Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Coastal region and small island papers 12: papers


by Gillian Cambers 


An inter-regional small island workshop, sponsored by UNESCO’s intersectoral platform for Environment and Development in Coastal Regions and in Small Islands (CSI), was held in Dominica from 4-6th July 2001, to further ideas on coastal stewardship, especially in relation to beach resource management in small islands.  While most of the participants came from the Caribbean region, islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans were also represented. This workshop followed a series of national workshops held in the smaller eastern Caribbean islands during 2000-2001 on ‘Wise Coastal Practices for Beach Management’, as part of the project ‘Managing beach resources and planning for coastline change, Caribbean islands’ (COSALC[1]). 

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. 

Nature of the conflicts 

With expanding coastal populations, many small islands are finding that their beaches and coastal areas, which formerly they had taken for granted, are becoming less available for their use and enjoyment.  This is leading to conflicts between: 

The conflicts are accentuated by a lack of clarity regarding agency responsibility, inadequate coordination among agencies, minimal political support, out-of-date and sometimes non-existent legislation, and insufficient enforcement of the existing legislation. 

Many of the conflicts were common to small islands whichever part of the world they are located.  However, each country is unique and individual, and the way the coastal conflicts are handled often differs, thus there is much to be learnt from ‘sister islands’ in the same region and ‘cousin islands’ in different regions of the world. 

Conflict resolution 

In the earlier national workshops, coastal stewardship had been suggested as one way to reduce conflicts by engendering a sense of ownership and pride in a country’s heritage.  Coastal stewardship was defined as an attitude of voluntary compliance demonstrated by a strong commitment and willing participation in efforts to ensure sound and sustainable use of coastal resources.  Moral and economic aspects of stewardship were explored, and examples presented of activities involving the private sector, government, communities and students. 

While the traditional tools of legislation and its accompanying enforcement have shown little success in beach management in small islands, it is always necessary to continue to strive to improve coastal laws and their enforcement.  However, it is also timely to explore other options.  Two of the most promising options discussed in the workshop were the use of social contracts and ethical codes of practice. 

Social contracts 

A social contract may be defined as a voluntary agreement among multiple users of a resource characterised by mutual recognition of rights to the resource.  The steps involved in establishing a social contract would be: 

  1. To identify and bring together, under equitable arrangements for discussion, all the stakeholders.  (The government is of course a major stakeholder).

  2. To reach agreement on the multiple uses of the resource and the boundaries of the area covered by the agreement.

  3. To develop decision-making procedures, rules of compliance, and dispute resolution mechanisms.

It was envisaged that separate voluntary agreements could be established at specific beaches. 

Reference was also made to ‘Local Area Management Authorities’ (LAMAs), for example the Soufriere Marine Management Area in St. Lucia.  A LAMA represents a slightly more formal form of agreement, in that it is endorsed as a Cabinet decision or decree, and often has a full-time management secretariat. 

Such voluntary agreements have considerable potential for conflict resolution, however, they need to be in place before conflicts reach crisis proportions.  Based on the St. Lucia experience, continual adaptation and evolution of the principles of agreement are necessary in order to ensure successful compromises among stakeholders.  Obviously not everyone can gain all the time in a voluntary agreement, the essential element is compromise and to ensure that more stakeholders are better off with the agreement than without it.  Workshop participants felt that the concept of social contracts was one worth exploring in the field of beach management in small islands. 

Ethical codes of practice 

Such codes of practice are usually drawn up for specific groups and domains, they try to incorporate a moral dimension and to set out a code of behavioural principles. 

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. 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.  Moral and ethical statements and values already exist in the natural and social sciences, where they enrich the discourse. 

Examples of ethical codes of practice discussed in the workshop included the UNESCO recommendations for the ‘Safeguarding of the Beauty and Character of Landscapes and Sites’ (1962), the ‘St. Georges Declaration of Principles for Environmental Sustainability in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States’ (2000), and ‘The International Federation of Landscape Architects Code of Ethics’ (2000).  There are many others.

Concepts of coastal stewardship and social contracts are closely linked to ethical values.  There may be a spectrum of tools here, in that social contracts 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.

Role of communications

Effective and efficient communication lies at the heart of conflict resolution. Indeed it is most likely that ineffective and inefficient communication lies at the root of many, if not most, coastal conflicts.  Thus in every aspect and mode of conflict resolution, communication must play a key role.

Wise coastal practices for conflict resolution

In the context of social contracts as a tool for conflict resolution, all the sixteen characteristics of wise coastal practices are relevant, however, the following are particularly important. 

Capacity building and institutional strengthening: this is part of the process needed to ensure that the various stakeholder groups can resolve existing conflicts and prepare for more intense and severe problems in the future.  Some stakeholders may be inexperienced in the negotiation process.

Sustainability: voluntary agreements such as discussed in this paper will provide for a process such that conflicts can be resolved on an ongoing basis, without the need for external assistance.

Participatory process: all the stakeholder groups at a particular site need to be included, from the user and community groups to the government agencies.  Identification of the groups and ensuring each is properly represented in the social contract may be a very lengthy process.

Consensus building: this lies at the root of conflict resolution. In reality, consensus will likely include a majority of the stakeholders, not all the stakeholders.

Effective and efficient communication process: this is fundamental to conflict resolution and will undoubtedly, in many cases, be very time consuming, especially when dealing with illiterate stakeholder groups or those not used to the negotiation process.

Concluding remarks

Small islands face many constraints and limitations in the long road to sustainable development, especially in an era of continual change.  However, these disadvantages can be turned to strength, such that islanders, utilising their traditional self-resiliency and taking advantage of improved communications, can lead the world in charting their own destiny and finding solutions to coastal resource conflicts.

[1] COSALC project activities in 2000-2001 were supported by UNESCO-CSI, the University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program and the Caribbean Development Bank.


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