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Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

Coastal region and small island papers 16

6 Environmental changes

Young people working to reshape some groynes in order to conserve their beaches, Playa Mayabeque, Cuba, February 2004

Making an easy path to the sea for baby Hawksbill turtles when they emerge from the nest, Anse Kerlan, Praslin, Seychelles, March 2002


‘The demands for a small island developing state to participate actively in developing wise practices to cope with environmental issues are not just a part of the review of the Barbados Programme of Action, but a way of survival. In St Vincent and the Grenadines, students of the Bequia Community High School have practically taken the "bull by the horns" as they attacked some of the issues affecting them, as the inheritors of the society we have created for them.

We have held numerous classroom and informal discussions and have short-listed some of the issues, which include erosion, pollution, garbage disposal, teenage sexual problems (including incest), beach protection and access, and violence among youths. With a hands-on approach we have taken measures to address some of these problems, and have had public-awareness meetings on others in seeking the public's cooperation.

On the Park Bay area, students bent their backs and contoured the hillside overlooking the small beach that supports the Hawksbill Turtle Sanctuary. Erecting stone barriers and planting cactus reduced siltation from the runoff that was rapidly killing the coral reef. Salt-resistant grass and vines were planted to trap the sand and encourage dunes, and whelk and crabs were reintroduced to the reef to help control algae. The adjacent landowner has since learnt from us, and has constructed similar contours and planted grass, further reducing erosion. It is hoped that in twenty years some of the released turtles would have a beach on which to lay their eggs when they return. Students have attacked the growing problem of broken glass on the playing field, school compound, drains and beaches, by not only doing cleanups, but by undertaking a glass recycling programme. They have expanded this project to incorporate their families and their community. The school is now a drop-off point for unwanted bottles. These, our students break into small pieces and mix with cement and reinforced steel to produce park benches for their school yard and, soon, community areas. Some of the benches use logs salvaged from cleared building lots as seats and backs. The environment is now a safer place as a result of their efforts.

The beaches are our major concern as we take into account the need to keep them for posterity. User impact, access, erosion and accretion, debris and water quality have become our preoccupation as we utilize our spare moments, public holidays and afterschool hours, learning and exploring these areas. We have monitored the beaches since January 2000 and become resource persons on the issue of beach erosion and existing conditions on most of our beaches. It is no wonder that the Ministry of the Environment sometimes consults us. Among the environmentally conscious citizens, we are considered custodians of the beaches.

To name two recent examples, in July 2003 an unwise individual thought it fit to clear a section of our best beach of its trees, to afford a better view of the water. The phones rang off the hook to find out what we were doing to stop it, and indeed we did by calling the right authorities. Also in mid-September of 2003, a new foreign beachfront developer thought it best for his development and profiteering plans to bulldoze a section of another beach, and erected a seawall of huge boulders, and proposed building a jetty. The first channel for complaint was my home and the Sandwatch students. Meeting with the developers, fishermen, community activists, and several protest letters to the Physical Planning and Development Board and the highest ranks of Government has halted the project, with instructions to restore the beach to as near its former status as possible.

Our students take pleasure in conducting beach cleanups, as even the 6th graders understand that their pleasures and the economic well being of their families depend greatly on the marine environment for the tourist dollar. They also understand the importance of the unpolluted near-shore sea grass beds that serve as nurseries for marine organisms.

With this same enthusiasm, they don Scuba gear, armed only with piercing eyes and a camera to study the correlation between the coral reef, beaches and the survival of the dive tourism and fishing industry.

In August of 2003 we attended a meeting with the St Vincent and the Grenadines Hotel and Tourism authorities and have been given the opportunity to share our experiences on the Sandwatch programme and to interact on issues affecting tourism such as creating a safer environment for tourism and enforcing the laws in cases of harassment. Cooperation in policing the Admiralty Bay to make it safer was pledged by both sides.’ (Belmar 2003)


Through inter-regional initiatives such 
as Small Islands Voice and Sandwatch, 
beach measurement activities have 
spread from the Caribbean islands to 
Seychelles in the Indian Ocean (July 
2003) and Palau in the Pacific (July 2002)

Young people generally are concerned about the world in which they live and their islands in particular. Environmental issues as described in the article above can mobilize youth.Throughout the Small Islands Voice initiative, it has been seen that young people are very proactive, certain of their capacity to effect positive change, and most of all willing and keen to take action. It is vital to maximize this potential. By contrast older members of society are slower to accept change and sometimes more comfortable with talking about the issues.


Herman Belmar sitting
on one of the park
benches made by
young people, using
broken glass mixed
with cement, and
salvaged logs, Bequia,
St Vincent and the
Grenadines, June 2003

One of the activities of 
the Adopt-a-beach
programme in the San
Andres Archipelago is
to keep the beaches
clean and provide litter
receptacles, South
East Bay, Providencia,
May 2003

Beach issues

This is one area where activities are underway in many islands, as national, regional and Small Islands Voice initiatives. In the Cook Islands a system of Environmental Rangers and an Adopt-a-beach programme provides a framework for beach environmental activities. A similar Adopt-a-beach programme exists in the San Andres Archipelago where youth, public service and church groups adopt a length of coast or beach and carry out various activities to enhance and care for the site. Most of the islands involved in Small Islands Voice participate in an inter-regional Sandwatch project whereby school students conduct scientific monitoring of changes in beaches near to their schools and then work with their communities to enhance these beaches. This project has been operational since 2001 and is supported by UNESCO’s Associated Schools Project Network and the Coastal Regions and Small Islands platform.

An article on the global forum related to beach access in Tobago, where a private developer had restricted access to a public beach. The writer of the article proposed a ‘People’s Pocket Protest’ targeting the business activities of the developer:

‘If our proposals (to restore public access) are ignored, then we suggest a ‘People’s Pocket Protest’. We can select a different brand of beer, shop in another store, read an alternative newspaper and use a different insurance company. No time off is required from our regular work and other activities, no marching in the rain and sun, no exposure to tear gas, no fear of victimization. All that is required is for a sufficient number of concerned persons to quietly exercise our option not to buy from those who use our money against us.’
Emile Louis, Trinidad and Tobago (Global forum, November 2002)

As beachfront lands become 
increasingly developed with tourist
hotels and private residences, beach
access for the general public becomes
increasingly difficult, as seen here on
the south coast of Grenada (2000).

This article on beach access resulted in a heated and emotional debate, with almost all respondents supporting the need to keep beach accesses open to all. Similar attempts to restrict beach access were presented from Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada and Bequia. The need to consider such issues in an open framework was emphasized.

‘The problem here is complex, because people have conflicting emotional and economic motivations (within and between opposing groups). But with people on both sides of an issue being able to recognize the primary need to protect and share such resources (i.e. beaches), then regulations can be developed in an open environment that everyone can live with. An open environment allows enough time and encourages the free exchange of information and knowledge needed to become informed about options and to show reasonable (as opposed to reactionary) support for the right decisions. Put in the simplest terms: the beaches must be (1) protected from abuse, (2) shared by all, (3) regulated by laws promulgated by both the citizens and government working together.’
Brian Mommsen (Global forum, February 2003)

Pollution and water issues

The students of Rakiraki High School in Fiji wrote about their water problems on the youth forum.

‘The problem of drinking water has been on the increase since the past few years and it has been proved to be persistent. Some problems that affect drinking water include: (1) contamination by faeces riddled with bacteria, viruses and parasites, (2) drinking water sources are used as dumping sites of rubbish, and (3) blockages in the river system.

Polluted river mouth at Rose Place Beach in 
St Vincent and the Grenadines, January 2000




Dumping of garbage continues on this river
bank despite a warning sign, St Vincent and
the Grenadines, January 2000

To begin with, the contamination of drinking water is determined by floating faeces, which impact all villages along the watercourse. Disposing of human waste in a manner which does not contaminate the environment and which further limits the likelihood of transmission of diseases from person to person is a fundamental requirement. Illnesses such as diarrhoea can occur in areas where there is inadequate disposal of faeces. It is the deadliest killer of children under five in developing countries. We (students of Rakiraki High School) performed a coliform test and it turned out to be positive, which shows that faeces are present in the drinking water.

Sometimes the water is not treated properly, and residents get dirty water to consume and are charged with very high water bills. At least 40–50% of people in Rakiraki receive dirty water daily. Some health effects derived from this are skin diseases such as scabies which is very quick to spread. Another problem is that villagers often wash their clothes in the river, which flows towards the water pump. For the past few weeks a body of a dead man was found decaying and floating in the same river. After two days we came to know that we actually have drunk that water.

To conclude it can be said that the government, private water utilities, international agencies must give priority and resources to reform institutions and improve the quality of the water that is consumed by the people of Rakiraki. It is really filthy and very disgusting to know that the water we consume is full of faeces. We seek advice and ideas on how we can raise awareness on this problem. Hopefully there will come a time when we get clean and safe water to drink.’
Students of Rakiraki High School, Fiji (Youth forum, September 2003)

The provision of good quality, clean drinking water is one of the many environmental problems facing small islands as their populations grow and the numbers of visitors increase. Ironically, Fiji also has a booming export industry of bottled water, the famous ‘Fiji water’.

Young people from other islands responded to the students of Rakiraki with practical suggestions based on their own island experiences. Their responses emphasize the fact that the provision of safe, clean drinking water is a major problem for many small islands.


Hopefully this future scenario for San
Andres Island will not come true
(360 Degrees, 2001)

Everyday there is less available drinking water on our island and everyday more people who need water because our population is growing. It is ironic: I live on an island, surrounded by water, but I do not have any water to drink. I think that the best solution in my island would be: first, stop using wells and control the flow of pollutants and specially sewage to the aquifer. Second, purchase a desalination system; the advantages of this method of obtaining drinking water is that sea water is abundant. The costs of desalinating water may be, however, very high and too expensive for our increasingly poor inhabitants.
Hauke Peters, Luis Amigó School, San Andrés Island (Youth forum, September 2003)

‘The water system in Bequia is not very complex. The main idea of our water system is when we build our homes, the foundation is dug deeper than usual so that we can build a tank out of cement blocks, construction iron and concrete. Our roofs are equipped so that rainwater is led down pipes into the tank. Our water is always clean for it comes from the clouds. The biggest problem is when there is drought and we have to turn to our reservoirs. Recently we had a problem with locals placing poisons (Gramazone). Even though we have troubles ourselves, I still can give some pointers to you. One thing that I think that you should do is get containers and collect drinking water or have sterilizing equipment to clean the water.’
Students from Bequia Community High School (Youth forum, September 2003)

‘Here are some possible solutions to help keep the water clean and pure: 

Students of Nukutere College, Rarotonga, Cook Islands (Youth forum, October 2003)

‘Our advice to you is that until you are 100% sure that the water you drink is safe it is always better to boil your water first, this helps to kill the bacteria. Otherwise you the youth can join together and help to clean your water system and in doing so it will encourage others to join in and give a helping hand. You can make posters with messages about how precious water is, and how you can help to keep the water system clean. This will help in the sensitization of the people. You should not feel bad about your problem. Every country faces it but through hard work and joint effort things will improve for the best.’
Students from Anse Royale Secondary School, Seychelles (Youth forum, October 2003)

The subject of water was further discussed on the global forum following an article from St Vincent and the Grenadines discussing a proposal to export spring water. Examples of successful water bottling initiatives from Fiji and proposals for water bottling plants in Kosrae were discussed. Further examples of water woes were described:

‘Now, reflect what has been happening in Fiji where I currently work – water is a major problem. People living on the outskirts of the major cities and towns are crying out for water, schools are closed, meetings postponed, farms and farmers are affected etc., and, even worse, people living outside of the main island are using seawater for bathing. Water is being rationed and water cut-offs for the main towns are being considered.’
Temakei Tebano, (Global forum, October 2003)

‘Bottling the scarce water may be an issue in some places, but probably it involves only a small volume. What concerns me is to see thousands of gallons of water being sprayed on golf courses for the benefit of tourists while the working people do without any water for the better part of the day.’
Peter Wiese, Mexico (Global Forum, November 2003)

Signs such as this one
in Providencia, San 
Andres Archipelago, 
urge residents to care 
for their mangroves and
wetlands, May 2003.


Islanders did not see the water issue as a simple case of supply and demand, they were also concerned about wider issues such as the need to protect water sources and wetlands as well as to control logging operations, which in some islands have destroyed the rain forest and in so doing have affected local climate and rainfall. The disposal of plastic water containers in the limited landfill space available in small islands was another issue discussed.

The inadequacy of water distribution systems in many islands was noted and an innovative proposal put forward:

Mosaic depicting
cultural traditions,
Parliament House,
Papua New Guinea,
December 2000.

‘National needs should be fulfilled before considering non-national needs. We will all agree that water is indeed a scarce resource and its scarceness is increased by weak, poorly maintained distribution systems. How much of the tapped water is lost through leakage? I wish to suggest that if the bottled water is exported and the financial profit is used to develop and improve water production and distribution systems for nationals, then it may not be a bad idea.’
Charmaine Gomes, Trinidad and Tobago (Global forum, November 2003)

In many of the Pacific islands, water is not just a resource, but also has a spiritual meaning. For instance in Papua New Guinea:

‘In Keakalo philosophy, land is mother, water is father, and sky is an enclosure of spiritual beings from our ancestors, the guardians of land and water. Land and water are not goods for sale. Land is life-bearing, while water is lifegiving and both are under the sky. All the living things including humanity are controlled by the spirit of the dead.’
Mali Voi, Samoa (Global forum, November 2003)

Domestic waste collection yard,
Male, Maldives, April 2003


Aluminum recycling has
recently started in Rarotonga, 
Cook Islands, November 2003

Waste disposal

This is one of the most serious problems facing many islands, and concerns solid, liquid and toxic waste. The disposal of solid waste was the environmental concern most often noted during the opinion surveys. But other types of waste also pose problems.

This issue of littering was discussed on the youth forum:

‘Littering is quite an issue at Praslin Secondary School and it has proved to be very persistent. Different clubs and groups have made it their number one priority to improve the school environment. They have racked their brains to come up with different ways to try to encourage students to keep the school environment clean. Posters, talks, an increase in garbage bins and even fines have been experimented with, but none so far have proved to be successful.

The reason behind all of this litter relates to the increase in effort for healthy eating. School canteens have been encouraged to sell juice instead of lemonades, and other nutritional products which happen to be sold in carton boxes, plastic bags and napkins.

When lemonades were being sold everyone hurried back to the tuck shop to claim their one rupee refund fee and that led to a less littered environment. Sadly this fascination has been short lived with the introduction of the juice cartons.

Our school has only one gardener who struggles enormously to keep up with the mountains of litter. Sadly at the end of the day he does not even have enough time to work on other tasks, which require his attention. Half of the time, our flowers and fruit trees end up being ignored. We can sadly conclude that the school has already exhausted all of its solutions but one, recycling, the oldest trick in the book’!
Students of Praslin Secondary School, Seychelles (Youth forum, April 2003)

This article led to considerable debate about other methods that had worked in islands.

‘With only a population of 700 our island has managed to form a group of young volunteers that cleans our roadsides and beaches. For this reason our island is clean. This achievement is mainly through the good work of our volunteers, the Environmental Rangers called Mangaia Tangae'o Rangers. These volunteers are putting a great effort into cleaning our environment by planting trees and keeping our island litter free and through their recycling project. They also record what they collect and show it on the local television so that those responsible will feel ashamed.’
Students from Mangaia School, Cook Islands (Youth forum, May 2003)

The Maldives is
making a special effort
with their waste
disposal management
systems, April 2003

‘Littering is a world wide problem that has been around for decades. Solutions that have been tried with various degrees of success include:

All of the above have had various degrees of success and are successful, depending on the circumstances. One can say that there is no sure way, a lot depends on education. Education starts in the home. If parents drop cans and nappies at beach there is very little hope for children to have role models. For a school, one suggestion is to form teams who take turns to pick up rubbish. This relies on peer pressure, each team telling the others not to litter to achieve results. Here in the Cook Islands we have two groups that help in our littering; they are the "Rangers" and "Girl Guides". The Girl Guides noticed that plastic bags were a problem so they decided to make bags out of material and sold them in stores. They used left-over material to make mats and other things. The Rangers are a group of volunteers who go around the island picking up litter.’
Students from Nukutere College, Rarotonga, Cook Islands (Youth forum, May 2003)

The students from Praslin Secondary School were not content to just discuss the issue on the internet forum.With the help of their teacher they organized an exchange visit with students from the Madhrasathul Ahmadhiyya School in Male, Maldives in January 2004, and then both schools worked on a joint ‘Zero  tolerance for littering’ project.

Students from Seychelles visited their counterparts in the Maldives and 
developed a project on ‘Zero tolerance for littering’ (January 2004)

Students from Dublanc
Primary School telling
the Sandwatch
workshop participants
about their march for
a clean beach
environment, Dominica,
July 2003.

Indeed young people can make a difference in this issue of littering. As part of their Sandwatch project activities, students aged 8–11 years from Dublanc Primary School in Dominica monitored the types of beach debris found on their beach. They then interviewed members of the community, some of whom admitted they left their litter on the beach. They then conducted a march through their village and stopped at areas where people were gathered such as the restaurant and the Health Centre to discuss their concerns. The next day community members voluntarily cleaned the beach (Hilton, 2003).

Disposal of other types of waste material has also been discussed with Small Islands Voice. Many islands in the Caribbean have been concerned and have made representations to various bodies including the United Nations about the shipment of toxic waste by France and Japan through the Caribbean Sea. Despite the concerns raised about the impacts of any potential accident, the shipments continue. Another interesting aspect of this problem relates to the disposal of toxic waste in small islands.

‘Recently Cook Islands News (10 Dec. 2002) reported on a plan to ship 100 tonnes of toxic waste from 10 Pacific islands including the Cook Islands, to Queensland, Australia. According to news reports, the toxic waste will be shipped from the islands, trucked through Brisbane to a plant at Narengba north of Brisbane. This plan, financed as part of an AusAid package, has caused much community protest and outrage amongst Australia’s residents. They question why their health should be threatened? And ask what if something goes wrong? What if just one of the trucks has an accident and the waste spills out?

Many Pacific island countries like the Cook Islands oppose the shipping of nuclear waste through international ocean waters just in case an accident should occur. They say the waste should be treated and buried in the country that made the waste. That same question is now being asked by people in Queensland about waste from the Cook Islands. Accidents do occur be they on the ocean or on land. And in the event of an accident who will be responsible and who will pay? People and the natural environment will both be at risk.

The question is not one that is easily answered as the voice of protest and concern over toxic waste rises from small islands and bigger ones. For, in the case of toxic waste, none of us are isolated from the risks involved.’
(Cook Islands News, 2003)

Concluding comments

The environmental issues discussed in this chapter are just a selection from a long list of concerns, but their discussion serves to illustrate that there is a keen awareness about these matters in the general public’s mind. At least in a general sense, islanders are aware of the limited extent of their natural resources and therefore the need for careful and wise management. However, it is in the actual details of how to manage a specific resource where there is often disagreement.

The willingness of young people to tackle some of these environmental problems is also significant, and needs to be fully exploited in a way that their efforts provide lasting benefit. For instance, beach clean-ups need to be combined with long-term projects to try and change people’s attitudes to the disposal of litter, or else the young people may quickly become disheartened.



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