Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Coastal region and small island papers 11


‘People have to be informed of the connections between their interests and the preservation of their natural heritage from generation to generation rather than from day to day. In today’s parlance: What does coastal stewardship have to do with me?’

Jocelyne Josiah
(Josiah, 2001)


Communication is the transmission of data or information from one actor to another. One can attempt to communicate by sending a message or a piece of information, or by sharing a thought with someone. Such an act satisfies the definition of ‘communication’, provided there is reasonable assurance that the message has been received. All communication should have a purpose and the degree to which this purpose has been satisfied determines the success or failure of the communication.

During an intersectoral workshop ‘Towards Wise Coastal Development Practices’ convened at UNESCO, Paris, in 1998 (UNESCO, 2000a), wise coastal practices were defined (see Chapter 1). Sixteen characteristics of wise coastal practices for sustainable human development were proposed. These have been subsequently modified and are included in Annex VII. One of these characteristics relates directly to communication:

Effective and efficient communication process: a multidirectional communication process involving dialogue, consultation and discussion is needed to attain awareness.

Another of the characteristics relates to one specific aspect of communication, namely documentation. Documentation: The activity and the lessons learnt have been well documented.

Thus effective and efficient communication is recognized as one of the very important, indeed essential, characteristics of wise coastal practices.

The best forms of communication are those that achieve interactivity, encourage feedback and maintain a two-way flow, so that the message is influenced and informed by the views of the recipient, thus allowing a dialogue to replace a monologue. The essence of dialogue is that there are two targets, and it is important that each target listen to the other.

All too many conflicts and failed projects can be traced back to a lack of effective communication. For instance, in the Maldives, marine protected areas have not worked well, mainly because of inadequate stakeholder consultation and the perception that such marine protected areas provide for conservation only and not extraction. 

Methods of communication

Mr James Julien of the Morne 
Rachette-Coulibistrie Village Council, 
explaining the fishermen’s conflict to 
workshop participants at Batalie 
Beach, Dominica. 2001

A fisherman at Batalie Beach, 
Dominica, talks with islanders from the
Turks and Caicos Islands in the 
Caribbean, the Maldives in the Indian 
Ocean, and Palau in the Pacific. 2001

The proactive involvement of masses of citizens in coastal stewardship involves a step-by-step approach focused on the following elements:

The message and the targets of the message

The actual content of the message is very important, and this will also be determined by other factors, such as the medium to be used and the targets of the message. For instance, in St Lucia, the Fisheries Department collects a large amount of information and data which is very relevant to decision-making. However, the politicians, not the Fisheries Department, are the decision-makers. Thus there is a need to communicate information that is relevant and understandable to these decision-makers. Photographs showing a beach before and after a hurricane may be a much more effective means of communication than complicated graphs and tables or even Geographical Information System maps.

All too often research results are not communicated to stakeholders because the research is not in a form that can be easily understood. In such cases there is a need to present the material in a form such that all stakeholders can understand it.

Similarly, senior decision-makers rarely attend workshop technical sessions, because of time limitations and other commitments. Thus it is necessary to find alternative means to reach these individuals. For instance, they often attend opening ceremonies of workshops and training sessions, and this is an ideal time to get key messages across in a short, succinct manner.

It is therefore very important to define and focus on the nature of the message and the target of the message, particularly when planning and implementing information dissemination activities. 

Appropriate media 

Students role-playing different beach 
stakeholders at a Sandwatch workshop
in St Lucia. 2001

In many small islands, radio, and in particular community radio, may be the most attractive conduit for getting the message out. Radio continues to be the most widely occurring mass media instrument and has proven to be an excellent tool for inclusiveness and wide accessibility. It also facilitates open discussions that, when augmented by telephones and other communication and information technologies, can include large numbers of people in exchanges of views and sharing of information. A radio call-in programme on ‘Wise beach management practices’ could be one way to start such a discussion. Such exercises can help to develop consensus building, leading to action, which if sustained, can influence the policies of the society. 

Other methods have also proved successful in small islands. Popular theatre has been useful in transmitting concepts about the forest in St Lucia. Videos have been used effectively in Jamaica, and underwater videos of the coral reefs have made communities much more aware of the problems. Site visits are another method. During workshops for farmers and fishers in the OECS islands, groups were taken to watersheds, and with no prior briefing, asked to point out good and bad practices. They were then taken to coastal and underwater sites, both pristine and degraded. This proved to be a useful learning experience.

Whatever medium is used, the skill of the communicator in transmitting the material and understanding the material is extremely important.

Websites are another useful way to get information out. The CSI website contains much information on all the field projects and associated activities, including related newspaper articles. However, it is always necessary to be proactive and to seek out new information.

Environmental material may not always be seen as news; this is one reason why sometimes material is not published or broadcast. The control of the flow of information is a very important source of power. Sometimes persons who own media stations may not allow certain material to be published or transmitted. In order to circumvent such limitations on communication, UNESCO and other agencies are promoting small, independent community media and telecentres; however, their range is often limited. 

Evaluative mechanisms 

Unfortunately too little attention is given to evaluating the results of communication efforts in environmental management. Without such evaluations it is difficult to assess the success or otherwise of communication activities, or to plan new, improved future efforts. 

During the workshop, the representative from the British Virgin Islands mentioned that she had become involved in environmental work as a result of seeing a demonstration and display on conservation and fisheries at her high school, ten years ago. Such an isolated result provides some positive feedback of the effectiveness of the particular communication effort, but it is necessary to conduct more comprehensive surveys to determine the true impact. 

Small Islands Voice 

Small islands are by their very nature, limited in size and relatively isolated. They are also particularly vulnerable to natural disasters and global economic events, making the problems they confront especially challenging. If they remain isolated and unable to take part in the ‘information age’, the tendency will be to continue in the downward spiral of environmental degradation and growing poverty.

A project entitled ‘Small Islands Voice’ was prepared and approved in response to a 2001 call for proposals within UNESCO for intersectoral activities relating to the contribution of new information and communication technologies to the development of education, science, culture and the construction of a knowledge society. Following approval of the General Conference of UNESCO, ‘Small Islands Voice’ will commence early in 2002.

This project seeks to overcome the isolation of small islands by building capacity and strengthening modes of internal, regional and inter-regional communication. ‘Small Islands Voice’ will provide islanders with the opportunity to voice their opinions on environment-development issues and their views will contribute to the 10-year review of the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), adopted in Barbados in 1994. Continued dialogue, initiated at the grassroots level, supported by existing media and disseminated nationally, regionally and inter-regionally by Internet-based discussion fora, will provide for a feedback-driven flow of information up to and beyond 2004. The strategy will focus on the smaller SIDS in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific regions. The views of young islanders, while included as part of civil society, will constitute a separate component of this project.

Obviously one of the major constraints this project has to face is the limited Internet access in small islands, especially for rural people. This is why so much emphasis will be placed on community-based activities such as meetings and debates, questionnaires and bulletin boards, videos and fliers. Local celebrities can assist by ensuring the activities receive maximum coverage. The media and community-based organizations have a major role to play. While the essence of the project focuses on obtaining the views of civil society on environment-development issues, it may also prove to be a good way to promote wise practices and examples.

Funding limitations mean that selected islands will be targeted for the ‘Small Islands Voice’ activities. The main criterion for selection will be the presence of key people and organizations on the ground. Other criteria will include size, population, language, topography, single islands or archipelagos. Even though key activities will be concentrated in certain islands, all islands will be invited to participate in the project through the regional and inter-regional discussions via the internet.

A somewhat similar process of consultations is at present underway in the Maldives. Here extensive consultations have been held separately with two groups: civil society and government, in order to determine their views on development. This was a long, expensive process which is still ongoing. The views of the two groups are being compiled and there are many differences. It is planned to feed the results of the consultations into a National Development Policy.

The workshop participants discussed ways in which the results of ‘Small Islands Voice’ could feed into government policy at the island level, as well as the regional level. Islands were encouraged to be proactive if they are interested in participating in ‘Small Islands Voice’. 

Concluding comments 

The need for effective communication was a pervasive thread running throughout the workshop and its discussions, its absence lying at the root of many coastal conflicts, its inclusion seen as an essential input for successful coastal stewardship, wise practice agreements, local area management authorities and ethical codes of practice. One of the major gaps identified was the need for evaluation of communication activities in order to determine their effectiveness.

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