About The SMMA: History

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the multiplicity of uses and growing demand for scarce and fragile resources generated critical impacts and conflicts. The main environmental problems prior to the establishment of the SMMA can be summarized as follows:

  • Degradation of coastal water quality, with direct implications for human health and for the protection of the reef ecosystem;
  • Depletion of near-shore fish resources;
  • Loss of the economic, scientific and recreational potential of coral reefs, particularly in the context of diving tourism;
  • Degradation of landscapes and general environment quality, notably on or near beaches;
  • Pollution generated by solid waste disposal in ravines or directly in the sea;
  • Yacht anchor damage to reefs;
  • Sedimentation of the reefs caused by runoffs from rivers and storm damage

Problems of resource management in turn manifested themselves in growing conflicts among users of the resources, particularly the following:

  • Conflicts between commercial dive operators and fishers over the use of, and the perception of impact on, the coral reefs;
  • Conflicts between yachts and fishers because of anchoring in fishing areas;
  • Conflicts between the local community and hoteliers over the access to beaches;
  • Conflicts between fishers and authorities at both the local and national levels over the location of a jetty in a fishing priority area;
  • Conflicts between fishers and hoteliers over the use of the beaches for commercial fishing or recreational, tourism oriented activities.

Over the past decade, relevant institutions, notably the Department of Fisheries in the Ministry of Agriculture, have been aware of these issues, and have initiated a number of programs and measures aimed at addressing them.

These efforts included the legal establishment of Marine Reserves and Fishing Priority Areas, the provision of support to the local Fishermen’s Cooperative, the delivery of training and extension services, and enforcement of national regulations following the adoption of the new Fisheries Act in 1984. Due to lack of funds for demarcation and proper enforcement, and the fact that delimitation of reserves was based on resource distribution with too little consideration for the socio-economic consequences for the fishers, conflicts continued to increase despite these efforts.

It is against this background that a conflict resolution process was initiated, in July 1992, to attempt to address the many issues affecting users of marine and coastal resources in Soufriere.

These issues were considered severe, because they resulted in a rapid degradation of the natural resource base, and because they affected resource users in several ways.

The decision to engage in such a process was taken at a meeting convened by the St. Lucia National Trust as part of its national consultation on the formulation of a plan for a System of Protected Areas for St. Lucia. The participants recommended that a process of consultation be started in Soufriere. The need for consultation was reinforced by the USAID funded ENCORE project which, in considering a proposal for demarcation of the existing Marine Reserves and Fishing Priority Areas submitted by the Department of Fisheries, recognized that delimitation could not be undertaken in the present climate of conflict and resource degradation.

In late 1992, the Soufriere Regional Development Foundation (a community based non governmental organization involved in facilitating development activities in Soufriere), having identified all involved parties, initiated a planning workshop stipulating the following objectives:

  • to elaborate a detailed marine resource use map and plan, which would complement the land use plan prepared by the Ministry of Planning;
  • to resolve major marine resource use conflicts and to arrive at a consensus on use location and priorities.

It was agreed that the process should be fully independent and participatory. The experimental nature of the exercise and its potential usefulness to other parts of the country and the Caribbean region was also recognized.

In response, a series of consultations was conducted, jointly facilitated by the Department of Fisheries and the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI) a local NGO. The first meeting, which brought together over sixty persons, representing twenty-five different sectors or institutions, was convened with the following objectives:

  • to establish a consensus on the need for resolution of marine resource use conflicts in the Soufriere region;
  • to create the conditions for negotiation and settlement of any dispute;
  • to define issues affecting marine and coastal resource management;
  • to locate areas of potential and existing conflict and to define the boundaries of the various resource uses.

It was made clear to the participants that all previous decisions and all management arrangements were subject to discussion and review.

During a boat trip the participants had the task of mapping the resources, their uses and the location of conflicts as they traveled along the coast. The discussions held on the boat trip led to the agreement within the group that zoning was not the only management instrument and that the plan produced as a result of this exercise should be much broader in its identification of measures and solutions.

An architect compiled the information gathered during the boat trip into a large colored map.

At a second meeting the participants were asked to confirm the information on resources, current uses and location of conflicts which had been established during the previous session and to reach agreement on all areas and issues for which agreement appeared relatively easy to reach.

Issues and options that had been identified earlier, namely, the control and development of yachting; the establishment and management of marine reserves; the development of the fishing sector; and the management of the land based sources of pollution were explored in greater depth.

The most critical and severe conflicts, which required additional negotiation and which could not be solved with the information and resources available, were identified with the understanding that they would be addressed in subsequent meetings.

Time between the meetings was used to hold individual discussions with some groups and persons involved, particularly as it related to the sites of major conflict. The Department of Fisheries held discussions with major hotels and with the dive operators, to explore possible solutions to competing uses of reef resources. Anbaglo, St. Lucia’s Diving Association, which was particularly active during that period, held consultations with its members, to enhance their understanding of the position of fishermen, to confirm their willingness to participate in management, and to help them articulate their position on the introduction of a user fee structure. The Soufriere Foundation held informal discussions with key players in the community, including some business interests, which had major stakes in the eventual outcome of the negotiation process.