Drivers of (de)commonisation of sandy beaches

The expansion of the tourism sector is a major driver of beach (de) commonisation in the Lesser Antilles. The many beaches in the region are prime locations for tourism activity, and the tourism sector has expanded considerably in recent years (CTO, 2018; Dehoorne et al., 2010). Tourism brings people from all over the world (CTO, 2018), who also wish to enjoy the region’s beaches, which greatly expands the pressure on these beaches for recreational purposes. However, these added pressures also challenge the existing institutional arrangements that maintain beaches as public resources. Tourists have different preferences for privacy while enjoying beaches, and similarly, their perceptions of how beaches ought to be accessed by the public are likely grounded in the institutional frameworks of their home countries, which may or may not be consistent with the prevailing rules in the Lesser Antillean islands.

Considering these factors, the onslaught of tourist use initiates a process of (de)commonisation of sandy beaches, which changes their resource use characteristics and potentially the rules in use governing these interactions. Tourism operators, to align with their clients’ demands, sometimes attempt to exclude the public from beaches by various means. Although not always successful, these attempts are important to consider as a driver of (de) commonisation.

A secondary driver associated with the expanding tourism sector is the increased need for construction materials to build the resorts, restaurants, accommodations, and other infrastructure necessary to support the sector. Depending on the type of infrastructure being developed, sand is often a major input to construction projects (Krausmann et al., 2017; UNEP, 2016). Expansion in the construction sector associated with tourism means increased consumptive use of sand in building projects. While sand is imported in some islands (UN Comtrade, 2018), often developers and residents look to the islands’ many beaches and river banks as a cheap local source of sand for construction purposes. This secondary driver places pressure on existing public uses of beaches for recreation and similarly initiates (de)commonisation.

How does (de)commonisation progress?

Beaches: From public resources to club resources?

Tourism resorts can sometimes convert select beaches from public resources to club resources. These beaches become more excludable than prior, but remain non-subtractable, as much of the new use is still for recreational purposes. Their excludability changes due to the way some resorts operate, which is often counter to existing formal institutions. Resorts respond to their clients’ demands, or perceived desires, and sometimes aim to manage resort beaches as exclusive to the resorts’ guests, and in doing so the beaches become club resources for the guests during their stay. Resorts employ different means for attempting this excludability. For example, the Mill Reef Club on the island of Antigua does not provide public access through its private lands in order to access approximately five miles of beach located off the seaward side of the property. Although Antigua’s Planning Act does have provisions for ensuring situations like this do not arise, it is difficult to ensure these provisions are followed, even when the government recognises the problem:

All beaches are public. But before you get to the beach ... people own land ... so what is happening is that in order to access the beach you have to walk through their private land and they are seeking to literally ensure their own privacy and, in the process, cutting off access to the beach.

(P. M. Brown, August 27, 2018, the Jamaica Gleaner)

Sand: A common pool resources under changing exploitation

As mentioned earlier, the tourism sector often relies on the construction of hotels, resorts, expat housing, etc., and this construction enables the type of

(de)commonisation discussed above. Beaches cannot be transformed from public resources to club resources without the development of infrastructure to support the tourism sector. How'ever, construction also produces a cascading effect to beaches and riverbanks that are not the focus of recreation for tourists. Construction often requires a reliable and cheap supply of sand for concrete, w'hich developers and builders often find in beaches and riverbanks (i.e., gut sand). These beaches and riverbanks may be in very different parts of the islands in relation to the homes, resorts or other developments, but nonetheless construction can impact the types of resource use on distant beaches and riverbanks and initiate changes in usage levels, w'hich in this case are predicated on the (de)commonisation process affecting tourist beaches. During this process, sand extraction from beaches and riverbanks is increased. Sand mining for construction is a subtractable use, but the sand remains largely not excludable.

Construction, a lot of [sand] is used for construction. And as the island is developing more, you have not only locals who are building and improving their homes, but an increasing number of expats - wealthy expats. The problem of sand mining has always been there, but it’s exacerbated more. So, you have the increasing problem of sand mining.


How'ever, it is important to note that the treatment of beaches as common pool resources and their exploitation is also not necessarily new on these islands. Illegal sand mining occurred before the expansion of tourism and the expat population:

Sand mining, if you [are] building in the rural areas you not buying sand you just go on the beach [and] you take up the sand.


Although, the effect of tourism is synergistic with these other factors that contribute to illegal sand mining, as it potentially increases demand - and therefore the price - of sand gained through non-illegal or less detrimental means. The combined effects of factors leading to illegal sand mining - including the expansion of the tourism sector - lead to potentially unsustainable use of beaches and riverbanks, which have several compounding impacts with other activities and issues threatening coasts and coastal communities.

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