Letters & Opinion, Tourism

Public Beach Access – Drawing The Line In The Sand

beach

By Clement Wulf-Soulage
By Clement Wulf-Soulage

“A simple life is good with me,” exhorted Yanni, a Greek composer and music producer. “I don’t need a whole lot. For me, a T-shirt, a pair of shorts, barefoot on a beach and I’m happy.”

Most if not all St. Lucians will find merit in the aforesaid sentiments, if only because the ocean front offers them a vacation from everyday life and provides a psychological fortress against the vicissitudes of politics and urbanization. Indeed, for most of us, beach visitation has become a way of life since childhood, at anchor through our social experiences and recreational customs. Moreover, a public beach can be a sanctuary for the family and community during hot summer months, and provide harborage from the hustle and bustle of the work day. Yet, if beaches are so central to the people’s identity and inner spirituality, and access to the sand is guaranteed in our constitution, why is it that many hotel developers (some with felonious intent) are laying out unwelcome mats to local beach goers and ostensibly employing all sorts of tactics to make our people feel like trespassers?

Just a few days before Christmas, I found myself a victim of one of the most egregious examples of the privatization (whether lawful or otherwise) of public space in this country. In the true spirit of the holidays, I decided to visit my ancestral hometown Soufriere, a place redolent of age and romance, to take in some of the beautiful scenery and enjoy the charcoal-grey expanse of sand and pebbles along the town’s shores. Upbeat and full of festive energy, I took a water taxi and first ventured out to AnseChastanet and then to Jalousie Bay, a sacred place right between the nation’s battered breasts. As I approached Jalousie Bay, I became prostrated with grief as I realised that all beach access points had been blocked and the hotel had extended its reach and occupied a remote beach corner; the only remaining vestige of public recreational space and comfort.

Not wanting to stir a hornet’s nest, we turned back and sought recreation elsewhere. All the while, with my tail between my legs, I was thinking, “stolen heritage” and “birthright violation”; all in the name of touristic development. Please understand dear reader that this isn’t any abstract economic or social issue to me. This is deeply personal and I am still licking wounds from cultural humiliation and defeatism, and I’m furious. Alas, I can imagine the hundreds of St. Lucians who are afflicted and affected by this social injustice on a daily basis.

So I ask my fellow compatriots: Why do we tolerate hotel developers who erode the character of our public beaches and deny us the right to access those beaches? This is a clarion call beseeching all St. Lucians to demonstrate importunateness and rise to protect their rights to beach access through protest, civil litigation and legislation. Today it’s Jalousie Beach and Pigeon Point, tomorrow it might just be the AnseChastanet and Malgretoute beaches in Soufriere; and there are ominous signs to indicate that they may soon be inaccessible to the public as well.

Let’s take a leaf out of the book of Californian beachgoers who have resisted all efforts by multi-millionaires and property developers to block access to public beaches. Each of us has a responsibility and obligation to preserve and protect our scarce natural resources and pay homage to our heritage. There are simply no socio-economic arguments to justify the expropriation of our natural resources and the vandalism of our cultural patrimony and heritage. One vestige of human uniqueness still often cited by anthropologists is culture. Culture is central to the way we view, experience, and engage with all aspects of our lives and physical resources. The biggest determinant in our lives is culture; where we are born and what the environment looks like. But it appears like we are allowing our cultural underpinnings to sink deeper into naval-gazing irrelevance.

In St. Lucia, beach visitation has been a customary practice and has been part of our traditional and historical way of life. Not only is it a lifestyle for many, it’s also a means of livelihood for hundreds of hardworking St. Lucians. Hotel construction and tourism development must never interfere with the customs, practices and modus vivendi of a people. We need to balance tourism development with cultural protection.

The Surfrider Foundation, an international non-profit environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enhancement of the world’s waves and beaches through conservation and activism espouses the following beach access policy: “The public should be afforded full and fair access to beaches, which are public trust resources, by minimizing the possibility of impediment; including development, subdivision or land use zoning change, or deterring obstacles, including gates, fences, hired security, misleading signage, rock walls, shrubbery or other blockades, being placed upon public rights of way to beach access.”

Against a backdrop of deep distrust and cynicism in affairs of hotel development, I do have a lot of sympathy for the residents of Trouya who are raising objection to a proposal to change the land use of properties in their community from single family residential to multi-family villas and a hotel with spa and restaurant. Judging from the way things have turned out in at the past in Fair Helen, who is to say that agreements won’t be violated and beach access blocked. St. Lucians should be on their guard since it appears that hotel developers systematically trespass on our kindness and hospitality; give them an inch it appears and they’ll take the whole backyard.

Critically, the issue of beachfront development is one that must be looked into expeditiously otherwise we will gradually lose ownership of and access to our beaches. Why are hotels constructed so close to the beach front? Shouldn’t construction plans have considered public access paths and pedestrian zones? It doesn’t seem like hotel developers give a damn about the cultural sensibilities and the needs of local beach goers when they sit to devise their grand plans. Then again, how are hoteliers and developers expected to account for their actions when in the past very few “real” objections have been raised in public. St. Lucians should have protested vehemently against the pillars erected at Pigeon Point until the issue was addressed satisfactoriy.

At any rate, I was delighted recently to have read a trenchant piece written by Earl Huntley entitled “Saving our beaches – Not too late for the Caribbean”. I would love to see that article republished and featured in all newpapers in the country. Writing with a ponderous gravity, Mr Huntley opined:

“If other Caribbean governments want to think that it is too late to save our beaches, then we in St. Lucia must differ. I am of the view that there should be legislation debarring further hotel development directly next to our beaches. Copacabana shows that its is possible to have a thriving tourism industry with hotels that are not sitting almost on a beach, that are adjacent but sufficiently away from it to allow the beach to remain the accessible patrimony of the people. It is not too late to save our Caribbean beaches from the lure of the tourist dollar at any cost. I am telling this story now to show my total support for the residents of Trouya, Bois d’Orange, Gros Islet who are trying to save the small and quietly beautiful Trouya Beach from a tourism development project that will change it forever and at best condemn us to using a track to get there and at worst, debar us from it all together.”

Mindful of the fact that preserving public access to beaches is a constant struggle that requires continued defence and maintenance, Mr Huntley quipped: “I support them whole heartedly and I am prepared to march, demonstrate and picket with them if necessary, not simply because as a former resident of Bois d’ Orange my family and I used that beach and still do, but because there is something more valuable to us than acquiring the tourist dollar- it is to preserve our patrimony, our heritage- the gifts of nature that the Almighty bestowed upon us for our pleasure and recreation and for reminding us that he exists and is the creator. Yes we can make use of them for our economic development but not to the point of selling them to foreigners, so much so that we can no longer have access to them and our descendants know that they are there but cannot even see them.”

I salute the honourable gentleman in stating his case so vociferously and incisively. I agree with everything he said and consider his contribution to be a veritable reference in the crucial debate on beach access. I still believe that we can undo the damage already done and return St. Lucia’s beautiful beaches to its people. I am growing tired of witnessing security guards shooing away St. Lucians. Tourism cannot be allowed to be such a menace to cultural heritage.

Meanwhile, St. Lucians must show more respect and appreciation for the environment by declaring an all-out war on littering, illegal dumping and sand mining. More public education programmes are required to help curb visitor harassment. While we are a little late in coming to grips with such critical national issues – thank heavens we are not too late.

For comments, write to Clementwulf@hotmail.com – Clement Wulf-Soulage is a Business Economist and Author.

9 Comments

  1. This is your best article yet. I didn’t enjoy your earlier ones (economics based) because I disagreed with your ideas but this is 100% bang on the money.

    I have long been saying Lucians don’t quite understand what splendour is on their doorstep compared with other nations. There is a general slackness which pervades nearly everything. The amount of times i have seen dumping of litter/refuse on the beach is astounding.

    The same point can be said of the Le Paradis development – how can land left to the nation to be left as a nature reserve be turned into private housing? what chance is there when the government doesn’t care?

    A three point plan is needed

    1 – rezone all the land in the country so that areas are protected once and for all.

    2 educate the youth on nature

    3 put harsh civil/criminal measures for those caught dumping/sand mining/ poisoning the rivers / fishing out of season. Only when people feel it in their pockets will they change their ways.

    Bravo clement

  2. Great article. We at the Facebook campaign”keep Trouya beach public” have been fighting this fight hard. This is a national priority issue even if only belatedly realized.
    We can win in Trouya and set a precedent for land use based on local priority not private greed and short term economic exploitation

    Keep following the Facebook page!

  3. So let’s see!

    1.) we want touristic jobs
    2.)we want easy beach access
    3.)we don’t want to give up prime beach space for tourism
    4.)we want foreign investment money to flow freely into St. Lucia, but we don’t want to give anything up to get it.
    5.)we want it all, and we want it for free!

    Figure it out and figure it out FAST ! ya got’s to pay, in order to play. Simple!

  4. Investor guy I must challenge your simple assertion that we must sell our soul for investment. As an international traveller, I am very disappointed with how our governments and people have been brain wash to accept that for jobs we must give up our basic rights as St.lucians.
    In Hawaii, Brazil, California which I have been to and witnessed how tourism can function and be beneficial to the locals without them giving up their rights of access to the beach.
    The article is well written and detailed, also acknowledging our own failures to respect and appreciate. The author is right when he says stand up be responsible in fighting and protecting access but also we stop littering, harassment and sand mining, I fully endorse that view and call on every child, woman, man, boy and girl to let your voices be heard and be prepared to march for your rights.

    1. OK, point taken.
      But at the same time access for all to the beach shouldn’t incude a freeforall feeding frenzy by those pesky trinket vendors. It’s the one safe haven the tourists should have from the peddlars.

  5. “… the gifts of nature that the Almighty bestowed upon us for our pleasure and recreation and for reminding us that he exists and is the creator.”
    ————————————————————————————————————————–
    I agree, the AnseChastanet and Jalousie beaches in Soufriere are gifts of nature that the Almighty bestowed upon us for our pleasure and recreation and should, therefore, be enjoyed by all St.Lucians.
    Again, I agree, the Trouya Beach at Bois d’Orange in Gros islet is a gift of nature that the Almighty bestowed upon us for our pleasure and recreation and should, therefore, be enjoyed by all St.Lucians. Infact, the same argument can be made for the Vigie Beach, the Choc Beach, the Cas En Bas Beach, Reduit Beach, etc., etc.

    Now, should the same argument be made for the beach at Pigeon Point? Can we honestly say that the stretch of beach in front of the Landings and the Sandals Grande hotels is a gift of nature that the Almighty bestowed upon us for our pleasure and recreation and should, therefore, be enjoyed by all St.Lucians? If the answer is yes; then the question becomes: When did nature bestow such a gift upon the St.Lucian people; for prior to 1971 there was no beach. Instead, it was the vision, determination and money of someone (a corporation, a partnership, or individual) that made the beach a reality; and who wouldn’t want to recoup the cost of such a massive outlay? And as a result, it can, in my opinion, be considered PRIVATE, and rightfully so. And we beachgoers should not try to force anyone to tear down pillars to allow us access to what I consider to be a private property. I just don’t think we have that right.

    Yes, it’s our island, but somethings can be private.

  6. Access to the beaches of St.Lucia does not mean giving the rights for peddles to harass the tourist or for people to kick ball and ride horses indiscriminately. As I said earlier if Brazil, California and Hawaii to name a few can allow access with locals maintaining their environment and beaches for all to enjoy why can’t we St. Lucia? Laws are there to be enforced without bias to any whether rich, poor or visitor.
    Tom, Tom your argument about Sandals at pigeon point do not wash. It is not private because the cause way was built through private investment . Before it was built there was a beach on the main land and the island or rather there was coastal areas plus the sea which is St. lucia’s. sir John Compton had the vision and hence the cause way came about he gave up acres of sea bed to enable St,Lucians to have access and rights to beach thus the investor can have land to build but as a fair exchange the beach front should be available for all to enjoy not abuse by some or fencecd out away from all because of the behaviour of a few. Fencing out is re enforcing an ingrained prejudice and stereotypical view of whites that they are above and more important than the locals a them and us attitude. Such attitude magnify and encourage the few bad eggs in society to target visitors who they see as cash cows.

    1. @BOYBLUE “Before it was built there was a beach on the main land and the island….”
      ———————————————————————————————————————————
      The beach on the main land – from Gros islet heading up to the Landings – is still there; and many local beachgoers continue to enjoy it, especially on weekends. Likewise, the beach on the island – from Sandals to Pigeon Island – is still there; and thousands of local beachgoers continue to enjoy it. But for some reason, that’s not enough for some people. They must have access to the strip just in front of the two hotels; not to bathe, or to have a day out with their families, but for the sole purpose of harassing and pressuring the tourists into buying excursions and trinkets.

      I spent a week at the Grande in August of 2012 for my co-worker’s wedding, so I know what I’m talking about; I witnessed it first hand. And, by the way, there were many non-white tourists from North America, Europe, and Trinidad during my stay.

  7. The respectable Earl Huntley’s and now this very sharp literate economist, Mr. Soulagel- I am heartened.
    Oh sweet Helen I do take heart that there are able bodied souls who love you and wish to preserve your natural graces.
    Gazing and savoring a museum full of the best of the Dutch masters and French Impressionists or a decade of hours may invigorate my intellectual plateau , however, for (near) heavenly delight of body and soul nothing satisfies like a clean St Lucia beach – even for a few minutes.
    I continue to salute Rembrandt, Picasso, Monet et al and our sanctified shoreline, warm tropical zephyrs. On a sunny day our beaches exceed the magical visual allure of impressionism- its the real deal = a living tapestry of all our cultural heritage. You can be caressed and reassured of the good life as you splash and frolic with gleeful abandon of all stress and impediments.
    Merciful God , we forlorn sinners beg this one forgiveness of thee: Spare us the insanity of prostituting / pimping of our shoreline /beaches any more.
    KEEP OFF- AMEN!

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