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Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands
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Wise coastal practices for sustainable human development: work in progress January 2000

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 conceptualized 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 principals, 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 utilizing 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 utilized three main approaches:

Pilot Projects

Twenty three intersectoral pilot projects have been established or co-sponsored  involving some 60 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. (Table 1 lists the pilot projects; details are at http://www.unesco.org/csi, http://mirror-us.unesco.org/csi and http://mirror-japan.unesco.org/csi).  These field-based activities, some of which have been in progress for several years, provide 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.  (Table 2 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 as well as providing useful general guidelines at both the conceptual and 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:

During mid-2000, progress results will be compiled and the usefulness of the wise practice characteristics assessed.  This information will be used to (re-)evaluate, (re-)focus and advance the activities of the pilot projects and the UNESCO Chairs.  The experiences derived from the global wise practices forum will be further refined and discussed at regional and national levels through face-to-face and electronic fora.  Ultimately, it is envisaged that the process will lead to the formulation of concepts and guidelines for ICM practitioners.

Through this activity, CSI is seeking to place the experiences learnt from the individual, site-specific pilot projects and UNESCO Chairs in a global generic context 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 conceptualized 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 realized, 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 mobilize 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 pointers for the present discussion phase.

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.  Furthering wise sustainable development practice in coastal regions and in small islands    

Pilot projects initiated/co-sponsored (1996 onwards) and inherited (mid 1980s onwards) to implement sustainable coastal and small-island development at the grassroots level.


University chairs initiated and established (1996 onwards) to interact with pilot projects for training, as well as capacity and awareness building in sustainable coastal and small-island development.  


Experiences of the pilot projects and the university chairs were used to determine wise practice characteristics, 1998 - 1999.  


Example wise practices (based on the experiences of the pilot projects and university chairs, as well as other activities) described and used to test the usefulness of the wise practice characteristics, 1999 onwards.  

å               æ

Wise practice characteristics and examples being used to (re-)evaluate, (re-)focus and advance the activities of the pilot projects and university chairs, 2000 onwards.   Wise practice characteristics and examples to be discussed, field tested and further refined at regional and national levels, 2001 onwards.  

æ               å

Field-tested and refined wise practice examples and characteristics to be developed into concepts and guidelines for sustainable coastal development and small-island living, 2002 - 2007. 


Table 1.  List of pilot projects  






  • Integrated coastal management  (Gujarat, India):

    • The environmental, social and cultural dimensions of a ship-breaking industry  (Alang)

    • Mitigating land and water salinity in the Gujarat coastal region







Table 2.  List of UNESCO Chairs in sustainable coastal development  

 Chairs Established

 Chair Projects Initiated

  • University of Alexandria, Alexandria, Egypt  

  • University of Bhavnagar, Bhavnagar (Gujarat), India  

  • Universidade Eduardo Mondane, Maputo, Mozambique  

  • Université de l'Océan Indien, la Réunion, l'Océan Indien  

  • University of Papua New Guinea, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea  

  • Universidad de la Republica, Montevideo, Uruguay  

  • University of Riga, Riga, Latvia


Table 3. List of characteristics for wise practices  

Long-term benefit: The benefits of the activity are still evident 'x' years from now and they improve environmental quality.  

Capacity building and institutional strengthening: The activity provides improved management capabilities and education for the stakeholder groups as well as knowledge and efforts to protect the local coastal/marine environment.  

Sustainability: The activity adheres to the principles of sustainability.  (The extent to which the results will last and development continue once the project/programme has ended).  

Transferability: Aspects of the activity can be applied to other sites, in or outside of the country.  

Consensus building: The activity should benefit a majority of the stakeholder groups, whilst bearing in mind that in some cases certain under-privileged groups may need to be treated as special cases.  

Participatory process: Transparent participation of all the stakeholder groups as well as the involvement of individuals is intrinsic to the process.  

Effective and efficient communication process: A multidirectional communication process involving dialogue, consultation and discussion is needed to attain awareness.  

Culturally respectful: The process values local traditional and cultural frameworks while also challenging their environmental validity.

Gender and/or sensitivity issues: The process accounts for the many aspects of gender and/or other sensitive issues.  

Strengthening local identities: The activity provided a sense of belonging and self-reliance at various levels.  

Legal national policy: the activity adheres to current government environmental, economic, legal and social policies.  

Regional dimension: The activity should embody the regional economic, social and environmental perspective.

Human rights: The activity should provide freedom to exercise fundamental human rights.

Documentation: The activity and the lessons learnt have been well documented.  

Evaluation: The activity has been tested to determine the extent to which ICM has been achieved and/or wise practice characteristics utilized.  


Table 4.  List of topics and approaches covered by the example wise practices  

Topics  Approaches
Coastal erosion Co-management  
Education Community empowerment
Environmental journalism Environmental impact assessment
Fisheries Government intervention
Historical building preservation Inter-disciplinary
Horticulture Integrated coastal management
Infrastructure development Integrated rural development
Integrated coastal management Inter-agency cooperation
Land use planning International instruments
Mangroves Legislation and regulations
Mineral resource exploration New technology
Pollution monitoring Public-private partnerships
Potable water Publication
Protected areas Social change
Sand mining Traditional practices
Waste management  
Water quality  
Worker well-being  


  Introduction Activities Publications search
Wise practices Regions Themes