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Letter of the Day | Restricting access to beaches will have serious social implications

Published:Friday | June 2, 2023 | 12:13 AM


When the Beach Authority Act was passed by the government in 1954 most Jamaicans thought that access to all the beaches was guaranteed. Back then travel to these recreational areas by residents far removed from the coastline was not as available so beach outings were mostly by organised group trips on holidays. Residents living along the coastline had easy access to whatever beaches there were.

Over the years as Jamaica’s population increased and motor vehicle ownership has became common, travel to recreational areas grew rapidly. Consequently the available public beaches became more crowded. Concurrently hotel construction on the waterfront increased tremendously gobbling up the best beaches thereby excluding the general public from accessing those beaches.

As tourism was such an important revenue source for the government, hotel developers were given exclusive rights to the best beach areas they acquired. This was in direct contravention to the spirit of the 1954 Beach Authority Act, which was intended to provide unrestricted access to the beaches. In addition, the present government is hell bent on privatising whatever public assets there are. Puerto Seco, one of the best beaches in St Ann, is now run by a private company whose policy favours tourists, not locals.

The Urban Development Corporation, the government agency responsible for providing beach access and improved beach facilities, changing rooms, etc., has failed miserably. Residents of the largest metropolitan area of Kingston and St Andrew and Portmore have only a relatively small stretch in Portmore for sea bathing. The adjacent section is cluttered with unsightly ramshackle board structures. Similar scarcity exists in most parishes. Miles of ocean front is sealed off by private ownership.

The municipal corporations do not have the funds or foresight to reserve adequate sections of our natural God-given beach areas for the ever-increasing population. If the access to beaches to the people is restricted, there can be serious social unrest in the near future. In fact, there is social unrest already, as manifested in the indiscipline and violence through anger in our society. Without adequate recreational facilities to relieve the daily stresses of life we will all suffer the inevitable dire consequences.