‘The Beach Belong to We’
Submitted by Tara A. Inniss. PhD (UWI) MSD (UNSW) BA (York). Department of History and Philosophy, Cave Hill Campus, The University of the West Indies, Barbados, email@example.com, The History Forum Blog
When Gabby wrote ‘Jack’ in the early 1980s, he was responding to hoteliers asserting their rights over beach front property. Some almost 40 years later, Barbadians have felt secure in the notion that ‘The Beach Belong to We’. But no more. Many downplay beach access issues proclaiming that beaches in Barbados are public. However, we have witnessed increasing tension among property owners, watersports operators and beachgoers over the past 5-10 years with property owners asserting their rights over beach space above the high-water mark. But, to me, a disturbing trend has been the use of lines of (usually empty) beach chairs that create an artificial barrier (like a wall or fence) between beach users and properties. One only has to look at the aerial drone footage of beaches like the Crane, Mullins and even Carlisle Bay for evidence of this phenomenon. I believe that it is a way for property owners or even beach chair operators to conduct a ‘land grab’ at the expense of beach users. Although some complain that watersports operators harass their patrons, which is a legitimate concern, the majority of beach users pose little harm to their businesses.
In the context of access to recreational space, Barbados’ beaches have historically been the one of the few refuges that Barbadians have had access to for sporting activity and relaxation since Independence. Given the high incidence of Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases (CNCDs), these spaces are very important to providing access to free physical activity such as swimming, beach cricket, running, walking, etc. which Barbadians need to prevent diseases such as diabetes, obesity and hypertension. Access to these spaces and activities should not be limited because of predatory business practices which privilege the needs of the visitor over the Barbadian. Also, given that beach chairs are being used in this way, we should ask ourselves if a lazy day at the beach for the visitor should be prioritized over the potentially active lifestyles that we want Barbadian families to pursue.
Moreover, given our changing coastline, beach erosion is a severe and ongoing problem for property owners and insurers. We only have to look at the high surf conditions experienced in recent weeks to see the damage that is done to coastal properties which extend their structures on to beach spaces because the high water mark has altered over time. Carlisle Bay is a good example. When the Deep Water Harbour was built in the 1960s, it changed the entire coastline of Carlisle Bay with now increasing land accretion due to sand depositing in the Bay — but that is only one hurricane or storm surge away from changing and given the threat of Climate Change, Government should be making a move to ensure that coastal properties are protected — not expanded into beach zones! There is an economic and environmental cost to all of us when unregulated coastal development occurs.
I have done some quick research on how this matter has been dealt with in some jurisdictions. When concerns are raised, the use of beach frontage can be curtailed or regulated by the state through by-laws or other legislation.
In 2015, in a Florida town, residents complained about a similar phenomenon being promoted among condominium developments along the beach. The City intervened and only a percentage of beach frontage could be used for the purpose of beach chair provision. Since then, tensions have decreased significantly. http://www.nwfdailynews.com/1.488270 In Barbados’ case, we may wish to pursue a similar provision which allows only a certain percentage of beach frontage to be reserved for beach chair use and only when that is satisfied can property owners put out more chairs within the boundary of their properties.
Other jurisdictions go much further. In Phuket, Thailand, officials conducted a ‘Beach Clean Up’ meaning that ALL structures, temporary amenities (beach chairs, etc) were to be removed from the island’s beaches leaving them clutter free http://www.phuket.com/phuket-magazine/phuket-beaches-clean-up.htm. In Australia, nothing permanent is allowed on beaches including beach chair rental although some jurisdictions are experimenting with this kind of rental enterprise within regulations. http://www.bobinoz.com/blog/18397/whats-really-different-about-the-beaches-in-australia/. I think these measures might be too restrictive especially to the small beach chair concessionaire, but they do indicate that some major popular tourism destinations take a hardline.
These are matters that should be taken up with haste with the National Conservation Commission (NCC) and it would not be the first time that they were asked to help regulate the beach chair situation. With increased tourism development along the island’s coastline and our current economic, social and health challenges, regulation of beach spaces is an important consideration.