By: Barbara Jacobs-Small, CERN correspondent, St. Lucia.
The Soufrière community in St. Lucia is the very symbol of the land known as the Helen of the West Indies. This historic French town on the West coast boasts spectacular scenic beauty and marine and coastal diversity. It is the home of the world-renowned Pitons, as well as the island’s drive-in volcano that accommodates a large chunk of St. Lucia’s rainforest. These attract tourists on a large scale, both from abroad and from home. However tourism has had certain impacts on the age-old and thriving fishing industry in the community.
Yves Renard, Director of the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI), mentioned that in Soufrière, with the growth in population, changes in the economy and the growth of tourism, many people started using the same resources for different purposes. They came into quite serious conflict with each other. Renard described some of the conflicts, which have existed in the community for quite some time. “There have been conflicts between fishermen and recreational divers, where the fishermen complained that divers allegedly were cutting their fish pots, and the diving community complained that fishermen would set their fish pots on reefs. Additionally there were conflicts between yachts men and fishermen, because yachts would be anchoring in the middle of fishing areas. Conflicts came up too because of the location of new jetty and board walk in the middle of a given fishing area. The list could go on.”
These conflicts caught not only the attention of CANARI, but also some other institutions like the Department of Fishing and the Soufrière Regional Development Foundation. According to Renard: “It was recognized that the traditional way of dealing with those problems, through the establishment of separated marine reserves and fishing areas, was not offering a solution. Segregating the users, fishermen on one side and divers on the other, would create more conflicts than bring solutions.”
“Therefore, in 1992 several institutions got together to go through a negotiation process. Negotiation between ‘old’ stakeholders and other groups with an interest in conservation and management of those resources.”
A process of dialogue and consultation ensued and resulted in the establishment of the Soufrière Marine Management Area (SMMA). According to Kai Wulf, who heads that authority, the management of the marine and other natural resources in and around Soufrière is actually done by a Technical Advisory Committee, made up of about 22 different institutions. It includes the fishermen of Soufrière and their cooperatives, the Department of Fisheries, customs, the yachting industry, the watertaxi association, etc. Together these groups decide on any issue in the SMMA, according to Wulf.
One of the main tasks of SMMA is the monitoring of zones from Anse l’Ivrogne to Anse Jabon. Areas have been clearly defined as yacht marines, recreational areas, multiple use areas, fishing priority areas and four marine reserves.
The value of SMMA as a conflict management body becomes clear in speaking with Edward Mongroo, President of the Soufrière Fishermen Cooperative. He stated that: “We the fishermen believe that there are too many marines reserve areas. Of the 11 km length of the Bay, about 9 km is designated as marine reserve. This when we have so many fishermen who are involved in all types of fishing. Therefore we say that we should convert some of the marine reserve areas into fishing areas. That would solve the conflict between the fishermen and the marine management area.”
Renard stated: “Conflicts such as those that the SMMA is intended to address, will always occur. That means that you cannot resolve conflicts for ever. What you must do is manage conflicts. For this an institution should be established that can deal with those problems on a participatory basis, where all stakeholders will participate in the decisions to address or resolve the conflict.”
Glen Miller, the yacht operations manager for Marigot Moorings, found the establishment of the SMMA timely and necessary. “It is a very positive thing. Since the regulations of the SMMA were established and the institution was started, I can say that the charter guests and yacht persons in general are complaining much less. Now there is less harassment and charter guests are happy to stay in the Soufrière area.”
From its start in July 1995, the SMMA with the collaboration of institutions, resources users and NGOs has made significant in‑roads in term of streamlining economic and tourism activity for the sustainability of related industries and for marine conservation. So while problems will keep arising, it is these problems which justify the existence of the body. It is in the proper management of such conflicts that the success of SMMA lies.
The body also has to find ways to manage its own‑self, hence user fees. Kai Wulf told that revenues are generated from the use of the SMMA, basically by yachts mooring in the area and therefore paying for the use of permanent moorings and by divers paying for entry into the reserve.
He said: “The fees are collected by the SMMA and all that money goes back into the management of the SMMA. Currently, the SMMA covers all its recurrent expenditures from its own revenue.”
As dozens of tourists pile into busses to embark an yet another tour, another day in the life of Soufrière, Wulf explained that marine based recreational activities are big business in tourism the world over, no less so at Soufrière. “Marine parks therefore, must work with regulatory bodies. Marine management areas are being established all over the world. In St. Lucia we are on the right track and actually right now a lot of people look at this experiment in Soufrière. We are receiving more support from other institutions like the French Mission for Technical Cooperation, as well as ENCORE and the Caribbean Conservation Association. There are many promising things. Although we have received a lot of criticism, especially from the fishermen, SMMA will find its place in the community of Soufrière”.
In collaboration with the Caribbean Environmental Reporters Network (CERN), Panos produces a weekly 10-minutes radio series: “Island Beat – News from the environmental frontline of the Caribbean”. It documents community environmental themes, in particular highlighting community experiences in finding solutions to environmental problems, reported by journalists from across the Caribbean region. This current print feature has been derived from a radio programme which was produced in August 1997.