Sun, sea, sand, forsaken
Erosion, lack of sanitary conveniences, littering spoil public beaches
Finding a decent free or low-cost public bathing beach anywhere in Jamaica is not for the faint-hearted. There are 76 public beaches scattered across all parishes, except Kingston, that are either free or cost up to $500 for entry, according to the...
Finding a decent free or low-cost public bathing beach anywhere in Jamaica is not for the faint-hearted.
There are 76 public beaches scattered across all parishes, except Kingston, that are either free or cost up to $500 for entry, according to the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), which regulates beaches in Jamaica.
Public beaches are listed in two categories: those with open access to the public that are unlicensed and those that are licensed with minimal amenities and an entry cost. Regulated beaches are required to have lifeguards, safety measures and sanitary facilities, NEPA disclosed.
But as The Sunday Gleaner found over the last two weeks, most are in shambles, lacking basic amenities and minimum safeguards, causing users to risk danger while enjoying a favourite recreational activity for many Jamaicans.
Some beaches, however, were found to be in good condition.
Concerns about pollution of the Kingston Harbour also forced the authorities to close nine beaches in the Jamaican capital.
All of this is in stark contrast to the pristine public beaches that have been leased or divested to hoteliers and other private business interests and enjoyed mainly by visitors to the island.
The total number of public beaches that are being privately operated either through lease or divestment remains unclear.
In a response to Sunday Gleaner queries, NEPA disclosed the names of six beaches owned by four state entities that were leased over the last two decades. They include Puerto Seco and Salem in St Ann; Boston in Portland; and Fort Clarence in St Catherine.
The state-owned Urban Development Corporation (UDC) said it needed more time to respond to Sunday Gleaner questions about the number of beaches it owns, how many have been divested or leased and whether lease arrangements guarantee the public access to these beaches at minimal costs.
“We will revert with comprehensive answers in short order,” UDC said in an emailed response to The Sunday Gleaner.
Up to press time, Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association President Clifton Reader had not responded to questions from our newsroom.
‘OVERDEVELOPED AND OVERPRICED’
Dr Carolyn Cooper, professor emerita and outspoken advocate, charged that public beaches turned over to private operators have been “overdeveloped and overpriced so that poor people cannot access those beaches”.
Noting that a day at the beach is an affordable form of leisure for many families, Cooper questioned the rationale of having public beaches that are “poorly maintained”.
“My concern is that the history of our society, starting with the enslavement of African people, is a history that shows that black people were not supposed to enjoy leisure. We were conceived as beasts of burden,” she said.
“Spot monitoring” conducted by NEPA during the heights of the COVID-19 pandemic confirmed some of the deplorable conditions this newspaper saw during visits to free or low-cost public access beaches in St Andrew, St Catherine, Clarendon, Manchester, St Elizabeth, St Thomas, St Mary, St Ann, St James and Westmoreland.
“Some had a lot of garbage, some were eroded, and that’s a big problem … and some beaches that originally had sanitary conveniences are in a dilapidated state,” said Anthony McKenzie, director of environmental management and conservation at NEPA, referring to some of the findings.
A more comprehensive assessment is already under way and is expected to be completed by the end of this month, McKenzie disclosed during a Sunday Gleaner interview on Friday. The objective is to identify ways to expand the recreational offerings at public-access beaches, he said.
The decay and substandard conditions seen by The Sunday Gleaner teams were mainly in eastern and mid-island parishes.
As examples, Retreat Beach in St Thomas and Orange Bay Beach in Portland are no longer available to the public, both decimated by erosion and several hurricanes over the years.
NEPA confirmed that both beaches are “no longer there”.
“And we have one or two other examples like that,” added McKenzie.
Retreat Beach is owned by the state agency National Resources Conservation Authority and was leased to a resort operator, according to NEPA records.
But residents painted a picture of neglect.
“Back in the day there was a little pipe that you could use to shower and other things, but everything was demolished over 30-odd years ago,” said Rohan Bryan, councillor for the Morant Bay division, in which the beach falls.
“There is nothing for you to call it a public beach … no seating, nowhere to shower, nowhere to lay a blanket or to do a cookout. Retreat Beach is now a seaside,” he lamented.
POOR WATER QUALITY
Gunboat, Buccaneer, Harbour Head, Bournemouth and Sirgany were among nine popular open-access beaches within the Kingston Harbour that served residents in mainly eastern Kingston communities up to the late 1970s.
All nine have been closed either because of poor water quality or due to the construction of the Michael Manley Boulevard, NEPA disclosed.
“Because of the effluent discharge into the harbour, it impacts that [internationally accepted] parameter and so it’s not considered safe. So, they were ordered closed by the health ministry,” said McKenzie, although he admitted that members of the public still frequent all nine beaches.
The water quality in the Kingston Harbour is improving and the “vision” is that some of these beaches will be reopened, he said.
Residents have largely turned their backs on the Cave/Water Wheel beach in Westmoreland, claiming it is no longer “fit for use”.
“I don’t know of anyone in Cave or any of the districts around here who used that place recently,” said local mechanic Aaron Risden, referring to the Cave/Water Wheel beach.
“When we want to go to the beach, it is straight Bluefields. Even people from Whitehouse and Ferris, is Bluefields dem use.”
“Admittedly, over the years we’ve had challenges with funding and maintenance of the beaches,” McKenzie told The Sunday Gleaner.
But after years of neglect, it appears free public-access beaches have begun to get some attention.
McKenzie disclosed that over the past year, 15 beaches were “upgraded, cleaned up and rehabilitated” at a cost of nearly $10 million.
Ten more are earmarked for major rehabilitation work over the next two years by the Tourism Enhancement Fund, he said.
Crane River in St Elizabeth; Rocky Point in St Thomas; Winnifred in Portland; Murdock in St Mary; Priory in St Ann; and Success in St James are some of the beaches selected for upgrade work.
The recently opened Harmony Beach Park in Montego Bay, St James – developed at a cost of $1.3 billion – and Boston Bay, which was upgraded five years ago at a cost of approximately $40 million, were cited as examples of the models that will be pursued.
“We recognise that a lot of the beaches, as you rightly pointed out, are in a poor state and so a concerted effort is now being made to rehabilitate these beaches with proper investment,” McKenzie told The Sunday Gleaner.
Beaches accessible to the public free or at a cost not higher than $500: NEPA
Fort Charles - Free
Calabash Bay - Free
Parottee - Free
Crane Road/Fullerswood - Free
Galleon - Free
Great Bay - Free
Billy’s Bay - Free
Font Hill - Closed
Whitehouse - Free
Norman Manley - Free
Bluefields - Free
Cave /Water Wheel - Free
Little Bay - Free
Long Bay Beach Park 1 - Adults $150 & Children $50
Orchard - Free
Tryall - Free
Bloody Bay - Free
Watson Taylor Park - Free
Bulls Bay - Free
Lances Bay - Free
Water Fletcher/Aqua Sol - Closed for construction (Last cost: $350)
Sunset/Dead End - Free
Coral Gardens - Free
Barnett Hall - Free
Harmony Beach Park - Free
Greenwood - Free
Flamingo - Free
Half Moon Bay - Free
Braco - Free
Rio Bueno - Free
Burwood - Free
Jacob Taylor/Silver Sands - Free
Cardiff Hall/ Flavours - Free
Priory/ Fantasy - Free
Salem/ Sharkies - Free
Dunn’s River - Children $500 (Adult $1,000)
Sailor’s Hole - Free
Ocho Rios/Turtle River - Adult $200 & Children $100
Roxborough - Free
Lot 17 Bengal - Free
Annotto Bay/ Marking Stone
James Bond - Closed (Last cost: Adult $350 & Children $200)
Rio Nuevo - Free
Murdock - Free
Pagee - Free
Boston Bay - $300
Long Bay - Free
Innis Bay - Free
Rodney Hall - Free
Hope Bay - Free
Blue Hole - Free
Manchioneal - Free
Buff Bay - Free
Spring Gardens - Free
Hermitage - Free
Bryan’s Bay - Free
Drapers - Free
Winnifred - Free (contributions are expected)
Lyssons - Free
Prospect - Free
Retreat - Free
Rocky Point - Free
South Haven - Free
Coopers - Free
Mezgars Run - Free
Port Henderson - Free
Marine Terminal - Free
Hellshire Bay - A small fee is collected by the co-operative
Fort Clarence - Closed for renovations
Jackson Bay - Free
Farquhar - Free
Wards - Free
Alligator Pond - Free
Hudson Bay - Free
Copacabana - Free