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

Coastal region and small island papers 11


‘In light of the limited success experienced with binding agreements, the exploration of non-binding mechanisms may provide us with the opportunity to adopt a new approach to deal with conflict resolution in the coastal zone’.

Lillith Richards
(Richards, 2001)


A wise practice agreement may be defined as a voluntary agreement among multiple users of a resource characterized by mutual recognition of rights to the resource. Such agreements have the potential to enhance an integrated approach to coastal management, bringing together all stakeholders, including the government, in a framework of voluntary compliance.

Throughout the workshop, the terms ‘voluntary agreement’ and ‘social contract’ were used synonymously. A similar term, used in the literature, is ‘sustainable development agreement’; another alternative used in this report is ‘wise practice agreement’.

Obviously wise practice agreements are not a panacea for all conflict situations and they do not replace the need for legislation and enforcement. Indeed there is an entire spectrum from voluntary compliance to external enforcement. A wise practice agreement might be regarded as a first level attempt at conflict resolution, if unsuccessful it might be necessary to proceed to higher levels. It is most likely that wise practice agreements for beach management will work best where there is a national policy framework in place. Such policies are being prepared in Anguilla (policy for coastal development) and in St Kitts (policy framework for beach management).

As discussed in Chapters 2 and 3, one of the main factors leading to increased conflict over resources in many islands has been inadequate legislation and the limited enforcement of existing laws and regulations. Thus the exploration of less formal mechanisms may provide an opportunity to adopt a new approach to deal with conflict prevention and resolution. There are several advantages of such wise practice agreements:

Not everyone gains all the time in a wise practice agreement. The essential element is compromise, and to ensure that more people/stakeholders are better off with the agreement than without it.

Several steps may be identified in the formulation of a wise practice agreement:

  1. It is necessary to identify the partners in the agreement, and a mechanism for bringing all the stakeholders together under equitable arrangements for discussion. There may be value biases in determining who are valid stakeholders. For instance those seen as ‘trouble-makers’ may be excluded. Difficulties may also be encountered in determining the representativeness of groups or individuals identified as stakeholders. Also some stakeholder groups may lack expertise in the consultative process.

  2. A next step is to reach agreement on the multiple uses of the resource. This will also include defining the physical boundaries of the area.

  3. A third step is to develop decision-making procedures, rules of enforcement of compliance, and dispute resolution mechanisms.

The agreement should be characterized by:

The lead agency, or catalyst, to initiate a wise practice agreement will depend on the specific context. It could be a university group, a government agency, a non-governmental or community-based organization, a private developer, or other concerned individual. It will also be necessary to carefully specify the role of the various partners in the agreement, and for those stakeholders to understand and comply with the conditions. It was noted that governments do not always fulfil their obligations as signatories to international conventions, and care must be taken that similar situations do not occur with wise practice agreements. 


Local area management authorities 

Fishing boats and craft market at 
Soufriere, St Lucia, a part of the 
Soufriere Marine Management Area. 

Armouring the shoreline, such as here 
at Pinney’s Beach, Nevis, prevents 
access along the beach and causes 
conflicts. 1997

Local Area Management Authorities (LAMAs) have been established to manage the use of particular resources. LAMAs represent partnerships between government agencies and stakeholder groups and are supported by legislation.

The Soufriere Marine Management Area (SMMA) in St Lucia is an example of such a partnership. This was formally established as a Local Fisheries Management Authority in 1995 by the government of St Lucia through a Cabinet decision. The agreement was based on a lengthy process involving identification of stakeholders and consultations among stakeholders. Existing conflicts between different groups were the driving force for this agreement. The SMMA comprises 11 km of coastline and has been zoned into five different types of usage: marine reserves, fishing priority areas, yacht mooring areas, recreational areas and multiple use areas. These zones were designed to cater to the myriad of uses in the area, reduce conflict among users, and protect critical marine resources. Continued input from all stakeholders is part of the management process. An office with full-time staff members has been established to manage the SMMA.

A similar partnership approach is being developed at the Soufriere-Scotts Head Marine Reserve in Dominica and has been proposed for Grand Anse in Grenada. 

Agreements for beach management

Developing wise practice contracts at the micro-level, e.g. for one particular beach, may be another way to approach conflict prevention or resolution. Most beach areas are common property in that the government owns the area below high water mark for the people, while the area landward of high water mark is often in private ownership. Any wise practice agreement for beach management will have to involve all stakeholders, including those who do not reside in the immediate vicinity of the particular beach. 

Pinney’s Beach, Nevis 

Against a background of serious beach erosion, increased armouring of the shoreline, expanding tourism development, and a growing sense of alienation among resident beach users, the island of Nevis is experiencing increasing conflicts over its beach resources. Due to the limitations of existing legislation and the fact that in such a small island, individuals are not always willing to report offenders to the relevant authorities, a mechanism aimed at seeking compliance rather than enforcement may be more appropriate. Furthermore the island has limited financial and human resources, and much of the coastal land is owned by the private sector. The indications are that private developers and other stakeholder groups are ready for a mechanism that will provide them with long-term arrangements best suited to their individual needs.

Such a mechanism could be a wise practice agreement focusing on a selected group of principles designed to address the needs of the following stakeholders at this particular beach: coastal landowners, hotel owners and operators, government agencies (Agriculture, Fisheries, Planning and Tourism), NGOs, the Fishermen Cooperative, tour guide operators, recreational users, beach bar operators and community groups.

The wise practice agreement might consist of a number of principles – essentially a series of negotiated statements on the appropriate use of the area. There would need to be an arbitrating group, which would include government and non-governmental stakeholders. Finally there would need to be a mechanism for monitoring and reporting. 

Batalie Beach, Dominica  

Fishermen’s area at Batalie Beach, 
Dominica. 2001

Fishermen pulling in a boat, Batalie 
Beach, Dominica. 2001

Fishermen from the villages of Morne Rachette and Coulibistrie have traditionally used Batalie Beach for landing, beaching and repairing their boats; landing their catch; and repairing and storing their fishing gear. They have taken responsibility for keeping the beach clean. When the land behind the beach was sold in 1994, the new owners erected a fence and a gate to restrict access to their land, and in so doing they cut off access to the beach. When on January 9 1995, the fishermen found that the entrance to the beach had been closed with a gate, they immediately informed the Village Council. A meeting was held, after which the Village Council tried to get in contact with the new landowner. They were unsuccessful, despite sending a letter. Finally, the fishermen and some of the villagers took action and dismantled the gate and fence. The Village Council and the fishermen have since been served with legal papers, and the case is still pending in court. The gate and fence have not been reconstructed.

After visiting the site and talking to some of the stakeholders (representatives of the Village Council and the fishermen), the workshop participants decided that it would be impossible to implement a wise practice agreement now because the conflict has progressed to a court of law. However, if such an agreement had been in place before the conflict erupted, it might have been used to resolve the conflict peacefully and change the end result. In coming to this decision, the workshop participants recognized they had only heard the events from some stakeholders, not the landowner’s representatives.

The main issues identified in this conflict were the value of traditional-user rights, land ownership rights, and land transfer procedures. The stakeholders were: the fishermen, the government (Fisheries Division), the Village Council, local communities, the public, the landowner, and relevant NGOs.

Proposals for a wise practice agreement in this situation (had the matter not progressed to court) include the following:

Picard Beach, Dominica 

Coconut Beach Hotel, Picard Beach, 
Dominica in 1987, before the recent 
hurricanes. (Note the road is to the 
left of the building).

Coconut Beach Hotel, Picard Beach, 
ominica in 2000. The hotel was 
reconstructed after the hurricanes, in 
the same position. The shoreline has 
retreated landwards several metres.

Ms Elizabeth Karam-Williams, 
(standing), manager of the Coconut 
Beach Hotel, Dominica, explaining the 
events to the workshop participants. 
Workshop participants walking along 
the new access road to the Coconut 
Beach Hotel, constructed without 
permission on private property. 2001

The access road to the Coconut Beach Hotel used to run parallel to the shoreline, behind the beach. However, there has been extensive beach erosion since Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and the coast has retreated inland by several metres.

The road was completely washed away in the 1995 hurricanes, and was rebuilt by the management of the Coconut Beach Hotel, but repositioned further inland so that it encroached on the land belonging to a neighbour. A concrete archway at the entrance to the hotel also encroached onto the neighbour’s land. There was further damage to the roadway during Hurricane Lenny (1999), after which the government rebuilt it. (Coconut Beach Hotel was also extensively damaged during the recent hurricanes; the seaward section of the property has been rebuilt in concrete in the original position, protected with boulders). For the past two months (May–June 2001) the roadway has been blocked off by the adjacent landowner forcing arriving guests to walk along the beach with their luggage. Coconut Beach Hotel has lost some long-stay guests as a result of the conflict. In addition, there is no vehicular access for ambulances or the fire service to the hotel. The matter has been taken to court and the judge ruled in favour of the neighbour because Coconut Beach Hotel had encroached on his property. The hotel is willing to pay the fine but in return they wish to receive title for the encroachment. The hotel management have complained that their neighbour tried to knock down their archway with a sledgehammer. A water-sports operator who used to have his business in front of the property adjoining Coconut Beach Hotel has been ordered to move off the property and not to trespass further. He has moved to another site further along the beach. The dispute is still in court (The Government has since compulsorily acquired the portion of beachfront land from the adjacent/aggrieved landowner, and this is to be converted into a public parking lot, which would also provide public access to the beach (and to the hotel).That acquisition is currently being challenged in court.).

After visiting the site and talking with some of the stakeholders (the manager of the Coconut Beach Hotel and one water-sports operator), the workshop participants felt that if a wise practice agreement had been in existence before the crisis erupted, then there would have been an opportunity for a different outcome. Again, the group recognized they had only heard the events from some of the conflicting parties.

The main issues identified in the conflict were land ownership, the loss of land through coastal erosion during natural events, and the permitting processes of the Physical Planning Division. The stakeholders were the landowners, the hotel management, the water-sports operators, the beach users, the Physical Planning Division, the Lands and Surveys Division, and the Department of Tourism.

Proposals for a wise practice agreement in this situation (had the matter not progressed to court) were similar to those for Batalie, although in this case it was felt that the Planning Division or the Department of Tourism should monitor compliance. 


Against a background of fragmented government responsibility for beach management, limited human and financial resources, and inadequate enforcement of legislation, the need to explore alternative methods for conflict prevention and resolution is readily apparent. LAMAs show considerable potential. Another approach is discussed here and is based on wise practice agreements among all stakeholders at a specific beach. An analysis of situations in Nevis and Dominica indicates there is a potential for such agreements, although they need to be established before conflicts reach crisis proportions.


Start Introduction Activities Publications Search
Wise Practices Regions Themes