Public participation in coastal management in Honduras

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Honduras is located at the heart of Central America, bordering the Caribbean Sea, between Guatemala and Nicaragua and bordering the Gulf of Fonseca (North Pacific Ocean), between El Salvador and Nicaragua. It has a population of 7,639,327 approximately and a total area of 112,090 km² from which 200 km² is water. The total coastline of Honduras is 820 km long; it has a short Pacific coast but a long Caribbean shoreline, including the virtually uninhabited eastern Mosquito Coast.[1]
Honduras is also part of the world’s second largest barrier reef called “The Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System” which stretches more than 720 kilometers and is home to a universe of marine life. It is unique in the Western hemisphere due to its length, composition of reef types, and diverse assemblage of corals and related species. The outstanding ecological and cultural significance of the MBRS has resulted in its designation as a World Heritage Site.[2]

Once part of Spain's vast empire in the New World, Honduras became an independent nation in 1821. After two and a half decades of mostly military rule, a freely elected civilian government came to power in 1982.

Mangroves in Honduras

The Northern Honduras ecoregion runs along the Caribbean coastline from east to west. One end is just east of the Bahía de Amatique in the Gulf of Honduras in Guatemala, and then crosses the border into Honduras ending near the delta of the Patuca River. In the eastern part, toward the Honduran border, mangroves are found on a flat coastal plain containing several lagoons and periodically flooded grasslands as well as lowland pine savannas associated with the adjacent Miskitia pine forest ecoregion. In the western part, toward and just into Honduras, mangroves are part of an assemblage of diverse habitats that include remnants of original and unaltered humid tropical forest. Habitat types found here include various types of coastal wetlands that include flooded savannas, marshes, lakes, mangroves, rocky beaches, coral reefs, and mangrove lined lagoons linked by rivers and channels.[3]

Public participation

Public participation is a political principle or practice, and may also be recognised as a right (right to public participation). The terms public participation may be used interchangeably with the concept or practice of stakeholder engagement and/or popular participation.[4]
In Honduran coastal zones public participation is essential in the development of decisions to achieve long lasting and viable solutions which profit not only the residents of the communities but also the temporary visitors.

Figure 1:Roatan Beach. Pictures were taken by Rhett A. Butler, copyright 2008

Principles for public participation

One key term that should be strongly associated with public participation is democracy.
A democratic process in public participation can be done through the following principles:

1. Include all relevant perspectives. The diversity of perspectives engaged in a wise democratic process will approximate the diversity of the community of people affected by the outcome. In addition, community wisdom and buy-in come from the fair and creative inclusion of all relevant perspectives -- all related viewpoints, cultures, information, experiences, needs, interests, values, contributions and dreams. Furthermore, those who are centrally involved, peripherally involved or not involved in a situation each have -- by virtue of their unique perspectives -- uniquely valuable contributions to make toward the wise resolution of that situation. Creative inclusion of perspectives generates more wisdom than mechanical inclusion of people.

2. Empower the people's engagement. To the extent people feel involved in the creation or ratification of democratic decisions -- either directly or by recognized representatives -- they will support the implementation of those decisions. This is especially true to the extent they feel their agency and power in the process -- i.e., that they clearly see the impact of their diverse contributions in the final outcome. Thus, it serves democracy and collective intelligence when expertise and leadership are on tap to -- and not on top of -- the decision-making processes of "We, the People" and anyone democratically mandated by the people to care for the common welfare.

3. Invoke multiple forms of knowing. Community wisdom arises from the interplay of stories (with their full emotional content), facts, principles, reason, intuition, imagination, inspiration, and compassion or empathy. To the extent any one of these dominates or is missing, the outcome will be less wise.

4. Ensure high quality dialogue. The supreme test of dialogue is its ability to use commonality and diversity (including conflict) creatively. There are three tests for the quality of dialogue towards desirable outcomes: Is it deepening understanding? Is it building relationships? Is it expanding possibilities? Most public forums need good facilitation to ensure high quality dialogue.

5. Establish ongoing participatory processes. Since intelligence is the capacity to learn, and learning is an ongoing process, collective intelligence can manifest most powerfully in democratic processes that are ongoing, iterative, and officially recognized by the whole community or society. One-time events (such as public hearings and conferences that are not part of a larger ongoing democratic process) are limited in their capacity to generate collective intelligence for a whole community or society. The institutionalization of official periodic citizen deliberations according to these principles maximizes collective intelligence

6. Use positions and proposals as grist. Early focus on positions and proposals can prevent the emergence of the best possible outcomes. In general, collective intelligence is supported by beginning with an exploratory approach which notes existing positions, proposals and solutions as grist for exploring the situations they were created to handle. Exploring the assumptions, interests, needs, values, visions, experiences, etc. that gave birth to these particular proposals tends to deepen understanding and relationship so that new and better solutions can emerge.

7. Help people feel fully heard. To the extent people feel fully heard, they will be able to hear others and, ultimately, join in collaborative deliberation and co-creative problem-solving.[5]

Public participation in Honduras

To promote dialogue about the ethic, transparency and sustainable development within the public and private sectors, and the civil society, the National Board of Sustainable Development in Honduras, CONADES[6](Consejo Nacional de Desarrollo Sostenible), among other institutions, has motivated public participation in a transparent and responsible way through conferences, seminars and workshops.

Other institutions with a more environmental orientated focus have been working on endorsing and implementing coastal public participation. One great example of an organization which encourages public participation in the Honduran coasts is the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). PADI’s Project Aware Foundation teams up with Utila Dive Centre in Honduras and organizes among several activities, a clean-up day called Dive for Earth Day which takes place during the week of Earth Day and integrates the community as an essential participator. This day is an international Earth Day event which brings attention to the need to protect our planet’s coral reefs, oceans and underwater world. Thousands of divers volunteers in more than 115 countries have helped protect underwater environments and educate local communities for Project Aware’s Dive for Earth Day

Another organization which involves public participation is the “Conservation Project Utila Iguana” This organization cooperates with the Frankfurt Zoological Society and the Senckenberg Nature Research Society. In addition to the preservation of the Utila Iguana and its critical mangrove habitat, other core goals of the project include sustainable development of the island of Utila (a popular destination for divers), as well as the creation of environmental awareness among the local inhabitants by providing information and environmental education. When the citizens learn and acknowledge the importance of the Utila Iguana they are more interested in getting involved and therefore more likely to commit to support its preservation.

Unfunctional public participation

Public participation in the management of coastal zones is not always smoothly carried out as it should be. One example of this situation is the mega-project “Los Micos Beach & Golf Resort”[7]located in the National Park Jeanette Kawas[8]in the Municipality of Tela.
Like most of the Honduran coastal cities, Tela is not only home to Garifuna[9]communities but also to other ethnic groups and to reserves, national parks and refuges.

Figure 1:Garifuna dancers.

The Garifuna are resistant to the privatization of their ancestral lands. But talk to a Garifuna community leader Alfredo Lopez for five minutes, and it becomes clear that any attempts to romanticize the cutthroat struggle are misguided. “All this privatization is illegal, and if it continues, we are going to die as a people,” says Lopez, standing before the great Bay of Tela, the disputed territory coveted by Honduran Tourism. “To lose our land is to lose everything. We are in a struggle for our life, and we will do what it takes to defend ourselves.”[9])

Taking into account that this mega-project is being developed in a national park, the Black Fraternal Honduran Organization, OFRANEH (Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña) denounces the ridiculous findings of an environmental Impact Assessment Study, which proclaimed that the “Los Micos Beach & Golf Resort”- an enclave global tourist industry complex, including an 18-hole golf course, all inside a national park - is, in fact, sustainable. The height of the farcical environmental impact evaluation is reached when the make-up provided for the golf course is discussed.
The environmental waste caused by golf courses is public knowledge. On top of the waste are the crises caused by excessive water consumption, which will affect communities neighbouring the project.[10] Using the names of Honduran entrepreneurs as a façade, big transnational companies can take the advantage of the development of a local touristic project in order to give international investors the possibility to profit from cheap human resources payrolls, “bendable” environmental laws and a neglectful judicial system.

Improvement for an effective public participation

Public participation can be improved if done properly, by periodical public hearings. Public officials and the community will benefit if public hearings are inclusive, informed, and influential. It is helpful to address each of these areas when planning for public hearings.

  • Inclusive Public Hearings

Striving for more inclusive participation at public hearings will lead to better decisions and more support for the decisions or policies that are ultimately adopted.

  • Informed Public Hearings

Public hearings will be more effective and useful when participants are better informed on the issues at hand, and when reasoned and knowledgeable presentations and exchanges take place at the hearing.

  • Influential Public Hearings

Public hearings that confront choices and trade-offs on issues and values that community members care deeply about will better inform final decision-making. An ideal result of any public hearing is that participants believe decision-makers have respectfully heard and carefully considered their perspectives, whatever the final decision. This approach will lead to better decisions and more support for the decisions or policies that are ultimately adopted.[11]


Education is the crucial element and base for an effective public participation. If the community is informed and educated the explanations and the approaches given by the investing subjects can be understood, discussed and if needed properly revoked. All of this of course will have no effect at all as long as the most influential stakeholders, media and tourism companies are owned or managed by powerful politicians, landlords, bankers, businessmen or military men whose goals are not align with the ones who aim for conscious benefits and interests of all the parts involved, in this case the affected coastal community. An educated nation has a better chance to demand responsibility from the actions of the governments and public services and to be an active player instead of a passive viewer.

See also

Internal links:

Introduction of public participation

Public participation

Why public participation is needed in ICZM

Participation Processes in Coastal Zone Management

External links:

Project Aware

Utila Dive Centre

Project Conservation Utila Iguana

Transparency International


The main author of this article is Espinoza, Gloria
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Espinoza, Gloria (2019): Public participation in coastal management in Honduras. Available from [accessed on 20-04-2024]