Soufriere is a picturesque rural town, located on the southwest coast of the island of Saint Lucia. This area is remarkable for the richness and diversity of its landscapes and natural resources, including mountains, rainforest, rivers, active volcanism and coral reefs.
The area of coastline hereinafter described extends over 12 kilometers and presents a succession of beaches and cliffs, with the Soufriere bay at the center. The town of Soufriere lies within that bay. Because of its topography and relative isolation, the Soufriere region has not been part of the main transformations which have affected the rural economy of St. Lucia over the past few decades. Its agriculture therefore remains characterized by mixed crops produced on small to medium size estates. In the more recent past, Soufriere has witnessed radical changes provoked by the growth of tourism in the coastal zone.
Because the coast plays a central part in the life and economy of Soufriere, the main settlements and infrastructures are located near the shore and the beaches are used intensively for recreation.
There are approximately 150 registered fishers, from which two-thirds fish on a full-time basis. The main gears are nets, lines and pots.
Over the past two decades, tourism has grown significantly, with two large resorts, four smaller hotels, and a number of guesthouses and restaurants, many of them focusing on the diving and the yachting sectors.
Maritime transportation remains important and an increasing number of day charter boats and water taxis bring large numbers of visitors from the northern, better-developed part of the island to Soufriere.
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.