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

Coastal region and small island papers 11


‘Many of our islands have problems with coastal management. It seems we have inherited our colonial masters’ mentality where our beaches are concerned – strip them bare, take their wealth, absorb their productivity, then leave them empty and useless. While we play on our golden sands and share our islands’ beauty with the tourists we welcome, while we play cricket and soccer in the surf and watch our picnic fires burn, we do not see the changing contours of the beach line. We do not note the slow march inland. We hop over the piles of litter and flotsam. We take little notice of the vanishing species from the reefs, or the dying coral, until they are long gone.

Herman Belmar
(Belmar, 2001)


The coast plays an important role in island life and almost every economic sector has a strong stake in the coast. Anguilla, like many of its sister islands, often boasts with pride that it has some of the best and most pristine beaches in the Caribbean. Yet, with its small size, Anguillans realize that if they were to destroy even one beach, or sacrifice one on behalf of development, it would in fact represent a significant percentage of the island’s natural resources, its ‘bread and butter’. Due to this dependency on the coast, it is impossible to allocate the use of the coast or beach to a single economic sector for development or to give one sector priority over another. Hence, there always arise conflicts and struggles amongst private and quasi-private property-based operations on the shore, and public (common) property-based activities on the beach and in the coastal waters. There are also conflicts between regulatory agencies and developers wanting to do as they wish in coastal areas; and between regulatory agencies and elected members of government, who may wish to ignore various regulations and policies in the name of development and short-term economic gain. In light of this, it is essential that there be a coastal management process in place that has a mechanism to cope with conflict resolution.

In many islands, the indigenous population have taken it for granted that the coastal areas and the beaches would always be available for their use and enjoyment. However, with the expanding tourism industry, as for example on the north shore of Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands, conflicts are arising and islanders are concerned about their ‘presumed rights’.

Even in an island less dependent on beach-based tourism, such as Dominica, 75% of the island’s communities live within one kilometre of the coast. And in Dominica, with the country’s over-dependence on agriculture and export in an era of globalization, outside factors are forcing the country towards economic diversification with a focus on tourism and the service sector.

In all the islands land tenure is a major cause of conflict. The granting of property rights without giving the necessary consideration to customary resource users has, in many cases, undermined the ‘common’ or ‘public’ status of the beach.


Following the national workshops on ‘Wise Coastal Practices for Beach Management’ held in the eastern Caribbean islands in 2000–2001, the results were synthesized. The analysis showed that the major conflicts were between the following groups:

Examples of some of these conflicts can be seen in St Kitts, where the beaches are largely unmanaged and user conflicts result in overcrowding, illegal sand mining, unplanned development, dune destruction, the removal of coastal vegetation, and pollution. These problems often result in quick-fix solutions such as the construction of sea walls or offshore dredging, which may exacerbate the situation. An examination of the problem areas include the conflict among vendors at South Friars Bay, the unsustainable extraction of sand at Belle Tete Beach in Sandy Point, the construction of a poorly designed seawall at North Frigate Bay, and the excessive pollution of Basseterre Bay. These problems are compounded by a sense of complacency on the part of island residents, who still uphold the traditional belief that the sea is self-purifying and sand will always be there on the beach. St Kitts is by no means alone in facing these issues.

Conflicts between developers and other beach users

Conflicts between developers and other beach users at Batalie Beach in Dominica were presented and discussed. In 1995, fishermen found the entrance to the beach, which they had traditionally used, closed by a gate and a fence. During the workshop, participants had the opportunity to discuss this issue and how it was resolved with representatives of the Village Council and the fishermen. This conflict is further analysed in the context of wise practice agreements in Chapter 4.

Often conflicts arise because one group of stakeholders does not accept the rights of another group. In the Maldives, for example, fishermen have traditionally used the reefs for bait fishing. However, tourists who dive on the reef view fishing as destructive.

Conflicts between coastal landowners and the public over the right of access to the beach

Narrow beach access 
path to Pingouin 
Beach, Grenada. 1997

Beach access is a concern in many Caribbean islands and it relates to the fact that islanders take their beaches and coastal areas for granted and assume that because they had free and easy access in the past, this will always be the case. Traditional rights of way have to be in use over a period of years before they acquire legal status.

This was discussed during a workshop field visit to Picard Beach in Dominica where, because of serious coastal erosion, the only road access to the Coconut Beach Hotel now lies on a neighbour’s property and is the subject of a legal dispute. This situation is described and analysed in detail in Chapter 4- Wise practice agreements.

In the Seychelles, access to the beach has not yet arisen as a major problem, but due to the recent increase in hotel construction, there is concern that island residents may feel like ‘intruders’ on beaches adjacent to large hotels. This is already the case in some of the Caribbean islands. In Nevis, there is a growing concern among residents, who use the beaches for bathing, picnicking, fishing, jogging, etc., about the increasing exclusiveness of some of the beaches being marketed for tourism, and also among the population who feel they are being ‘plannedaway’ from the coast.

Another issue that arises is that of privately owned islands such as exist in the British Virgin Islands and the Grenadines, where nationals are often not allowed access to the beaches. In the Maldives, foreigners are not allowed to own land, only to lease it. Whole islands may be leased for tourism resorts; the Tourism Ministry monitors such leasing and is also responsible for coordinating resort planning and granting permits.

The concept of ‘coast’ in the Maldives includes the total land area of each island, its surrounding lagoon extending over the reef flat to the outer edge of the reef. Resident communities of individual islands regard the surrounding lagoon and reefs as an integral part of their coast. While individual home and agriculture plots are delineated, the rest of the land area, the beach, lagoon and reef are community wealth and used by all. Access to and from beaches is not a major issue as individual land plots are set well back from the beach. 

Generally the participants felt that the public should have the right of access to the beach. In Anguilla, it is not permitted to restrict access to the beach. While in the Turks and Caicos Islands, enhancement of public accesses is sometimes included as a condition for development.

However, at one beach in Dominica, Macoucherie, where there is no public access because the land is privately owned and it is necessary to cross a river to get to the beach, the landowner has installed facilities (showers, washrooms, picnic tables, etc.) and charges a small fee for their use. Picnickers have welcomed these measures, and as a result, this beach is one of the few that is not mined for sand and is relatively free from solid waste.

Similarly, at Anse Chastanet in St Lucia, one hotel occupies the whole of the beachfront and the bay, and enjoys unrestricted access to the bay and the reef. The operators of this hotel have adopted a behaviour pattern synonymous with owning the beach and the reef, which has resulted in the resources remaining relatively intact. However, neighbouring stakeholder groups view this arrangement negatively, and conflicts have resulted, only partly resolved by the Soufriere Marine Management Area (see also Chapter 4). While it is acknowledged that coastal resources may be better managed under private stewardship, this conflicts with the generally held perception of coastal resources being common property, and the guaranteed constitutional right of access by St Lucians to these resources. 

Conflicts between coastal property owners protecting their land and other beach users 

New seawall under construction, 
Pottersville, Dominica. 2001

Turtle nesting on Silhouette Island in 
the Seychelles

Protecting beachfront development and other coastal infrastructure with sea walls and revetments causes significant erosion of the land on either side of the sea defence structure, and may even result in the loss of the beach in front of the structure. This concern is being increasingly expressed in Nevis by coastal developers and others. Several speakers at the Opening ceremony of the workshop noted the growing proliferation of seawalls in Dominica following the recent hurricanes, and the impacts these were having on beaches and on wildlife, specifically crabs and turtles.

In contrast to the Caribbean islands, beach protection is regarded as a community responsibility in the Maldives. Community members contribute in kind (such as labour, cement bags, food for the workers) to the construction and maintenance of beach protection structures such as breakwaters, groynes, sea walls and harbour protection structures. The appointed administrative head of each inhabited island, the Island Development Committee and the Women’s Development Committee, guides community activities. Furthermore, concerns in the Maldives about sea level rise and coastal inundation have resulted in a centralization programme, such that very vulnerable communities are given the opportunity to move to the larger islands and are provided with new housing as compensation for the property left behind. 

Conflicts between persons indiscriminately dumping solid waste and other beach users

In Dominica and Grenada, a number of coastal villages dump garbage in rivers and over the edge of cliffs, thereby impacting the coastal ecosystem and the health of people who use the coast for fishing and recreation. While the deep waters surrounding Dominica might appear as suitable sites for dumping, this would not only be unethical environmentally, but would also be uneconomic in an island promoting itself as the ‘Nature Island’ with an important focus on dive tourism. 


Conflict resolution: developers and other beach users

Vendors markets have been 
constructed in some islands, such as 
here at Grand Anse, Grenada, where 
visitors can buy locally-made items. 

In Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands, there is an ongoing conflict between the managers of some all-inclusive hotels and beach vendors. The latter wish to sell their wares directly to tourists on the beach, but are often accused of harassing the tourists. At present, all the stakeholder groups, including the government, are working together to identify specific locations, vendors markets, where the vendors can operate successfully.

Industrial pollution in the coastal area of Canefield, Dominica, is a serious issue. While several local industrialists were invited to the workshop, unfortunately they did not attend. This emphasizes the need to find innovative ways to bring all stakeholders into the conflict resolution process. In this regard, reference was made to another CSI field project in Gujarat, India, where a major ship-breaking industry has caused serious environmental and social conflicts in the local area. Through individual and combined consultations with stakeholder groups – villagers, migrant workers, ship-breaking plot owners and the government – efforts are being made to resolve the many conflicts (UNESCO 2000b). 

Conflict resolution: sand mining operators and other beach users 

The need for an analytical approach to solve complex conflicts such as beach sand mining is often not recognized. For instance in Nevis, after a survey of sand resources, several options were tried before an appropriate solution was found. These included the use of quarry dust, and importation of sand, first from Dominica, then from Barbuda. As situations evolve, new options have to be continually sought, and islanders need to learn from each other.

In Montserrat, sand has traditionally been considered a free resource available to all. Following two serious hurricanes, a strategy was implemented in 1994 to resolve the resource conflict. This included the importation of a new rock crusher to provide an alternative to beach sand, and the closure of the beaches. Other measures included the government’s commitment not to use beach sand in government contracts, training sessions for contractors in the use of quarry dust, and a permitting system for the extraction of sand from one specific beach for use as a finishing material only. An extensive public education programme was undertaken. However, as mentioned above, situations continually change, and following the volcanic crisis and the relocation of the population to the northern third of the island, there was another construction boom in 1998, endangering the few remaining accessible beaches. This has necessitated the development of a new strategy devised by all the stakeholders. The strategy is based on the formation of a public awareness committee; the holding of regular stakeholder meetings to discuss concerns relating to sand mining; and the formation of a commission to guide policy on beach management. The lessons learnt in Montserrat over the decade of the 1990s have illustrated the important role of education in changing the misconception that the sea has a limitless supply of sand.

Coral and sand mining have been addressed in the Maldives using a similar approach to Montserrat, including regulation, providing alternatives, and raising awareness. The approach included a ban on coral mining, economic incentives such as reducing the duty on imported aggregate and cement, and an extensive awareness programme on the importance of reefs for fisheries, tourism and coastal protection. 

Conflict resolution: role of regional organizations 

There is a commonality of problem issues within small islands. Thus regional organizations such as the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Natural Resources Management Unit (OECS-NRMU), and island groupings such as the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), may have an important role to play in incorporating conflict prevention and resolution into regional programmes and projects. However, this may be harder to achieve in the FSM, where the islands all have different languages, which makes programme implementation a difficult task. 

Conflict resolution: role of non-governmental organizations 

All too rarely are beach accesses 
clearly marked such as this one in 
Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos
Islands. 2000.

Sand stockpiled behind a beach, as 
seen here at Sturge Park Beach, was 
a common site in Montserrat in the 

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) may play different roles in conflict prevention and resolution. In some cases they act as a watchdog; for instance, the St Christopher Heritage Society (SCHS) is quickly informed by its members of instances of coastal degradation and destruction, and then brings these issues to the attention of the government of St Kitts-Nevis and the public. The SCHS is sometimes seen as a threat by the government which does not always accept the validity of their information or agree with their views.

However, the SCHS also provides an important linkage between government, the private sector and the community. So too, in the Turks and Caicos Islands, the National Trust is working with two government agencies to implement a public awareness programme on coastal resources. The government is considering the transfer of ownership and management of some of the public beach accesses to the National Trust.

NGOs exist to serve the needs of civil society. In Antigua and Barbuda, where government is a major employer, and people may not want to be seen criticizing it, they will support the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG). A similar situation exists in Dominica, with the Dominica Conservation Association.

In cases, where NGOs have opposed government over a particular issue, they may suffer a backlash as a result. This was the case in Antigua and Barbuda when the EAG opposed the Guiana Island development. 

It is very important for NGOs to be fully in touch with their members and stakeholders. In the case of the EAG, they have just undergone a major review process with their members. This involved full consultation on the issues to be addressed by the organization, using questionnaires, workshops and meetings. In some cases there are quasi-NGOs, e.g. the National Science and Technology Council in Grenada, which receives a subvention from the government. Reference was made to a discussion thread on the WiCoP forum relating to unscrupulous NGOs, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia (Riedmiller, 2000). Complete transparency in all matters, and especially in financial accounting, is very important. 


The main constraints to conflict resolution discussed related to fragmentation of government responsibility for beach management and a lack of political support. In addition, enforcement is often focused more towards protecting the economy than the environment. 

Lack of agency coordination 

Although some progress has been made in the management of Grenada’s beaches over the years, there still does not seem to be a set strategy geared towards overall beach management. Indeed, environmental management is fragmented, and often shared among different government ministries, agencies and NGOs. A similar situation was observed in other islands, e.g. Anguilla and Palau. In Anguilla, regulatory bodies such as the Physical Planning Department are often viewed as being impractical and anti-development. This negative attitude is perpetuated by misinformation circulated within the community and it causes friction and mistrust between regulatory bodies, developers and members of the public.

In Antigua and Barbuda, another aspect of this problem was noted, namely the territorial behaviour of some government agencies, not wishing to integrate activities or share information. This is indeed a major problem in many islands with a sectoral system of government having to deal with intersectoral, interdisciplinary issues such as environmental management.

The same problem is often seen in the COSALC project. In the Caribbean islands, individual government agencies are not used to working together and actually sharing data, e.g. on beach changes. There is a need for a proactive approach to information exchange among the agencies involved. 

Lack of political support 

The lack of political support for environmental initiatives was noted in several islands. For instance in St Kitts, alternatives to the use of beach sand for construction including importation and the use of quarry dust are being explored. However, it is recognized that political support will be an important factor in implementing such alternatives, especially in view of the fact that some political leaders have business interests in transporting sand.

Influencing policy makers is easier if: (i) they are part of the entire process, since they are major stakeholders; and (ii) the recommendations have the support of the majority or all of the stakeholders. The nature of the issue or issues under consideration will determine the length of the process of negotiation towards solutions.

In Anguilla elected officials appear to be more concerned with short-term economic benefits rather than those of a long-term, sustainable nature. This is most apparent when considering the planning appeals process, where developers can appeal to the Executive Council (EXCO) if they do not agree with a decision made by the Land Development Control Committee. It is alarming to note that as many as 90% of planning appeals that go to EXCO are approved. This undermines government agencies as well as the very policies endorsed by elected officials. It also weakens the system put in place to monitor, regulate and enforce coastal management. 

Enforcement issues 

In Antigua and Barbuda, enforcement is often geared towards safeguarding the economy rather than the environment. One of the most significant problems with enforcement is that key players in the legal system, particularly magistrates and judges, do not take environmental laws seriously. Magistrates have the power to set fines, and often these are kept very low, so they do not act as a deterrent. In Antigua and Barbuda, the recent implementation of an EC$500 fine for littering has reduced the litter problem. There is a need to apply similar fines to sand mining violators.

Garbage and pollution at the mouth of 
a ghut (stream), Basseterre, St Kitts. 

Limited enforcement capabilities in small islands are another serious constraint. Implementation of the Litter Act in Dominica is inadequate in view of the fact that there are only four litter wardens for the entire island. This compares with St Kitts, where there are five litter wardens in each parish. In Montserrat, beach littering has been reduced by charging an EC$200 user fee for the use of beaches for public functions. This is returned to the applicant if the beach is properly cleaned after the event. Publishing the names and actions of violators may be a deterrent. For instance, in Cuba, video coverage of men found urinating in public very quickly stopped the problem; in Montserrat, publishing in the newspaper the names of those fined for littering was also effective.

Stakeholder involvement in enforcement is another important area. There was an attempt to include village councils in the implementation of the Litter Act in St Kitts; this failed because of unclear regulations. However, in Palau, marine conservation areas are run by the communities and are working well. They are based on the traditional management systems and people generally respect this system and their chiefs. However, problems arise with persons outside the community breaking local laws. In Jamaica, honorary game wardens have been appointed to act as fisheries inspectors, and this has proved effective. It is proposed to also have honorary litter wardens. However, such mechanisms have to be included in the law or they can be revoked when there is a change in political power.

Including stakeholders in the preparation of legislation and regulations is another important mechanism to ensure the resulting legal instruments are fair and practical. In Jamaica, stakeholders were involved in the preparation of fisheries regulations for the Portland Bight Protected Area. These regulations are now before government, and aspects of them are being incorporated into comprehensive fisheries regulations for the country.


In order for conflict resolution to be successful, the following factors must be incorporated into the process:

Furthermore, situations change and strategies for conflict prevention and resolution need to evolve appropriately.

The following specific tools were proposed to reduce conflicts over beach resources:


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