Jamaica has 86 public bathing beaches, which are designated for the use and enjoyment of the Jamaican people under law and are governed by beach licenses. They are also important sources of livelihoods for Jamaicans, affording communities opportunities for income generation via cook shops, water sports, and other recreational activities. Some public beaches are designated as both bathing beaches and fishing beaches, but the two categories are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
According to Jamaica’s draft Beach Policy (2000), public beaches in Jamaica are poorly managed. Threats to Jamaica’s public beaches include beach erosion, theft of sand, illegal developments, squatting, removal or degradation of important natural resources, pollution by solid waste and/or poorly treated sewage, poaching of threatened wildlife, and over-fishing. Many people using Jamaican public beaches demonstrate poor knowledge, attitudes and practices. Beach users are careless with solid waste and damage beaches’ ecological features by removing coral, destroying mangroves, and harming wildlife, etc. Poor sanitation practices are also common.
Further, there is a general perception that Jamaicans are increasingly being excluded from their own coastline, as tourism development controls the ‘best’ beaches. Under Jamaican law, there is no general right of access to beaches, the foreshore or the floor of the sea. The beach policy was first drafted in 1997, and updated in 2000, but to date has not been finalized.
The Better Beaches for Jamaicans (BBFJ) project promotes access to beaches and improve the management and ecological health of Jamaican public bathing beaches through improved local community management and an islandwide beach network. With funding from the Irwin Andrew Porter Foundation (IAPF), JET engages with local community groups on their legal rights, basic business administration, customer service, environmental conservation and beach safety and sanitation. The project also campaigns for a coherent and comprehensive policy framework for Jamaican beaches, including access rights and public participation in decision making. Under phase I of BBFJ (2016 – 2017) JET submitted a petition with over 2,000 signatures to Jamaican Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, asking the government to guarantee better beaches for all Jamaicans! View our petition here. We also produced a booklet on Better Beach Management for Jamaican Communities, which can be found here, and established a Jamaican ‘Big Up Wi Beach’ online network on social media here.
In 2018 JET received funding from IAPF for a second, three-year phase of the project. Under BBFJ Phase II between November 2018 and May 2019, JET conducted a survey to assess the status of Jamaica’s public beaches. The results of the survey can be found on the new Big Up Wi Beach JA website here. A summary report on the survey’s findings can also be found here.
Under BBFJ Phase II JET will also expand the Big Up Wi Beach social media network into a broader public education campaign on beaches. and continue engaging with community managed beaches on beach access and conservation issues. Through the project JET will also continue to advocate for a coherent and comprehensive policy framework for Jamaican beaches.