Can news – fleeting info rm ation – help people to understand better the notion of integrated management of coastal regions in a context of sustainable development? Defi n i t e ly yes. Because the media, m a i n ly the independent written pre s s , is the last re s o rt for those who have been pushed aside by a development project wh i ch has taken scant notice of the socio-economic and ecological factors involved. There, they can express themselves and even vent their anger about it. This jars with the idea of integrated management which should be shared by eve ryone invo l ved in coastal deve l o p m e n t .
Mauritius is an island of coastal tourism, which uses up an enormous amount of coastal resources such as beaches, important natural geological sites, lagoons and coral reefs and other aspects of the landscap e. The touri s t industry is an important part of the country’s economic development and brought in US$459 million in revenue in 1997, making it the third biggest source of income after agriculture and manufacturing. The 1.1 million people of Mauritius welcome 600,000 tourists each year and the number is expected to reach an annual average of 845,975 by the year 2002. All of the 90 registered hotels are on the coast, where tourist facilities take up 41.9 km of the 322.5 km of the coastal zone of the 1,860 km2 island.
But the tourist industry may collapse if these resources are not managed in a way that co-ordinates the activity of interdependent elements with a view to sustainable development. It is significant that after years of unregulated development, people are now starting to talk about sustainable tourism. This famously fast-growing i n d u s t ry also affects the inhabitants of the coastal areas and their environment; conflicts often find their way, when all else fails, into the columns of the island’s newspapers. The need for sustainable development of the environment was first mentioned in the Mauritian press in 1990, though the concept had been launched by the Stockholm declaration in 1972, when tourism in Mauritius was taking off in a big way. It came up in the reporting by the newspaper Week-End of a scandal over construction of a hotel, started in 1989, at Balaclava on the northwest coast, which has the only bay in Mauritius where 90% of the coral is still living. The coral reefs at this unique spot, which has been earmarked as the site of the island’s first underwater park, were bulldozed to build a water-skiing lane. The outcry led to a new environmental protection law in 1991 which requires all new tourist projects along the coast to undergo an environmental impact assessment before getting the go-ahead. But another crucial part of sustainable development – the social aspect – was not dealt with.
Once more through Week-End, exasperated fishermen protested in 1993 against the dredging of
a lagoon at Trou d’Eau Douce, on the east coast, to build an artificial island for the Sun Resorts hotel group. The dredging permanently changed the water currents and jeopardized the inshore fishing, which was one of the local community’s main economic activities. The upshot of the media protest was that the hotel developer recognized the harm the project had done to the community and the fishermen were paid compensation. But the lagoon’s ecological balance has still not been restored and the fishermen, with the help of the money they
got, have turned to other work related to tourist development.
An overall awareness of what sustainable development is about has steadily gained ground and the part played by communication, using the written press, is very clear. Examples of it are increasingly cited by the newspapers and there are now opportunities for discussion and analysis
leading to awareness of its importance, especi a l ly wh e re integrated management of the island’s coastal areas is concerned. The press helps with reports, interviews and big articles, in non-technical language that is easy to understand and supports people’s concerns about the
FROM COMMUNICATION TO EDUCATION
At a deeper level, the spread of information about the environment along with a greater involvement of education in sustainable development programmes leads fi n a l ly to people understanding that natural resources are limited and that it is the job of all of us to look after them. So starting with the agents of communication and with journalists, we have to know the scientific facts about the ecosystems and how human activity affects them. The press is a powerful and essential tool in creating this awareness, especially at decisionmaking level, either in government or the private sector. Just like the media, sources of informal education such as bookshops, nature reserves and parks, training courses and research centres fit in with the aim of educating people to manage the environment. But messages from various sources can confuse things. The news can help the cause, as we have shown, but there needs to be greater involvement through specialized training. The task of e d u c ation in sustainable development programmes in coastal areas is to encourage economic activity and behaviour that is consistent with sustainable development by increasing the know-how and knowledge of the ecosystem and
natural resources. So alliances should be made among community groups, non-governmental organizations, industries and those involved in formal and informal education.