Contributed by Ashley Codner
When I began working at the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) in September 2018, the Better Beaches for Jamaicans (BBFJ) project was already well underway. As one of two new JET Project Coordinators I was asked which projects I was interested in taking the lead on. I jumped at the beach project, because I have a marine biology background and I love going to beach to enjoy the tranquillity it brings.
Although BBFJ is relatively new, JET has been working on beach health and beach access issues for over two decades and there’s a wealth of information available in-house which was available to help guide coordination of the project. JET also has well established relationships with community groups and NGOs across Jamaica, so it was easy for me to identify local partners to assist us with conducting the survey. Ten local groups, including beach clean-up coordinators, service clubs, academic institutions, NGOs and community-based organizations, assisted JET in administering the islandwide beach survey between November 2018 and May 2019.
Early in the survey, we discovered that many publicly accessible beaches were not necessarily designated under law as “public beaches”. We wanted to make the survey findings as useful as possible for Jamaicans, so we decided to include as many publicly accessible beaches as we could. In total JET and its local partners surveyed 132 publicly accessible beaches in Jamaica to assess their ecological health and management status.
Bob Marley Beach, St. Andrew
The beach survey is very thorough, it had over 100 questions asking all those important things someone might want to now before heading to the beach. For example, is there an entrance fee? Is there a bathroom? Can I bring my own food? Is there a lifeguard? Beach users want to know these things beforehand, so that they can choose the best beach for their next adventure.
As was expected, we found that Jamaica’s publicly accessible beaches are used mostly as places of recreation, but there is a lot of confusion about who manages public beaches. After the field work was done, I found myself having to make numerous follow up calls, trying to confirm who owned and managed many of the beaches on our list. I used to think most Jamaican public beaches charge an entrance fee – I realise I was wrong about that – but we did find that many beaches lack basic facilities like toilets and garbage collection and don’t have proper safety arrangements in place. This is probably why many Jamaicans perceive that there are not many publicly accessible beaches – because many are simply not suitable for recreation. The major findings of our islandwide survey are summarized in a report which can be accessed here, and the complete results of the survey are presented on this website (more on how we built the site in my next blog).
Cover Photo: Peach Beach, St Ann