How Strategic Environmental Assessments can help prevent environmental disasters of Small Island Developing States in the Caribbean; a St. Lucian case study

by: Makeddah John

EIA and its limitations in developing countries

Environmental impact assessments (EIAs) are processes crucial to preventing and mitigating adverse effects environmental and social landscapes of a proposed development while enhancing potential social and/or ecological benefits (Noble 2010).  Project-level EIAs cease to be effective when the environment in which they operate has not discerned ecologically robust from ecologically sensitive landscapes (Alshuwaikhat 2005) and when the socio-ecological interdependencies nor thresholds for development have been established.  Other disadvantages of solely using project-level EIAs for environmental protection is that they can only be effective in response to a proposed action as opposed to being proactive and design the nature and circumstances surrounding potential actions (Alshuwaikhat 2005).

Caribbean SIDS and Tourism Development

The Caribbean islands belong to a unique group of 52 Caribbean, African, and Pacific small islands and territories called Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Commonalities linking these states include:

  • inability to enjoy economies of scale
  • vulnerability to exogenous economic shocks
  • ecological fragility as they have high levels of endemism and few natural resources

(Kelman and West 2009 and Ghina, 2003).

Diversification of the economy is constrained and SIDS are forced to rely on service -oriented industry to drive their economy.  With scenic landscapes, relative proximity to North America, and suitable climatic conditions, tourism is a viable industry in which to invest and to grow the economy.  Unfortunately SIDS have weak institutional and administrative capacities thus policies and plans for management of land, tourism, natural resources as it relates to sustainable development are often vague or absent.  Environmental impact assessments in this milieu are therefore undertaken solely as another step in the process of being granted approval.

This is where strategic environmental assessment (SEA) can play a significant role.  Rather than reacting to proposed developments, SEAs can influence policy, programmes and plans that direct the types of tourism development required to preserve biodiversity, determine sensitive ecosystems for conservation and more robust ones for development (Alshuwaikhat 2005).

St. Lucia, a once obscure island paradise has come to the fore in recent years as a prime tourist destination.  Located on the southeast coast of St. Lucia is a small fishing village, Praslin.  Fairly undeveloped, Praslin welcomed a new development called Le Paradis.

The proposal for development was granted approval and very soon after, earthworks were started to prepare the 600 acre site for construction.  The pictures below show the massive clear cutting and resultant sedimentation of the beach.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Pictures courtesy of Saint Lucia National Trust, 2007.

Praslin consists of a large proportion of dry woodland forest that is home to the White Breasted Thrasher (Ramphocinclus brachyurus), a bird endemic to St. Lucia (Birdlife International, 2013).  The area of the proposed development, Le Paradis, was one of the main habitats of this species.  In 2006 and 2007 the population was numbered at about 1200 adults; in 2011, the population in St. Lucia was fewer than 900 (Birdlife International, 2013).  In addition to the devastating effects of the proposed development on the terrestrial environment, the marine environment was severely affected with sedimentation from the clear cutting resulting in partial destruction of local seaweed cultivation operations, increased mortality of corals reef, and the increased turbidity makes spear fishing by locals more difficult.

Financial constraints possibly due to the 2008 recession prevented this development from being completed and it stands today in ruins surrounded by a desolate landscape that was once lush and rich in biodiversity.

VIDEO of area present day (unable to insert???)

With St. Lucia having limited natural resources, it only makes sense that baseline information on important ecosystems and their thresholds for development be established.  Strategic environmental assessment should bridge the gap between policy and EIAs through influencing land use planning and management and identifying policies and plans that may pose an environmental danger (Alshuwaikhat 2005).  Evaluation of the funding used to finance developments should also fall under the purview of SEA to ensure sufficient funds are available to complete a development or implement protective measures and avoid the devastating environmental consequences seen in the La Paradis Development.  In addition, full consideration of alternative models of development can be weighed and different forms of tourism development proposed such as heritage or nature tourism where local communities can participate more and natural resources are kept intact as they are essential to the product (Renard, 2001, Noble 2010).  An alternate fate could have been realised for the people of Praslin if according to Noble, 2010, “SEA was proactive in asking ‘What is the preferred option?’ and ‘What is the preferred attainable end’ rather than predicting the most likely outcomes of a predetermined type of action.”

References

Alshuwaikhat, H.M., 2005. Strategic environmental assessment can help solve environmental impact assessment failures in developing countries. Environmental Impact Assessment Review 25, 307–317.

White-breated Thrasher Ramphocinclus brachyurus. BirdLife International,Published on 08/10/2013 and accessed on October 6th, 2013. http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=6877.

Ghina, F., 2003. Sustainable development in small island developing states. Environment, Development and Sustainability 5, 139–165.

Kelman, I., West, J.J., 2009. Climate change and small island developing states: a critical review. Ecological and Environmental Anthropology 5, 1–16.

Noble, B. 2010.  Introduction to Environmental Impact Assessment.  A Guide to Principles and Practice.  Oxford University Press Canada 2010.

Renard, Y., 2001. Practical strategies for pro-poor tourism: a case study of the St. Lucia Heritage Tourism Programme.

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