Sun | Feb 28, 2021

Letter of the Day | Is Jamaica for Jamaicans or just tourism?

Published:Thursday | July 9, 2020 | 12:12 AM


One of the most mismanaged assets of this beautiful island is the beaches that abound in every parish. Not all seafront areas are suitable for sea bathing due to the miles of rocky shoreline that exist. And the best of what’s left is exclusive to hotels and private ownership. The general public has very few choices of suitable beaches unless they have the money to pay for access to better-developed ones.

A case in point is the Negril area. Of the seven miles of pristine beaches, less than 200 yards are reserved for public access. The vast portion is developed by hotels built too close to the waterline. Detractors will argue that the public does have the right to walk along the legislative width of the corridor from the water’s edge, as allowed under the 1956 Beach Control Act, but that’s only possible in very limited sections since amendments have allowed certain tourist facilities to restrict access to their beachfront.

The Urban Development Corporation (UDC), which has the authority to develop and provide beachfront properties for public use, has short-changed Jamaicans badly. The priority developments undertaken by the UDC are mostly to facilitate tourists or to lease such properties to private entities that charge prohibitive fees for entry, such as the old Puerto Seco Beach in Discovery Bay. In most developed countries, beach access is free and other recreational areas like parks have minimal access charges.

In Barbados, beach access is free. Jamaicans paying for what is their natural heritage is ridiculous. Even an affordable cost for clean-up and maintenance of structural facilities such as changing rooms would be acceptable, but currently, the best sea bathing areas are restricted either by high entry fees or simply lack access. Given these conditions, we have to ask if Jamaica is for Jamaicans or just tourism. An enlightened approach to the management of our recreational areas is surely needed.