; secretary – Mr. Jean W. Wiener, Foundation for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity; assistant secretary – Mr. Harold Gaspar, Project Route 2004.

A fact-finding mission was conducted from 29 April to 1 May in Haiti by Professor Peter Burbridge from the University of Newcastle, UK. During this mission several initial recommendations were made including the possible preparation of a series of coastal data atlases for Haiti, developing an in-service training programme in coastal management and an exchange mechanism for promoting transfer of knowledge between other countries (specifically other Caribbean nations) and Haiti.

In September two consultants, Dr. Marc Steyaert and Mr. Chris Ninnes, carried out a second, more in-depth mission to Haiti in order to make a further evaluation of the present situation concerning coastal resources, local capacity and actions needed. Conclusions and recommendations arising from this visit included: limiting the proposed activities to a manageable portion of Haiti’s coast, encouraging exchanges between Haiti and other countries of the region, increasing the scientific information base in order to enable better informed decisions, encouraging capacity building, and identifying the need for a seminar to be held in Haiti in order to bring together Haitian and other regional experts for a proper face-to-face exchange of information and preparation of further recommendations.

Two specialists, Chris Ninnes and Jean Wiener, carried out ground- and sea-truthing and research (literature and scientific) in November and December, with the goal of acquiring enough data and information to present at the seminar and working sessions, as well as for the preparation of a document to initiate an integrated coastal management project.

A seminar (with working sessions) was held 10-14 December in Petionville, bringing together Haitian and other regional experts.

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