Working Towards Participation and Collaboration in the Caribbean

by Nicole A. Brown, Communication Coordinator, CANARI

In the countries of the Caribbean, as in other island nations, where there is a high level of direct economic dependence on the environment, the sustainable and equitable use of natural resources is one of the critical issues of regional development, particularly as competition for ever-diminishing resources increases. For sustainability and equity to become a part of the Caribbean reality, however, communities and user groups must become involved in decision-making about the resources they depend on.

Participation is relevant to all aspects of resource management, from data gathering to information processing, to decision making, to enforcement and resource utilisation. Indeed, communities and resource users are more likely to respect and uphold management decisions if they have had some input in the planning, implementation and management processes. Participatory planning benefits from local and popular knowledge, respects and builds on traditional management systems, integrates resource management into its larger context, improves efficiency and effectiveness, and contributes to community empowerment and development.

For more than fifteen years, the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI) has been working throughout the insular Caribbean to foster the development and adoption of policies that support increased participation and collaboration in natural resource management. CANARI is a regional non-governmental organisation (NGO), which operates out of offices in St. Lucia and St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. The Institute’s programme encourages the recognition of common issues and problems, and facilitates the sharing of technologies, ideas and experiences among all the countries of the region, regardless of language, cultural heritage or political status.

CANARI’s programme comprises three integrated elements - applied research, analysis and advocacy - and seeks to understand and promote the skills, technologies, support mechanisms, institutional arrangements and policies that lead to the increased participation of Caribbean communities and institutions in natural resource management. Applied research and analysis are designed to develop an understanding of the requirements for the adoption of participatory and collaborative approaches to natural resource management. Advocacy activities, which are based on research findings and analysis, are intended to help build a broad base of support for participatory and collaborative resource management. The Institute targets resource users, community groups, NGOs, governments, universities and other research, policy and training institutions, donors and international assistance agencies, and the general public.

Testing Participation in the Field

Throughout the Caribbean, groups and organisations are experimenting with various mechanisms to determine the interventions needed to achieve effective management at an optimal level of participation. CANARI’s field research is geared towards understanding the factors - ecological, economic, political, social and cultural - which determine a given management regime. The five research cases that CANARI is currently involved in (all located on St. Lucia) are:

  • Community organisation and conflict resolution in Soufriere
  • Participatory planning and management on the southeast coast
  • Collaborative management of the use of the Mankote mangrove
  • Collaborative management of a sea urchin fishery
  • Seamoss mariculture

Cases are selected on the basis of their ability to yield information and lessons with wide applicability, and are designed to generate information and methodologies that can contribute to the effective management of the region’s natural resources. One such example is research on participatory and collaborative methods for monitoring coral reefs which is part of the Institute’s work in Soufriere.

Reef Monitoring in Soufriere

Coral reefs are among the Caribbean’s most valuable marine resources. But despite their critical importance, the use of the region’s reefs is often inadequately managed, even in the face of stated commitments by governments to assure proper protection. One of the reasons for the failure of many reef management programmes has been the lack of usable and relevant information to guide management decisions. To address this, CANARI developed participatory reef monitoring methods and a complementary software application for coral cover analysis through a collaborative research project in the Soufriere region of St. Lucia.

The project was a joint effort involving CANARI, the sport diving community, a local NGO - the Soufriere Regional Development Foundation - and the St. Lucia Department of Fisheries. It was designed to develop methodologies that would overcome some of the problems that commonly plague reef management programmes by involving user groups in monitoring. The case for user participation in reef monitoring is strong. Effective monitoring requires regular and consistent data collection to correlate changes in reef health. This implies frequent site visits by trained professionals, a costly undertaking that few of the Caribbean’s financially strapped fisheries’ administrations can afford. One of the ways of getting around this constraint is to equip those resource users who frequent key sites with data collection methods appropriate to their level of expertise, thereby taking advantage of available manpower. Dive operators are well suited to participate in monitoring activities; they are highly trained professionals who regularly use critical reef areas and have both a personal interest and a commercial stake in healthy reefs.

For a monitoring programme to benefit management, it must be able to do two things. Firstly, to detect and quantify any significant changes in the status of the resource. Secondly, to provide continuous information on levels of impacts that are causing those changes. The CANARI reef monitoring method measures the impacts of a range of human activities on the health of the reef, with appropriate diver participation. Specifically, it tracks the level of sport diving, water quality, coral cover and density, and provides the lay person with tools for interpreting the data collected. To determine the level of sport diving each dive operator records the total number of dives made within a specified time frame. Water quality measurements are taken periodically by divers using sedimentation traps and secchi disks. These measurements benefit greatly from the regularity of diving schedules. Photography is used to measure changes in the coral reef community. This particular method was chosen because it is simple, rapid, easily performed by divers and it provides records for later analysis.

One of the weaknesses of existing instructional materials on coral reef monitoring is that they tend to emphasize data collection, to the exclusion of methods for analysis and interpretation. The software developed by CANARI seeks to bridge this gap by automating the analysis of the information from the photographs, thereby allowing non-scientists to interpret data.

The information obtained from the Soufriere monitoring programme has been applied in the area in two ways. Firstly, the data were used in consultations among user groups, along with complementary information provided by fishermen, for mapping the uses of the Soufriere coastal area and subsequently for zoning. Secondly, the data have guided management decisions by determining what happens to the coral at different dive sites. For example, the monitoring of live coral cover on two reefs at Anse Chastenet resulted in a zoning change for one of the areas. One of the reefs monitored was the most heavily-dived on the island, the other had one tenth the level of diving activity. Results showed that the coral cover on the former remained constant, while there was a significant decline on the less dived reef, as a result of damage by yacht anchors. That reef is now zoned as a no anchoring area.

One of the outcomes of this work in Soufriere was the formation of the St. Lucia Dive Association, the mandate of which includes assisting with research and monitoring, and involvement in reef conservation and management. The project also prompted the formation of a regional network for reef monitoring. The network promotes collaborative approaches to monitoring and facilitates the exchange of information and experiences among monitoring centres.

The participatory monitoring approach and methods developed in Soufriere have been incorporated into the planning of national and regional reef monitoring programmes and have been adopted by NGOs, park management agencies and other diving communities throughout the Caribbean. The Institute is currently working with the governments of St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Dominica to integrate the method into their own coastal management programmes and to train personnel in the use of the software.

Analysing Lessons from Experience

Field work across the region is resulting in a growing body of experience in collaborative and participatory approaches. It is also producing innovative technical methods that can contribute to participatory natural resource management processes, which are suited to local conditions and which are potentially adaptable to other situations. CANARI analyzes and compares its own experiences, as well as those of other institutions, in order to extract lessons and develop two kinds of tools - technical (procedures and skills) and institutional (policies and legislation).

Farming Seaweeds for Food

Seaweed cultivation is an area in which CANARI has been working in partnership with communities and government agencies to diversify the income-generating opportunities of coastal communities and reduce pressure on the wild stocks of a natural resource. The result of the Institute’s work has been the development of an appropriate technology and its transfer to, and acceptance by, coastal communities in St. Lucia and other countries of the Caribbean.

Seamoss is the popular name given to some ten species of edible seaweeds in the English-speaking Caribbean, where it is widely used in the preparation of drinks and puddings. The seaweeds most commonly used are species of the genus Gracilaria. The popularity of seamoss in the region and the development of small scale bottling industries on many islands has led to the over harvesting of wild stocks in many areas, for while the consumption of seamoss is traditional, its cultivation is not. Recognising the economic potential of small scale seamoss cultivation, the Institute, building on work initiated by the St. Lucia Department of Fisheries and the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC) in 1981, has been testing new production methods and improved seaweed strains along the southeast coast of St. Lucia. These skills and techniques, which have been refined over the years, continue to be taught to potential and actual seamoss farmers across the region.

In the bays along St. Lucia’s southeast coast, seamoss lines buoyed by plastic markers blanket the water, as evidence of the growing acceptance of seamoss farming. An activity that was initially perceived as experimental by the coastal communities where the pilot studies were conducted, is now widely accepted as a socially and economically viable alternative. Farming is generally carried out by individuals or family groups including women and children; it requires very little start-up capital and is generally done to supplement household incomes. The farmers along St. Lucia’s southeast coast currently supply approximately half of the island’s demand for processed seamoss and 90 per cent of the demand for the dried product.

This work represents an important contribution to the development of alternative approaches to the use of coastal resources in the Caribbean. The most established commercial seamoss ventures are in St. Lucia, but there are promising experiments and projects in Jamaica, Dominica, Grenada, Belize, Trinidad and Antigua. Seamoss cultivation and processing have the potential to develop into significant industries in the region.

While the Institute’s earlier work focused on the development and improvement of seamoss cultivation techniques and the diversification of seamoss products, activities are now centred on the improvement of strains to enhance returns from farming. Future directions will include testing the potential for community participation in the management of wild stocks.

Rural Development through Ecotourism

Ecotourism is distinguished from mass tourism by its philosophy of environmentally and culturally sensitive development that contributes to conservation and provides direct economic benefits to local communities. It also implies local participation in the establishment and maintenance of sites.

In the Caribbean, as elsewhere, the concept of ecotourism continues to be poorly understood and abused. The term is increasingly used to describe nature and heritage-based tourism. Very few of these initiatives are community-centred or community-controlled, and they often fail to make a contribution to rural development. At a time when communities throughout the region are trying to identify sustainable non-traditional income generating activities, local ecotourism initiatives could present an interesting and viable alternative.

In St. Lucia, CANARI and the St. Lucia National Trust have been involved in the establishment of a community-based ecotourism project in the Mankote Mangrove. Located on the island’s southeast coast, Mankote has been the testing ground for the development of sustainable harvesting techniques for mangroves, and for the establishment of a de facto co-management arrangement. Mankote is the only remaining significant mangrove forest on St. Lucia’s southeast coast; it is locally important not only as a source of charcoal, but as a recreation and hunting (crabs and fish) site as well.

Recognising the potential for ecotourism activities in the mangrove, the members of the Aupicon Charcoal Producers Group began offering tours to visitors in 1993. All 12 members of the group were trained as tour guides by the St. Lucia National Trust. In 1995 the group sought technical assistance from CANARI and the Trust to build a viewing tower and provide interpretation panels in the mangrove, in order to enhance their tourism product. The viewing tower is scheduled to be opened in July 1996. Plans are currently underway for the construction of a boardwalk to allow greater access to the mangrove.

Positive spin-offs of this project in Mankote include not only the obvious economic benefits to the charcoal producers, but also the less tangible, but equally important, benefits of increased confidence among the producers as their work in the mangrove gains more and more national and regional recognition, and of increased group cohesion through continued collective decision-making and cooperative activities.

CANARI has also begun an in-depth examination of the relationship between ecotourism and rural development, with a view to promoting ecotourism development that benefits local communities through policy formulation and reform. This process of analysis began in 1994 with the preparation and publication of an issue of the Caribbean Park and Protected Area Bulletin on ecotourism and rural development in which community-led ecotourism initiatives in four Caribbean countries were examined.1

In November 1995, CANARI convened a seminar in Martinique to further policy issues related to ecotourism and rural development. Over a three day period, a multidisciplinary, multilingual team embodying experiences from eight countries in the region defined the objectives of an ecotourism approach to rural development; identified the skills and tools necessary for achieving these objectives; and outlined the policy implications and requirements for increased community participation in ecotourism planning and development at the local level.

After three days of discussion and analysis, seminar participants formulated a definition of ecotourism that emphasizes its ecological and local development objectives, which states that:

“Ecotourism is a form of tourism development which respects environmental, cultural and historical values through the sustainable management of natural resources, in all their diversity, for equitable local development.”

As follow-up to this seminar, CANARI will publish a substantive document on ecotourism and rural development for distribution to ecotourism planners and developers and to rural development practitioners throughout the Caribbean.

Building Support for Participation and Collaboration

As important as researching and analysing the conditions and factors that contribute to increased participation in resource management is the process of building broad-based awareness of, and support for, these approaches. For CANARI, such advocacy encompasses a range of activities that provide the foundation for the acceptance and use of participatory processes and collaborative arrangements. These activities include training and capacity building, conferences, technical support, documentation and information sharing.

CANARI regularly conducts training activities and prepares training material informed by its research and past experiences, in order to transfer the skills needed to implement participatory and collaborative processes. One example is the Institute’s training course on co-management, which introduces NGO practitioners and professionals to the concept of co-management and offers strategies for the integration of participatory and collaborative planning and management methods into new and existing programmes. The third edition of this training course, focusing on the policy requirements for co-management, and targeting decision-makers (NGO and government), is currently being developed and will be offered in 1996.

CANARI produces two periodicals, the Caribbean Park and Protected Area Bulletin and the Caribbean Moss Bulletin. Together with the Panos Institute, CANARI also produces Community and the Environment: Lessons from the Caribbean, a series designed to share experiences and lessons in community-based resource management from around the Caribbean, drawing on CANARI’s own experience and that of other organisations. This series was launched in 1994 at the first U N Global Conference on Sustainable Development in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) held in Barbados. To date, three dossiers have been published in the series, with a fourth expected in 1996.2 Publications in the series have been widely distributed throughout the Caribbean to NGOs, decision-makers, research and training organisations and the media, and have been used as reference materials for planning and in training.

Looking to the Future

The experience of the past two decades has shown that participatory approaches to natural resource management and development are particularly suited to small island societies. The Caribbean is ready to build on that experience and to ensure that people and institutions collaborate effectively in maintaining the natural capital on which their economies are based. In pursuit of this vision, CANARI continuously strives to be responsive to the changing needs and context of the region, and to help create the space necessary for the equitable participation and effective collaboration of Caribbean communities and institutions in managing the use of the region’s natural resources.

  1. Caribbean Park and Protected Area Bulletin. Caribbean Natural Resources Institute. Tighe Geoghegan, editor. Ecotourism and Rural Development. Volume 5 No 1 May 1994 (in English, French and Spanish.)

  2. CANARI and the Panos Institute. 1994. Community and the Environment: Lessons from the Caribbean

No 1 Protected Areas and Community Management. T. Geoghegan and V. Barzetti eds

No 2 Community Participation in St Lucia. Y. Renard

No 3 A Collaborative Approach to Monitoring Caribbean Reefs. A. Smith and Y. Renard

No 4 Community Participation in Samana, Dominican Republic. (Publication pending)

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