Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Dominica workshop papers

Coastal Stewardship and User Conflicts

Gillian Cambers


The major goal of the project ‘Managing beach resources and planning for coastline change, Caribbean islands’ (COSALC)[1] is to develop in-country capability so that island states can measure, assess and manage their beach resources within a framework of integrated coastal management.  Within the scope of this project, and with additional support from the Caribbean Development Bank [2], a series of workshops on ‘Wise coastal practices for beach management’ were held in nine islands over a six-month period, September 2000 to February 2001. 

Workshops were held in Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, Nevis, St. Kitts, Bequia in the St. Vincent Grenadines, and the Turks and Caicos Islands.  The main goals of the workshops were (i) to initiate a dialogue among beach users about beach management practices, and (ii) to highlight the existence, nature and availability of the beach monitoring databases. 

Persons from government and non-governmental organisations, the private sector, beach user groups, secondary schools and the general public attended the workshops, however, the composition and size of the audience varied.  The time of day (daytime or evening) was another variable.  The outcomes of each workshop as well as an overview of the results have been fully documented (Cambers, 2001). 

Beach User Conflicts 

The workshop presentations and discussions highlighted conflicts between different user groups, specifically between:

        developers and beach-user groups, e.g. fishers and beach vendors;
coastal landowners and the public over the right of access to the beach;
sand-mining operators and beach-users;
coastal property owners protecting their land from inundation by the sea and other beach users;
persons dumping solid and other waste at the beach or inland and beach users.

Furthermore, these conflicts between different user groups are compounded by two main factors:

        political control of the planning process;
inadequate and ambiguous environmental legislation.

Physical planning is becoming marginalised in many of the small islands, with decisions about large and small developments being taken by the political directorate with or without the advice of professional planning staff. 

Environmental legislation is often outdated and unclear, and rarely is it properly implemented. 

Conflict Resolution 

Various tools were proposed to reduce these conflicts over beach resources, these included:

        education and awareness;
community responsibility for beaches;
improved agency coordination;
clear definition of agency responsibilities regarding beach management;
proactive approaches to planning;
implementation of adequate coastal development setbacks;
improvement of beach facilities.

A Way Forward 

Capitalising on the human capacity to care 

A little understood, but limitless resource, is acquired at birth by every human being, and this is the human capacity to care. Every community and society has reserves of ‘caring’ that few exploit and most do not recognise.  This capacity for caring has been at the core of a civil society organisation called ‘Mustard Seed Communities’ which has been working for more than 20 years on the outskirts of Kingston, Jamaica, to enrich and empower communities to break out of the cycles of frustration and hopelessness associated with poverty[3]

The philosophy invoked by this organisation can well be applied to environment and development issues in general and to beach resources in particular.  Observations show that people do care about environmental issues, particularly at the local level, however, it is a case of finding out which issues they care about. (This is one of the goals of the proposal for ‘Small Islands Voice’).  For instance, a general topic such as sea level rise, may not be of particular concern in some of the more mountainous Caribbean islands, although in the low-lying atolls of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, it may be a different story.  At a local level, blocking the last remaining public access to a popular beach may be something that people care about and it may provide a point of mobilisation for local action.  A recent case in San Juan, Puerto Rico, provides a case in point, where a group of people protested the blocking of a public access to the Punta Las Marias beach, as well as the encroachment of this development onto the active beach area (known as the maritime zone in Puerto Rico).  Their action has resulted in a court order stopping the development. 

Installing a sense of civic pride 

This involves having a personal commitment to a community and/or country and in many cases it might involve sacrificing individual gains or benefits for the greater good of the community or island. 

Invoking the principles of coastal stewardship 

This is the topic of this workshop, and while coastal stewardship means different things to different people, the general concept implies collective responsibility for coastal (beach) resources.  This means every individual should play a role in the implementation of wise coastal practices, and these practices should not necessarily be dominated by financial goals.  Thus the primary focus of stewardship is directed towards managing beaches for the benefit of islanders, although obviously these actions will also benefit tourists. 

Developing social contracts among beach users 

Bearing in mind that many of the existing environmental laws, do not work and have never worked, partly because of ambiguity and partly because of a lack of implementation, it is necessary to look to other mechanisms, while also pursuing and improving the legal and regulatory framework. 

An alternative mechanism is to try and incorporate a moral dimension – following a certain course of behaviour because it is the right course. One way to include moral values is to view a broad picture and develop ethical codes of practice, as has been done for specific groups such as art dealers and the professional association of landscape architects.  These ethical codes are somewhat similar in scale to the broad statements and goals contained in government policy documents (see paper by Alwin Bully). 

Another approach may be to work at the micro-level, e.g. a particular beach, and to try and develop social contracts between beach users (see paper by Lilith Richards). This is obviously going to be difficult, because in most of the islands, the beach is common property - it is owned by the government for the people.  Thus a social contract will have to involve all beach users, these may come from the immediate area, or any part of the island, and may also include persons outside the country e.g. absentee landowners, foreign developers. A social contract would involve a set of general principles and a method of procedure, which would be designed and agreed by the signatories to the contract. For instance, one principle might be to conserve Beach X, while also recognising that landowners at this beach have the right to protect their property.  The method of procedure would provide mechanisms for the resolution of conflicts. 

Obviously the approach has similarities to a community approach, but it has a much wider scope because it looks to users from beyond the immediate environs of the beach.  Such users could for example include residents from another part of the island who visit the beach for recreation, but who feel that they have a significant stake in the particular beach. 

Concluding Remarks 

 If, as citizens of individual countries and as members of the global community, we agree with the principle of sustainability, then we have a moral duty to become the stewards of our environment – to use and manage it wisely for the generations still to come. 


Cambers, G.  2001.  Monitoring beach changes as an integral component of beach management. Final report of the project on ‘Institutional strengthening of beach management capabilities in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States and the Turks and Caicos Islands’.

[1] The COSALC project was formerly named ‘Coast and beach stability in the Caribbean islands’ (COSALC), the old acronym has been retained.
[2] The COSALC project is sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) through their platform for ‘Environment and development in coastal regions and in small islands’ and the University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program. From October 1999 to March 2001, additional support was provided by the Caribbean Development Bank.
[3] At the cutting edge of development – Mustard Seed Communities of Kingston, Jamaica, 2001, Colin H. Cholmondeley.


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