Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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1. Introduction
2. The coasts and small islands (csi) platform
3. Determination of wise coastal practices for sustainable human development
4. Preliminary observations from the "wise coastal practices for sustainable human development forum"
5. Concluding remarks


Integrated coastal management (ICM) encompasses a wealth of topics, approaches, disciplines and geographical areas such that it is very difficult to provide a cohesive framework that has general applicability from the conceptual to the field implementation level. The carefully worked framework diagrams and flow charts conceptualised at a theoretical level or at the beginning of a project often have little relation to the reality of the coastal practitioner, who is faced with having to make quick decisions against a background of little or no information and with a deadline of yesterday!

ICM, without any accepted theoretical background or guiding principles, is very difficult to practice in the field. All too often the only type of evaluation is self-evaluation, which is usually favourable, but does not necessarily advance the management process. While it is accepted that ICM is interdisciplinary and intersectoral, the basic tenets of science and the scientific method are all too often forgotten. Sometimes too, workers in ICM focus on the process or the tool, be it the participatory approach or geographical information systems, and lose sight of the ultimate goal which is the sustainable management of human activities in coastal areas.

UNESCO, through its platform for Environment and Development in Coastal Regions and in Small Islands (CSI), has initiated a process which brings together many different approaches in order to improve the practice of ICM, primarily at a grassroots level, but in so doing, also at a conceptual level. This process is entitled "Wise coastal practices for sustainable human development" and is still in progress. This paper describes this activity.


CSI is a relatively new initiative within UNESCO, it was launched in 1996, and seeks to assist UNESCO Member States towards environmentally sound, socially equitable and culturally appropriate development of their coastal regions. The focus of CSI has been on intersectoral approaches utilising UNESCO's sectors in natural and social sciences, culture, communication and education, along with their networks of counterparts in over 180 countries.

CSI's intersectoral theme has utilised three main approaches:

Pilot Projects

Twenty two intersectoral pilot projects have been established involving some 50 countries. These projects cover topics ranging from the various dimensions of a ship breaking industry in India, to sustainable fishing activities in Haiti, to underwater archaeology in Egypt. (Appendix I lists the pilot projects). These field-based activities, some of which have been in progress for several years, provide tangible frameworks for collaborative action bringing together decision-makers, local communities, cultural heritage experts and scientists from all disciplines. They provide a hands-on approach to ICM, and the lessons learnt from their successes and failures provide a tangible means of assessing progress.


A second, and related approach, has been to establish UNESCO Chairs in Sustainable Coastal Development which link the field-based actions (pilot projects) to global networks of scientific reflection and research and which also provide innovative training and capacity building in sustainable coastal development. So far two UNESCO chairs have been established, but others are in the process of being set up. (Appendix I contains a list of the UNESCO Chairs).

Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development

This activity takes the lessons already learnt (and those still being learnt) from the pilot projects and the UNESCO Chairs and tries to establish areas of commonality, divergence and new foci. The outcome will then provide input back to the pilot projects and UNESCO Chairs so as to improve these activities at a grassroots level.


This activity has included various processes, including two separate electronic fora and a workshop. One of the first actions was to define wise practices:

Wise practices are actions, processes, principles or decisions that contribute significantly to the achievement of environmentally sustainable, socially equitable, culturally appropriate, and economically-sound development in coastal areas.

The overall goal of this activity is to improve the practice of ICM at the level of the pilot projects and the UNESCO Chairs. In addition, the activity is likely to provide useful general guidelines at both the conceptual as well as the implementation level for coastal practitioners. Figure 1 shows a schematic representation of the process - which at the time of writing is ongoing.

The activities are described below:

Some 48 example wise practices have been submitted, from all over the globe and covering a range of topics and approaches. While the list of example wise practices is too long to include in this paper, the main topics and approaches contained in the example wise practices are listed in Figure 3. The electronic discussion forum has been extended so as to allow for further discussion of the example wise practices, and may eventually be opened to a wider audience.

After this electronic forum, the results will be compiled and the usefulness of the wise practice characteristics assessed. This information will then be used to expand and advance the activities of the pilot projects and the UNESCO Chairs. Furthermore the information may be applicable in other ways, perhaps as a set of guidelines for ICM practitioners. At another level the experiences derived from the global wise practices forum will be further refined and discussed at the regional level through similar electronic fora.

Through this activity CSI is seeking to combine the experiences learnt from a global generic approach with the individual, site-specific experiences from the pilot projects and the UNESCO Chairs in an effort to improve our understanding and practice of sustainable coastal development.


Since the electronic discussion forum is still ongoing, it would be premature to discuss results at this time. The following discussion represents a series of observations or "snapshots" gained after indexing and editing the contributions.

Wise practices that failed provide many valuable lessons

There are many different ways to classify all the example wise practices submitted to the discussion forum. One way of looking at the contributions is to divide them into:

The unwise practices are very informative and useful and tell us what not to do. They may also tell us how things could have been improved. However, it is believed that encouraging people to think constructively in terms of wise (as opposed to unwise) practices and especially on ways to implement them, is a pro-active way to further the practice of ICM.

Most of the items submitted to the discussion forum described wise practices that were either still being conceptualised or were in the very early stages of implementation - usually in the first few years. Most of the authors wrote in an optimistic light about the likely success of these wise practices. However, there were very few objective evaluations of progress/success.

There were very few examples that fell into the third category of wise practices that had stood the test of time and had worked.

However, the few items that fell into the last category - wise practices that had failed - were perhaps the most informative and bear further detailed analysis. This group included a failed attempt at co-management in fisheries, and a failed attempt to change people’s attitude to beach sand mining. They provided examples, where for varying reasons, something went wrong. This does not necessarily mean that the wise practice was unwise, rather that unforeseen circumstances or activities resulted in the failure of the wise practice.

Temporal aspects of wise practices

Many authors addressed the concept of time in relation to wise practices. Several persons indicated that it may take several generations for the results of wise practices to be fully realised, and certainly this may well be the case when trying to change people’s attitudes. This obviously creates problems in a world where people are increasingly being conditioned to expect instant results.

Furthermore this concept has major implications for ICM practitioners, coastal communities and even funding agencies - the idea to stay with a concept, idea, approach, project beyond the normal project cycle of 3-5 years. And related to this is the idea of wise practice sustainability beyond the life of a particular project.

Use of wise practice characteristics for project evaluation

One contributor suggested that defining a particular project in terms of the wise practice characteristics proved to be a valuable tool for monitoring and evaluating a project or activity. The process of evaluating a project against each characteristic helped to identify strengths and weaknesses such that future implementation of similar projects could be improved.

Use of wise practice characteristics as international instruments

One contributor suggested using the wise practice characteristics for evaluating ongoing or proposed development and developing international standards e.g a logging company, if complying with the characteristics, could use the "seal of wise practices" to market their products.

Paying for wise practice implementation

Of particular interest were discussions relating to ways to pay for wise practice implementation against a background of poverty. Contributions from benefiting communities/populations ranged from payments in kind to direct cash payments.

Traditional versus modern practices

Several people discussed the use of traditional practices and areas where they diverged with modern practices. Some of the most useful discussions dealt with ways to combine the traditional and modern. In some cases this led on to ethical considerations, the "need versus greed concept" and ideas regarding the continuity of humanity.

The discussion forum brought out the realities of ICM

Many people felt free to discuss ideas and difficulties that might not be voiced in other more formal settings, and many of these ideas and difficulties represent the reality - the "nuts and bolts" of life for ICM practitioners.

For instance in a discussion of environmental impact assessment, the disadvantages of using outsiders or foreigners to conduct the studies were clearly illustrated. As were the unrealistic goals of major lending agencies who expect such major studies (as environmental impact assessments) to be conducted in 3 - 6 months, when often the baseline data still needs to be collected.

Similarly in a discussion of consensus building and using the participatory approach, one contributor wrote very clearly illustrating the reality of ICM in the field "... the intensity of participation is always linked to the degree of awareness and of personal gain that the population hopes to acquire from the project. People cannot always be counted on to participate - it is necessary to mobilise them incessantly without ever being discouraged."

Another contributor, discussing how villagers were being empowered to manage their own subsistence fisheries, stated that some communities were just not ready to manage their own resources and that these villages had been dropped from the project.

Wise practice success

Since so many of the example wise practices were in the very preliminary stages, most contributors only talked about success in general terms and with a good degree of optimism. Some writers did, however, provide figures, e.g. a 25% rate of success among communities managing their fisheries effectively. Such figures, where available are very useful to other practitioners in trying to evaluate progress and success.


The above discussion in no way represents the results of the electronic discussion forum on "Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development." A detailed analysis of the contributions to the discussion forum has not yet been done and must of course await the ending of the discussion forum. However, the discussion does highlight just a few of the ideas that are emerging from the forum and may serve as points for discussion during the present workshop.

In addition, many lessons have been learnt about how to conduct such a Web based discussion which when documented may also assist others who plan to use the Web as a medium for regional/global discussion and collaboration.

Figure 1. The process for determining wise practices
Figure 2. List of characteristics for wise practices
Table 3. List of Topics and Approaches Covered by the Example Wise Practices
Appendix I. List of pilot projects and unesco chairs in sustainable coastal development

Discussion paper by Gillian Cambers -- Coordinator, Coast and Beach Stability in the Caribbean (COSALC) Project, University of Puerto Rico Sea Grant College Program, P.O.Box 9011, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico 00681, g_cambers@rumac.uprm.edu  -- and Dirk G. Troost, UNESCO-CSI, d.troost@unesco.org
December, 1999

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