One of our natural treasures, Comino, has been surrounded not just by sea, but also by controversy. Spunt delves into the main problem and uses examples from one of our neighbours to see how we can preserve the natural beauty of the lagoon.
Picture this: You’re a tourist on your way to Comino, where you’ve been promised a relaxing day savouring sun-blessed, white sands and crystal-clear waters. You arrive, expecting paradise, only for reality to hit hard with an umbrella-infested, chaotic hell.
Comino’s problem can be described in one word: overcrowding. It is constantly marketed as a must-see destination for tourists visiting Malta. However, there are no official statistics for the number of Comino visitors. Maybe this could be a good start for identifying the problem.
Beach operators occupy space by setting up deck chairs and umbrellas from the early hours of the morning. NGOs rightly argue that beach operators should not occupy the beach, as the limited space available is public land, and visitors should have a choice on whether or not to make use of these services.
The Real Problem: The Tourism Paradox
The impact of over-tourism on beaches is not just an inconvenience, but also an environmental calamity, and this is well documented. The term ‘Tourism Paradox’ has been coined to refer to the fact that tourism frequently destroys the natural and cultural environment which it depends on.
For example, a 2006 study on La Pelosa beach in Sardegna analysed how the structure of the beach had changed since the 1970s. It showed how an increase in tourism-related activities and development accelerated sand erosion and caused a disequilibrium in the beach’s dune system.
Studies like this led to several Italian authorities taking action.
Several beaches in Sardegna have since introduced visitor caps on some of their most overcrowded beaches. If you intend to visit La Pelosa beach, for example, you must book a spot on the beach beforehand, through a simple online booking against a €3.50 fee. The registered beachgoers are then provided with an identification bracelet which gives them access to the beach.
Let’s face it, with demand for Comino’s beaches so high, it’s impossible to expect it to keep receiving those numbers of visitors without consequence. By introducing caps on the number of people allowed in one day, those who book can have a more enjoyable day at the beach and more importantly, the ecological impact will be minimised.
An entry fee could also be something to consider for two main reasons:
It covers the administrative costs related to the system and funds can even be used for conservation projects on the island.
The ‘beauty’ of supply-demand: Imposing a price on anything automatically reduces the number of people actually trying to gain access.
OK, OK, calm down. Maybe local residents could still enter for free. But even if not, that’s a small price to pay to conserve a natural paradise in our midst.
Pollution in paradise: A conceptual model of beach pollution and tourism ‐ Links between beach pollution and tourism ‐ 1 Karen Dyson* Received November 16, 2010; accepted December 23, 2010