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


‘Although the tourism industry is heavily dependent on coastal resources in many small island states, the primary goal of beach management should be for the benefit of islanders’.

Alain De Comarmond
(De Comarmond, 2001)

Conflicts over resources and values lie at the heart of many of the problems facing coastal managers today. These conflicts are on the rise, as more and more people move to live in coastal areas, and as populations expand leading to increased competition for dwindling resources. In small islands, with their limited land areas, such problems are accentuated, and added to this are restrictions such as isolation and vulnerability. However, adversity and limitations can lead to strength, thus small islands have the opportunity to turn these constraints to advantages and thereby to lead the world in finding solutions to coastal resource conflicts.

During the workshop, many different types of coastal conflicts were presented and discussed. Many of these are common to small islands whichever part of the world they are located in. However, each country is unique and individual, and the way the coastal conflicts are handled often differ; thus there is much to be learnt from ‘sister islands’ in the same region and ‘cousin islands’ in other regions of the world.

The traditional tools of legislation and its accompanying enforcement have shown little success in the field of beach management, a result of undefined agency responsibility, inadequate and antiquated laws and a lack of political support. And while it is undoubtedly necessary to strive to improve coastal laws and their enforcement, it is timely to simultaneously explore other options. Two of the most promising options discussed in this report are the use of wise practice agreements and local area management authorities. Both involve stakeholder participation in the management of the resources with government playing an important role as a major stakeholder. The local area management authority is a slightly more formal form of agreement in that usually it is endorsed as a Cabinet decision and may have a full-time management secretariat. Wise practice agreements would be slightly less formal, involving all stakeholders, including government. However, they might not require a Cabinet decree or a fulltime secretariat.

One such management authority described in this report is that of the Soufriere Marine Management Area in St Lucia. However, if the history of this organization is examined, then one of the most striking characteristics is that continual adaptation and evolution of the guiding principles of the agreement are necessary, as part of an ongoing process, to effect successful compromises among stakeholders.

The concept of wise practice agreements described in this report has yet to be tested in the field of beach management in the small islands represented at this workshop. However, the general consensus of participants was that they had considerable potential. Thus this may be identified as one of the future directions to be explored.

It has been suggested that the inclusion of spiritual and aesthetic resources in a coastal management programme may be seen as a luxury in many countries which tend to give priority to the material side of things – tangible yields, products and consumption (Clark, 1998). However, since so many conflicts result from differences in the way a resource is valued, omission of the intangible aspects results in an incomplete picture. Furthermore, as has been shown in this report, moral and ethical statements and values already exist in the natural and social sciences, where they enrich the discourse.

Concepts of coastal stewardship and wise practice agreements are closely linked to ethical values. There may be another spectrum of tools here, in that such agreements may provide a way to incorporate ethical values at a local, on-the-ground level, while ethical codes of practice may lie at the other end of the spectrum where moral principles are defined and upheld at a national or international level.

Effective and efficient communication lies at the heart of all the concepts discussed in this report – conflict resolution, wise practice agreements and ethical codes of practice. Indeed it is most likely that ineffective or inefficient communication is among the causal factors of many, if not most, coastal conflicts. Thus in every aspect and mode of conflict resolution, communication must play a key role.

Islanders are traditionally self-reliant peoples. Utilizing this and other characteristics, and enhancing them with effective and efficient communication, it remains up to islanders themselves to chart their future destinies in an era of continual change. For ultimately:

We must have a clear vision of what we want to see in the future and how to reach that stage without sacrificing our environment and natural resources’.

Yimnang Golbuu (Golbuu, 2001)

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