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Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development Forum
Posted By: Sharon Roberts-Hodge - responding to Arno Schmid
Date: Thursday, 23 November 2000, at 2:27 p.m.
In response to: 'An environmental solution to coastal erosion / Caribbean' (http://csiwisepractices.org/?read=239) (Arno Schmid)
MODERATOR'S NOTE: This contribution summarises a presentation made at a workshop on 'Wise coastal practices for beach management' held in Anguilla on 12th September, 2000, the full paper is available at http://www.unesco.org/csi/act/cosalc/anguilla.htm . The workshop was one of the activities of an ongoing pilot project on 'Managing beach resources and planning for coastline change, Caribbean islands' (http://www.unesco.org/csi/act/cosalc/summary_7.htm)
Anguilla is a small island with some of the best and most pristine beaches in the Caribbean, maybe even in the world. To destroy or sacrifice even one of these beaches on behalf of development, would represent a significant percentage of our island's natural coastal resources and our economic foundation.
Information collected since 1992, from beach monitoring undertaken by the Department of Fisheries and Marine Resources, clearly indicates that our beaches, like those in the rest of the Caribbean, are eroding. It is therefore crucial that before development decisions are taken, we must ensure that degradation to the environment and coastal areas is minimized.
Hurricane Luis in 1995 and then Lenny in 1999 showed the vulnerability of the beaches -many beachfront properties were destroyed or were left protruding onto the beach. This impacted negatively on the economy, since many tourists could not be accommodated and consequently many people were, and still are, out of jobs. The reality is that our beaches are under severe threat. Studies revealed that the extensive damage was primarily due to the close proximity of structures to the high water mark. Beaches being one of the most dynamic and fast changing systems in nature, need to move freely landward and seaward. Wherever such movement is impeded by structures, erosion will occur. Therefore, the best way to protect our beaches is to ensure that any permanent structure is well set back from the vegetation line.
Seeing that it is inevitable that there will be further development in the coastal zone, new coastal development setback guidelines were designed for Anguilla in 1996 (http://www.unesco.org/csi/pub/info/info4.htm). This was done in the interest of the island's economic well-being to ensure that new coastal developments coming on stream in Anguilla were sustainable. The methodology involved the concept of different setbacks from the vegetation line for specific beaches based on their particular behaviour, characteristics, erosional history and use.
The Department of Physical Planning uses these setback distances as a guideline and tool in its decision-making on coastal development proposals. Unfortunately, these required setbacks are often not adhered to, as many developers choose to exercise their right to appeal to the Executive Council against decisions made by the Land Development Control Committee (LDCC) and are usually successful, in having setback distances reduced significantly and decisions made by the LDCC overturned. More often than not, such development is not sustainable and proves to be extremely vulnerable to damage during 'ground seas', storms and hurricanes.
In an Aesop's fable, a group of mice got together to decide what to do with a cat who was raiding and killing them one by one. A great proposal was made, that a bell be placed on the cat's neck to warn them of its approach. They were all celebrating this great idea but stopped suddenly when one asked who would place the bell around the cat's neck.
This fable is so relevant to the situation in Anguilla today where certain unsustainable development practices will affect the very social and economic fabric of our society and the ability of existing and future generations to enjoy the resources that were passed on to us. Most people probably understand that there is a need to take some hard decisions with respect to the wise management of our coastal land resources on the island but very few are willing to do it. The job of 'placing the bell on the cat's neck' is in part the responsibility of the Department of Physical Planning. (Maybe this is why the Department is so popular in the community!) However, this mandate can only be fulfilled with the support of all the 'mice'.
Having legislation, policies and guidelines in place does not necessarily guarantee that wise coastal practices in beach management will be automatically carried out. There must also be the political will and courage to support the Department of Physical Planning in the effort to ensure that such planning and coastal management tools as the established setback guidelines are used effectively and efficiently and are adhered to. After all, what is the point of being entrusted with the responsibility of 'placing the bell on the cat's neck' only to have it removed shortly thereafter?
We ALL have a role to play as custodians of our environment for the survival of our economy.
Ms Sharon Roberts-Hodge,
Department of Physical Planning,
Anguilla, West Indies.
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