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

Coastal management sourcebooks 1

Protecting beaches: how you can help

This chapter describes several ways in which residents and visitors can improve the quality of beaches. Some of the activities can be undertaken by individuals, while others are more suitable for group projects. Whether you are a visitor to an island or a resident, you too can help to ensure that the beaches will be available for future generations to enjoy. Here’s how.

Adopt a beach

A local community, school, service group or some other adopts one particular beach and undertakes various activities over the years to enhance it. The group takes responsibility for the beach and becomes a custodian of the natural resources at the beach. These projects are a good way of getting a community or group involved in beach management and of improving the environment for all. The activities can be tailored to any particular beach. Examples are:

Everyone can contribute to maintaining and improving the beach environment.

Undertake a beach clean-up.

Beach clean-ups are often a popular activity, since the results are immediately apparent. They can be held to coincide with events such as World Environment Day (5 June) and Fisherman's Day in the Caribbean (29 June), or with other local events. However, subsequent littering can be discouraging for volunteers, particularly children. Combining clean-ups with other activities, such as public awareness-building campaigns and the provision of litter bins, is a way of finding a sustainable solution. However, remember that it is also necessary to co-ordinate such activities with the local solid-waste disposal agency.

Clean-up activities should be combined with education and information. Local authorities should also be involved.

Take part in the International Beach Clean-up.

This is a global activity organized by the Center for Marine Conservation in Washington. It takes place every September and has four main functions: to remove debris from the shoreline; to collect information on the amount and type of debris; to educate people; and to use the information to effect positive change.

Groups select a beach to clean and gather up the debris. They then complete a data card on which they itemize the numbers and different types of debris. (A sample of the data card is shown in Appendix II.) These data cards are then sent to the Center for Marine Conservation where statistics are compiled each year and the information is then used to lobby international bodies like the International Maritime Organisation to take some form of action to control ocean debris.

Several Caribbean islands participate in an international campaign to clean up beaches and reduce pollution.

Debris on Caribbean beaches originates not only from ocean-going ships but also from land sources, so it is also important to look at local sources of debris like coastal rubbish dumps.

The actual clean-ups also serve to heighten people’s awareness of the magnitude of the problem, thereby triggering interest and new ideas for solutions. Several Caribbean islands already take part in this activity.

For more information about the programme, readers are invited to contact:

Center for Marine Conservation
1725 DeSales Street, NW,
Washington DC 20036, USA
Telephone: 202 429 5609

Conduct a revegetation project on the beach or dunes.

This project is not only satisfying, but also very worthwhile. It can be carried out on a small scale using just a few plants or on a much larger scale. Various factors relating to beach planting projects are described in Cases 7 and 8. These are briefly summarized hereafter.

Photograph 40. Revegetation project, 
Heywoods, Barbados,
1987. These sea grape 
casuarina seedlings were planted at the 
back of what
appears to be a wide beach in the
summer of 1987. However, they did not survive
because, in winter, the swell waves reach the 
road at the back of the beach.

Consult a local horticulturist on your island for advice with your beach planting project.

Use local species. If you are planting trees in the Caribbean, here are some suggestions: sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera), seaside mahoe (Thespesia populnea), West Indian almond (Terminalia catappa), coconut palm (Cocus nucifera) and casuarina, also known as Australian pine (Casuarina equisetifolia).

If you are planting grasses, vines or smaller plants, here are some other suggestions: seashore dropseed (Sporobolus virginicus) panicgrass (Panicum amarum v. amarulum), beach morning-glory (Ipomoea pes-caprae), beach bean (Canavalia maritima) and sea purslane (Sesuvium portulacastrum).

Always plant well above the high water mark. Even if the winter storm waves only reach the young plants once in the winter season, it is unlikely that they will survive, so this decision is important. Obtain advice from people familiar with the beach about the highest reach of swell waves and plant landward of this point.

Remember, the beach or dune is a very harsh environment for plants, so try to get your new plants off to a good start by: ensuring they are a reasonable size; by providing fertilizer, especially nitrogen fertilizer; and by spreading a layer of mulch (dead leaves or seagrass) around the plant to reduce wind and water erosion and to promote moisture retention.

Follow-up care is the most important element in any planting project. For the first few months, the plants will need watering on a regular basis, especially if planting takes place in the dry season. Additional fertilizer may also be necessary. Fences or tree guards are a must if animals roam freely in the area.

Remember to take ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs to document your project.

Revegetation projects work best using local species planted well above the high water mark.

Monitor sea turtle nesting activity.

Green sea turtle

Sea turtles live in the
ocean, but nest on land.
Due to over-harvesting
and disturbance of their
habitat, they are now an
endangered species.

Sea turtles are reptiles that live in the ocean. The most common species in the Caribbean are the Leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), the Hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the Green turtle (Chelonia mydas). These gentle giants are endangered mainly because of over-harvesting. Hawksbill turtles are harvested for their shells, Green turtles for their meat and Leatherback turtles particularly for their oil, which has medicinal qualities.

Sea turtles use the Caribbean beaches to nest, usually at night. Leatherback and Green turtles nest on the back beach area, while Hawksbill turtles often make their nests in the coastal vegetation. A female may nest several times each season. After a few weeks’ incubation in the nest, the baby turtles emerge and head for the sea.

On account of the turtles’ endangered status, many islands are seeking to protect them by banning both their slaughter and the removal of their eggs from the nest. The authorities are also trying to conserve the sea turtles’ habitats, particularly the beaches and offshore feeding areas (seagrass beds and coral reefs).

Evidence of turtle nests and tracks is sometimes seen on Caribbean beaches before being eradicated by the continuous rise and fall of the tides. In some islands, people volunteer to walk the beaches early in the morning to check for turtle tracks during the nesting season. Information on the number of nests helps biologists assess the status of turtle populations and the success of protection and conservation measures. Check with your local fisheries department for more information about turtle-monitoring programmes in your island. They always need volunteers. In some islands, non-governmental organizations like the National Trust may also be involved in turtle-monitoring projects. Schoolchildren can become involved in this activity and it is an excellent way of teaching children about the beach environment and its plants and animals.

Another way in which beachfront residents can help endangered sea turtles is by reducing the lights shining directly on the beach. First of all, find out if the particular beach is a sea turtle nesting site. If so, you should be aware that shore lights may deter females from coming ashore. Lights may even disorientate the turtles once they have nested, so that instead of returning to the sea, they crawl inland where their bodies dry out and they die. Similarly, artificial lighting may disorientate the baby turtles and prevent them from reaching the sea, leaving them easy prey for crabs and birds. Sodium vapour lights are one example of lights that emit wavelengths that do not disorientate sea turtles. Consult your fisheries department for more information.

Learn about coastal wildlife and join a monitoring programme.

Involve schoolchildren in beach field trips and conservation projects.

Children are especially receptive to field trips that combine hands-on experience with science and environmental education.

Field trips to the beach can be highly educational. Primary schoolchildren can be given worksheets on which to make their observations and some simple measurements to make. Table 5 lists some activities for children in the 7–11 age group.

Older children can be involved in projects to measure beach changes. Daily measurements over a month of the distance from the high water mark to a fixed point, such as a wall or tree, when combined with observations about wave height, will provide children with a wealth of data to analyse and interpret. Beach changes are also useful topics for science fair projects. Beaches change so rapidly that useful data can be collected in a short period of time.

Similarly, children can be involved in the other activities listed in this chapter, such as beach clean-ups, planting projects or turtle monitoring. Inevitably, many Caribbean children take their beaches for granted, assuming that the beach will always be there for their use and enjoyment, but as we have discussed in this manual, this may not necessarily be the case. Teaching children about the beach and involving them in beach conservation projects will help to ensure that Caribbean beaches continue to exist for future generations.

Dispose of litter properly.

Whether a bag of rubbish from a beach picnic or a single soda can, place it in the appropriate container. If there is no rubbish container on the beach, take the litter home with you or to your hotel and properly dispose of it there. There is no excuse for leaving litter on the beach or in the sea. Play your part and dispose of litter carefully.

Your actions can serve as an example to your children or to other beach users.

Avoid walking on coastal vegetation.

Whether it looks like a weed or merely a clump of grass, avoid walking on coastal vegetation. Wherever possible, use walkways or marked paths to the beach or alternatively walk on the bare sand. Vegetation helps to stabilize the beach and anchor beach sand. Do your bit to help the vegetation perform that role by not walking on it.

Be vigilant.

It is up to every individual, whether a visitor or island resident, to conserve our beaches. If you see something unusual, such as a backhoe or other heavy equipment working on the beach, ask a question or make a telephone call to find out if the activity is permitted. Wardens, police officers and government officials cannot cover the whole island environment on their own. They need our help. It is up to everyone to take responsibility for safeguarding our natural resources.

T A B L E 5

Beach field trip activities for primary schoolchildren
This table includes three activities that primary schoolchildren can undertake at a beach site.

Measuring the width of the beach

Activity: Use a tape measure to determine the width of the beach from the vegetation line to the high water mark at several points along the beach.
Classroom follow-up: Discuss the variation along the beach, suggest reasons for the differences.
Skills: mathematics, use of a tape measure, data interpretation.

Observing the composition of the beach

Activity: At several places along the beach, ask the children to observe and record what the beach is made up of; e.g. white sand, black sand, stones, pieces of coral, seagrass. Let them also record any litter e.g. soda cans.
Classroom follow-up: Discuss the different materials and get the children to discuss the origin of these e.g. black sand came from the river, white sand came from the coral reef, etc.
Skills: observation, recording, interpretation.

Collecting objects that have washed up from the sea

Activity: Ask the children to collect five objects that have washed up from the sea and to list them.
Classroom follow-up: ask the children to write a few sentences describing one object they found and where it came from e.g. a piece of coral or a sea fan from the reef, a stone from the cliff, a blade of seagrass from the seagrass beds, etc.
Skills: observation, collection, recording, sentence writing and interpretation.

start Introduction Activities Publications search
Wise practices Regions Themes