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Understanding Tourist Beaches as Eco-Social Landscapes: Seeking Sustainability through Integration of Human and Non-Human Wealth Production

Jeff Baldwin

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1Now coral reefs are not merely pretty, of much greater consequence is their vital importance of protecting our shores, this may not be generally realised. We had a nice example of this in Barbados recently when a certain hotel, in order to improve its beach facilities, bulldozed a certain piece of inshore reef to make a “white hole” for bathing. Although the area removed was perhaps only 20 x 30 yards, the consequent change in wave action resulted not only in the removal of the sandy beach previously existing but also the knocking down of the sea wall of the hotel itself. So here we have a very close ecological connection between tourism and the natural environment. (E.G.B. Gooding, 1977: 8).

2While tourism development can have significant affects on environments, much of the critical scholarship on tourism and its affects on local places has focused upon social impacts. Scholars such as sociologists Chris Rojek and John Urry (1997) have approached tourism as a specifically cultural process, while others, such as anthropologist Ian Munt (1994a; 1994b) have written ethnographies of “the toured”. The political economy of wealth flows from developing world destinations to developed world capital and its local effects was insightfully described by Stephen Britton. While such work is vital to understanding tourism development as a social practice, the human-environment tradition in geography mandates a synthesis of social (i.e. cultural, political, economic) and ecological processes as they interact in place and across space.

3The importance of environments to tourism has been acknowledged in the tourism literature (Mathieson and Wall 1982; Hall and Page 1999). As noted by researchers working in the tropical Pacific (Minerbi 1992; see also Wong 1993), and in the Caribbean (Burac 1996; Wilson 1996), the environmental effects of tourism can be especially significant on small islands. Though Edington and Edington recognized the need for better understandings of ecological processes that closely interact with tourism in 1986, Hall and Page have recently lamented the continuing poverty of such understandings (1999, 86; 1996, 67).

4Antigua, a small island in the West Indies provides a good illustration of how tourism might affect environments and environments affect tourism, and how we might understand and manage those interactions more effectively for all concerned. With nearly one-half million visitors spending approximately $250 million each year, tourism is vital to Antigua’s formal economy. The industry employs over half of the Antiguan labor force, generates a per capita GDP of US$7,500, and is responsible for sixty percent of the island’s gross domestic product issues directly from the (ABDT 1996; ABMF 1996; EU-ACP 1996; Courier 1997, 36; Gortier 1997, 32). Antiguan tourism is focused upon its beaches to an extreme degree. Over 95 percent of all hotel rooms are in beach resorts. Antigua has little night life, few heritage tourism sites, and minimal shopping venues outside its duty-free mall at the base of a relatively new cruise ship quay. Antigua is know for and promoted as a place for quiet and/or romantic beach vacations. Peter Ramrattan, the head of Antigua’s Hotel and Tourism Association characterized the island’s tourist clientele as the “newly wed and the nearly dead” (1997). Though now adding “The heart of the Caribbean” to the Antiguan brand, the slogan “365 powdery white sand beaches… one for every day of the year” has been used for decades (AHTA 1996, 31).

5The social construction of beaches as tourism places has been well explored generally in Corbin (1994), Lencek and Bosker (1998), and Shields (1990). The relationship between Antigua’s coastal environment and the governance of tourism development has been complex and highly problematic. I have described these conflictual social processes specific to Antigua’s beaches elsewhere and refer the reader to discussions for further background (Baldwin 2005, 2000; see also Coram 1993, Patullo 1996, and Bunce 1997). While those social processes are central to the dialectic amongst Antiguan coasts and their users, the physical condition of the coast has recently become equally worthy of consideration. In 1996, it became clear that Antigua’s beaches were eroding (AHTA 1997, 3; CCA 1991; COSALC 1996; UPR 1994); the environmental basis of Antigua’s national tourism economy was disappearing into the Caribbean.

6As in many developing world economies, tourism development in Antigua is a project dominated by the national government and foreign investors. In Antigua the government is also charged with, and is the only agent capable of caring for common lands and resources such as its beaches. Also typical of landscapes caught up in the extensification and intensification of economic activity (i.e. development), the Antiguan government has not responded effectively to environmental degradation and so beach erosion now threatens the well being of Antigua and its people.

7The goal of this paper is not to analyze the problem of beach erosion; I have outlined the socio-ecology of erosion carefully elsewhere (Baldwin 2000 and 2005). Rather, my interest here is to elaborate a conceptual framework that tourism planners could use generally in their address of human-environment relations. This is not a wholly original project. Concern over environmental degradation at the behest of economic development has spawned many venerable projects aimed at preserving or conserving valued environments. In order to learn from what has gone before, I review three different attempts at developing tools for planning development that have been especially relevant in tourism management in the developing world: these are sustainable development, indicators of environmental health, and what Harris and Nelson refer to as “whole economy analysis” (1993). In that discussion I identify some of the aims and strengths of each, and some of the problematic assumptions that weaken their ability to integrate environmental with social processes.

8Antigua serves as a robust illustration for such a review. In the third section I develop a tourism planning paradigm that encompasses formal, informal, and ecological economies, as well as the interaction between those economies. In the fourth section I apply that planning framework to Antigua’s situation today and use it to make concrete recommendations that might more effectively address their beach erosion problem.

1. Alternative Paradigms for managing Tourism Environments

9There are several alternative paradigms tourism planners may turn to as they seek to mediate the environmental impacts of tourism development. Sustainable development, environmental indicators, and “whole economies” have all been recommended. While each of these planning frameworks seek to integrate economy with ecology, each have inherent problems in their application to tourism-environment relations generally and in Antigua in particular. These problems are important because they suggest areas that any new paradigm must improve upon.

1.1. Sustainable development

10Sustainable development, first formalized by the Brundtland Commission in Our Common Future (1987) describes one of the most institutionalized and far ranging attempts to mitigate the ill effects of economic development upon environments. Sustainable development arose from the conservation movement’s encounter with free market economics. Because mainstream economics recognizes only matters valued in markets, it does not encompass many concerns dear to conservationists and a host of others. Matters valued outside of markets, whether it be child-caring in and for a household, human appreciation of natural beauty, water filtered and made more useful by a wetland, or nitrogen fixed in soil by clover: all are considered external to economy. The Brundtland Commission prescribed the internalization of economic externalities. Though appealing, the prescription is problematic, as it would require nothing less than “a restructuring of national politics, economic, bureaucracy, … and a new system of international trade and finance” (Adams 1991, 61).

11Adams observes that the concepts of sustainable development have been helpful in “laying out principles for peasant agriculture, or expounding the benefits of appropriate technology and the importance of indigenous value systems and technical knowledge” (ibid, 57). For tourism development, sustainability has been useful for ecotourism and forms that Poon has categorized as “new tourism” (1993). Such tourism uses “wilderness” or “authentic” cultural landscapes as their primary product. However, because its scope and scale is necessarily small, “new tourism” cannot serve as a development pole for a national economy. It is mass tourism that has served as a growth pole for the national economies of many small island states, and it is mass tourism that must concern the planners in places like Antigua where the tourism industry has already matured. Preservationism is equally problematic. In Antigua not only is there little beach wilderness left to preserve, but where they persist they often do not conform to tourism ideals of a beach paradise and must be significantly changed, sand and palms imported, wetlands drained, gardens and accommodations built (see Baldwin 2005).

1.2. Environmental indicators and planning for sustainability

12Some have suggested that the solution to environmental impacts lies in better monitoring through environmental indicators. As Hughes observes, the idiom of sustainable development has turned to the certainty promised by scientific quantification in understanding environmental relations; yet indicators are often poor windows into complex biospheric processes (2002, 458). Many political ecologists have problematized one-dimensional indicators (e.g. Zimmerer and Young 1998; Bassett and Crummey 2003). In a critique of using “indicators” to manage reef health in tourism areas, Butler notes that visitor declines are among the most common indicators of non-sustainability, and that in “many cases such indicators come too late for satisfactory remedial action, even if that had been possible” (1993, 39). As Hall and Page assert, index driven technical fixes often maintain the appearance of normalcy while environmental degradation continues (1999, 52).

13The number of tourist visits, for example, may be poor indicator of environmental sustainability. In Antigua, technical fixes such as beach nourishment address the symptom of beach erosion, but not the cause. Tourists see no problem, but more careful surveys indicate that beaches are eroding and that the coralgal community that both provides sediment inputs and moderates wave energies is in decline. Simultaneously, those very fixes are further degrading the coralgal communities that once produced beach berms so valued in the tourism industry. Antigua’s case demonstrates the inefficacy of environmental indicators. Though beach erosion and coral decline have been documented, those indicators have not successfully directed scientific management in an address of the underlying problems. To address the problem in a sustainable way, one must also understand why the coralgal community is dying, one must understand holistically why the reefs are dying, and what ill affect tourism has on the production of the beaches it values so much.

1.3. Whole economies?

14Where sustainable development fails by dichotomizing humans from nature, relying upon rational management, technical fixes, and insufficient environmental indicators, the authors of “whole economy” frameworks attempt to bridge the divide between the “conditions of production” (nature and not-for-market human production) and production for exchange. The efficacy of the paradigm is illustrated by Harris and Nelson (1993) who apply a “whole economy” approach specifically to planning for tourism development in Pangandaran, Indonesia. The authors describe an “ABC Resource Survey Method” which encompasses abiotic elements (A); biotic elements (B); and cultural elements (C). Though the method sounds hopefully holistic, the A and B portion of their “whole economy” unfortunately are treated as inert spatial “resources” to be mapped and valued for their appeal to human “appreciation for nature” (ibid, 184). Unlike traditional economics, such substantivist economic frameworks do seek to encompass all human production—from businesses, governments, collectives, voluntary activities, mutual aid, and households (Ross and Usher 1986). However, whole economies are anthropocentric (de Romana 1989, 27), and do not include non-human production. Thus, the human-nature dichotomy, with its attendant problems for understanding human-environment relations remains.

1.4. Problems with management

15These alternative techno and econo-centric paradigms share a fundamental and problematic model of environments as mechanistic and passive. No dialectic between human and other biospheric systems is allowed or imagined possible (O’Connor 1994, 65). However, environments are not immune to human use. They respond and change to human activity as they do to all disturbances. In Antigua, developers have treated beaches as passive or dead objects which are motivated by physical forces. Beach erosion, therefore, has been categorized as an engineering problem whose solution lays in moving sand from artificial jetties, reef bottoms, and Antigua’s sister island, Barbuda, and deposited in front of resorts (see Zachariah 1997a, 1997b; Baldwin 2000). However, in the long term, this techno-centric management has only exacerbated the problem of beach erosion.

16In order to understand beach erosion it is important to understand beaches. Briefly, throughout the insular tropics, most beach sand is biogenic, i.e. it is produced by living organisms. Such beaches are primarily composed of the accumulated bodies of calcium carbonate fixing corals and micro-algae (hereafter referred to as coralgal communities), and free floating foraminifera living in the reef environment (Inman 1994, 80). Wave action breaks those calciferous bodies and moves them across the sea floor, often depositing them on shore where they form beach berms. In addition to supplying sand to beaches, these living communities create sea floor roughness that works to moderate erosive wave energies (Symonds et al. 1995, Gourlay 1994, Young 1989). Coralgal communities thus produce and maintain beaches.

17Dredging sand from off-shore reefs for beach nourishment is problematic to this process on several counts. Dredging physically destroys portions of these living sand sources. In addition, dredging mobilizes fine sediments that can require years to sequester. Those fine sediments hurt coralgal communities in several ways. They cause turbidity that decreases photosynthesis and growth both among the tiny palm tree shaped Halimeda alga and the zooanthellae alga that live symbiotically in coral polyps. When the fine sediments do settle, they can mantle micro-alga and corals, neither of which have the ability to uncover themselves. Finally, when fine sands are deposited upon beaches they are easily re-mobilized by wave action and move back over the coralgal community. Nourishment can increase turbidity and degrade coralgal communities for years.

18Beaches are the by-product of a living community, a community that, like all life, is directed toward, and interested in its own perpetuation. When its life-activity is disrupted, its vitality diminishes. Beaches and the living non-human communities that produce them cannot be treated as passive physical elements. They can be managed, but they must be managed in a way that recognizes their self-interestedness in their own persistence (Plumwood 2000, Goodpaster 1978, Baldwin 2006).

2. New conceptual Tools

19Planning for sustainable development could be made more effective by changing two conceptual fields, both of which arise from assumptions that humans and non-humans are essentially different. As Costanza, Wainger, and Bockstael (1995) observe, research into systems tends to dichotomize our worlds into economic or ecological models. Ecological models tend to include humans only as exogenous disturbances and economic models rend to reduce ecology to a set of constraints. In that rubric, “the studies are completed using different terms and units of measurement, and the studies neglect to account for the interaction between the processes and populations” (ibid, 45). A category is needed that is capable of encompassing all production, all value. Wealth, broadly conceived as all matters valued by living beings can provide such a category. I refer to work by Pierre Bourdieu to formalize wealth as a category that is both useful in making sustainable planning policy and encompasses formal, informal, and non-human production.

20Secondly, ecological systems are not well described as passive or as mechanically manageable. Through a more careful examination of beach erosion in Antigua the value of conceptualizing non-human communities as active and self-interested can be made apparent. Towards that end, I refer to evolutionary biologist Mae-Won Ho’s (1993) development of “coherence” as a pragmatic way to understand biospheric dialectics.

2.1. Wealth

21To re-conceptualize wealth in a way that seeks similarities between humans and other life, it is helpful to categorize wealth by what it does, rather than what it is. Such a categorization leads to two propositions: first, broadly defined, wealth is anything that has value to some valuing entity; and second, wealth is inessential matter its value is relative and its form is changed by living beings into other forms. Though one cannot ask non-humans what they value (Laycock 1999), valuing can be observed empirically by watching for choice (Goodpaster 1978, Plumwood 2002). Coral polyps, for example, differentially anchor to surfaces that are more sunny than those that are less so. In that practice they demonstrate choice, and therefore valuing. Corals value sunlight because the zooanthellae algae that live behind a thin transparent membrane covering the hard calciferous surface of the polyps’ shell produce carbohydrates through photosynthesis. Corals depend upon those carbohydrates as a necessary source of food. In their life-activity, the zooanthellae transform sunlight, water, and nutrients (some of which are the by-product of the corals’ life-activity) into food. Corals with their zooanthellae symbiants, and micro-alga like Halimeda, transform matters they value, sunlight, water, dissolved nutrients, into matters that they value even more, carbohydrates and other metabolites. Reflecting human exceptionalist assumptions of his time, Marx defines this activity as the labour process: “purposeful activity aimed at the production of use-values. It is an appropriation of what exists in nature for the requirements of man” (1976, 290). If one is willing to grant non-humans the ability to value their own production, the word “man” could accurately be replaced with “life” with interesting implications for Marxist theory.

22In 1847, James Joule did characterize this transformative process. He observed that in life-activity, as something is quantitatively consumed, it is simultaneously qualitatively transformed (in Prigogine and Stengers 1984, 108). As life is distinct in its self-organization, life is also marked by its intentional transformation of energy into matter and information, information into energy and matter, and matter into energy and information. All fit into the category of wealth, which is understood functionally as matters useful to life in its drive to extend itself in time and space.

23Bourdieu formalized this same transformative process in human/social activity. In his research into social exchange and its interaction with knowledge, Bourdieu endeavored “to grasp capital and profit in all their forms and to establish the laws whereby the different types of capital (or power, which amounts to the same thing) change one into the other” (1986, 243). Bourdieu demonstrated that people “trans-substantiate,” i.e. transform or exchange, one capital into or for another (ibid). Our categories of power, knowledge and money are explicitly inessential in that they have no intrinsic, immutable, or universal quality. Bourdieu explained that through our life-activity people produce and transform wealths as needed (Bourdieu 1984, 1986; also Shilling 1993, 127). We accumulate knowledge, associations, power, and money which help us to be appropriate and effective in various situations. He asserted that we then invest available wealths of one sort into other forms of wealth as needed. Raymond Williams (1980) has forcefully argued that the by-products of life activity also have agency in the biosphere and may act to degrade or destroy wealths. After Gallagher (1989) I adopt the term “illth” to refer to matters which destroy or diminish various forms of wealth.

2.2. Coherence as a new spatial metaphor

24As “embodied selves,” we are complex wealth transforming and wealth managing mechanisms. Through and in our physical being, we organize stores and flows of power, knowledge, and money. We transform one into the other as needed according to our abilities. In this life activity we are very much like a plant transforming sunlight, nutrients into material wealth in accordance with genetic and environmental information. Humans do what life does. All life organizes flows and accumulates stores of wealth. Through their activity living beings transforms each of these inessential categories of wealth into the other.

25This basic process of wealth acquisition, transformation and use-value production suggests a spatiality that does not conform to dominant spatial metaphors people use to understand living beings or their life activity. Though not the sort of thing most people think about in their daily lives, a debate regarding the nature of our existence—are we object as Parmenides argued (Gallop 1984), or in accord with Heraclitus are we process (Wheelright 1959), or as Nagarjuna suggests, are we neither or both (Wood 1994, 290)—extends at least to the fourth century BCE. Though proponents argue for mutual exclusivity, both seem to be true at once. One’s hand is clearly a solid object in space capable of moving other objects. Yet, its substance is in flux. Very few of the atoms that originally constituted one’s hand are still there. New material is constantly flowing into place as the old leaves. Forty years ago, biologist Clifford Grobstein observed this quality of life as an explicitly spatial phenomenon.

26Despite this constant turnover of energy and materials, there is a net increase in the mass of the complexes [i.e. living beings] at higher levels of structure. Even more remarkable than this is that continuity of properties is preserved in the large molecule complexes [living beings], despite the inexorable flux” (1964, 4).

27Life is characterized by consistent form, constituted by flows, organized into ever greater complexity.

28Social scientist Michel Foucault describes the spatiality of entities in a similar fashion, suggesting that “the living being wraps itself in its own existence … and constitutes itself as a new space” (1970, 278). The space life creates of itself is an “interior one of anatomical coherences and physiological compatibilities, and the exterior one of the elements in which it resides and of which it forms its own body” (ibid, 274). Life is marked by its ability and insistence upon organizing flows of matter and energy into coherent forms in accord with information stored within individuals and taken from their environments. Coherence is a helpful concept in grasping processes that are at once transient and permanent.

29Scientists of non-human life have also found coherence useful in describing life. Though he did not specifically use the term “coherence” in his characterization of life, Grobstein wrote that life is “characterized by replication, metabolic turnover, and exquisite regulation of energy flow [and] constitutes a spreading center of order in a less ordered universe” (1964, 1). In her analysis of life as an energetic/spatial process, evolutionary biologist Mae-Won Ho asserts that living beings are “organized heterogeneities, or dynamic structures on all scales” (Ho 1993, 21), and that “An individual is simply a field of coherent activity” (ibid, 178).

30A contemporary of Foucault, French social philosopher Henri Lefebvre also noted this tension between continuity of form and fluidity of environmental wealths and illths:
The living organism may be defined as an apparatus which, by a variety of means, captures energies active in its vicinity. It absorbs heat, performs respiration, nourishes itself, and so on. … Around the living organism, both those energies which it captures and those which threaten it are
mobile: they are ‘currents’ or ‘flows.’ By contrast, in order to capture available energies the organism must have at its disposal apparatuses which are stable (1991, 176).

31We create security in stabilizing those flows, our access to them, and their access to us. Life is unique in this, it is distinguished by it. Unlike an inanimate dynamic form such as a standing wave, living beings are not constituted solely by external forces; they act to bring those flows to and through themselves. Life reaches out into the world. Serres (1982) suggested that we think of organisms as seeking homeorrhesis (constant flow), rather than by homeostasis (constant state).

2.3. Applying new tools to planning

32This ontological metaphor of coherence translates directly into planning for sustainable development. People concerned with the sustainable use and development of tropical island beaches, for example, are obliged to follow the flows that create and maintain those highly valued sandy strands to reefs and coralgal communities. More importantly, in order to attain sustainable use of beaches and coasts, one should ask what inputs do coralgal communities value and which abhor, which flows are wealthy and which are damaging.

33While resilient to indigenous disturbances, such as hurricanes, coralgal communities can be seriously damaged by flows of terrestrial sediments and nutrients. Both flows interfere with coralgal photosynthesis—the conversion of sunlight into food and biomass. Sediment flows can mantle small and immobile corals and micro-alga. Excessive nutrients allow large leafy macro-alga to grow rapidly and shade the coralgal community from the sun (Maragos 1993).

34Because Antiguan reefs are in decline, it is reasonable to search for flows that are wealthy, but are now missing, and/or for flows that are damaging and have become more present. Field work and historic environmental information indicate that tourism related “development” on Antigua’s coasts has produced both, less wealth and more illth. Resort development in Antigua has followed the path of least resistance, first developing the already picture perfect pocket beaches on the remote Atlantic coast. Once the few pocket beaches on the Atlantic coast were occupied, developers began to build on the more populated Caribbean coast. Though Antigua’s Caribbean coast beaches are generally long and conform well to “tropical beach” archetypes (white sand beaches fronted by warm, gentle seas and backed by swaying palms), beyond their fringing palms, they are also typically backed by basin mangroves – a landscape feature inconsistent with tourist expectations. Through sand mining, the blockage of tidal channels, and intentional filling and or dredging, these mangroves have been widely degraded if not destroyed (Baldwin 2000, 2005). Maps 1 and 2 illustrate the extent of damage. As a result the flows between coralgal communities have been disrupted, altered, and/or terminated.

Map 1 and 2. The extent of damage

Map 1 and 2. The extent of damage

35Previously, mangal communities mediated and transformed these reef damaging flows of sediment and nutrients into wealths, flows that reef communities find useful (Alevizon 1994). Several mangrove species have dense concentrations of aventicious (above ground) root stalks that effectively slow water flow, trapping sediment born in run-off. Salt ponds also work to sequester and transform the nutrients carried in surface run-off. Through various processes the soils are able to absorb significant amounts of nutrients such as phosphorous, nitrogen, organic carbons, and metals commonly present in sewage and waste water (Tam and Wong 1995). Through their life activity, mangroves also sequester and transform nutrient flows into biomass, stems and leaves (Wong et al. 1995). The leaves that drop from the mangroves anchor a food chain which sustains the larval fish of numerous species. Many of these fish (e.g. parrot, trigger, and doctor fish) move to reefs as they mature. There, they graze upon macro-alga which would otherwise shade the coralgal community (Mumby et al., 2004; Hughes 1994, 1547; Norse 1993, 65-66; Pons & Fiselier 1991, 103; Bacon and Aleng 1992, 241). Tourism related alterations along the coasts of Antigua have undermined the living communities and wealth exchanges that produced and maintained Antigua’s beaches.

36The primary question for those interested in truly sustainable development of tropical sun, sand, and sea tourism then becomes “how can human projects co-exist with the non-human projects whose products (e.g. colorful reefs) and by-products (e.g. fine sand beaches) are also valued by humans?” At minimum, non-human communities are important from the perspective of human self-interest. A less ego or anthropocentric perspective might acknowledge that non-human beings are self-interested and value their production and lives as they work continuously and with purpose to maintain themselves and those with whom they are in mutualistic inter-relationships (Whatmore 1997, Plumwood 2002). Such an acknowledgement further implies that non-human beings are morally considerable (Baldwin 2006), and that humans interested in “sustaining” their socio-economies might adopt the culture of co-evolution which for millennia has guided life toward long-term richness and security rather than short-term monetization and resulting impoverishment. It is vital that planners have a framework that helps them understand the inter-play of wealth and illth among all living communities involved in eco-social projects.

37Despite the economic benefits of tourism, Antiguans have grown increasingly resistant to continued resort development. They understand that approximately 90 percent of all resort rooms are owned by non-Antiguans, and that profits made on the island therefore flow to distant continents as Antiguan environments are impoverished. The wealth that is produced by Antiguans and on Antigua belongs there. And many Antiguans are unwilling to submit to the exploitation implicit in the taking of the wealth that they produce—for the benefit of non-Antiguans. They understand that wealth flows produced by global tourism are transforming their land into money which then flows away, threatening Antigua’s future security. The management of Antigua’s coasts have become central to national politics since the late 1990s and played a part in Prime Minister Lester Bird’s recent electoral defeat (see Baldwin, 2005).

3. Recommendations

38These understandings of the processes that effect beach production in Antigua suggest several appropriate policies and practices. I offer two groups of recommendations here. The first focuses upon the socio-ecology the Antigua’s coasts and its revitalization. The second group focuses more upon the international political economy of Antigua. By addressing both sorts of concerns I address the concerns of political ecologists to successfully mediate between large scale power structures and local ecologies through the island community. I also address sustainability in a way that encompasses both local ecologies and the political economies of development in Antigua.

3.1. Integrated local socio-ecologies

39Re-establishing the basin mangroves that work with reefs to maintain beaches is perhaps the highest priority. However, it is not clear that these former mangrove basins can recover quickly. A recent survey of wetland reclamation projects suggests highly variable results and notes that the desiccation of salt marsh soils frequently leads to significant acidification as the soils are exposed to air (Alevizon 1991). This acidification may be problematic in attempts to rehabilitate coastal wetlands in Antigua and elsewhere. Given this uncertainty, a small pilot project, perhaps at Ffryes Point salt pond (see Southern coast map) would be advisable.

40In some cases, relatively simple and low cost measures might provide significant benefit. The topography of the two very large basin mangrove areas at The Flashes and Jolly Hill (near Five Islands Harbour and LigumVitae Bay in Map 2) has been profoundly changed through dredge and fill operations. Restoration would be expensive if not impossible. However, for many of the other basins, restoration might be relatively inexpensive. The salt ponds at Ffryes Point, Valley Church, Club Antigua, and McKinnon’s suffer first and foremost from being cut off from tidal circulation. Channels could be re-established at a relatively low cost by installing effective culverts under the obstructing roadways. The large pond at Darkwood has been mined for sand and the stream channelized. Infilling the channel near its opening to the sea to enhance ponding would immediately begin to trap sediment and enable mangrove growth. Some transplantation would assist in the re-establishment of the forest. The very large pond at Deep Bay was dredged and all vegetation scraped clear in order to create a “reflecting pond”. The result is an unattractive and biotically poor, but still inter-tidal pond. Because the pond is immediately adjacent to the nine story Royal Antiguan resort, it could well serve as a tourist attraction if biotic communities were re-established in a mangrove park. Raised walk ways could give guests access to a reconstructed “natural” area. Due to dredging, much of the pool is now too deep for mangroves. The pool could be made shallower with the spoil from ongoing dredge projects at Deep Bay, the cruise ship harbor at the capital city nearby. Darkwood Pond might also benefit from some infilling to replace the sand that was originally mined from the basin for beach nourishment. Depositing dredge spoil in these pond areas has the added benefit of solving the problems of spoil disposal.

41Re-establishing basin mangroves would benefit nearby reefs. All reefs benefit from measures that decrease nutrient and sediment mobilization and deposition on reefs. More care in coastal construction and replanting denuded soil would benefit reefs and therefore beaches and the resorts that depend upon them. Because the nutrients in sewage are so problematic to coralgal communities, all sewage should be treated. While some resorts have been careful to maintain treatment facilities, others have not. Uniform treatment must be enforced. If the salt ponds can be re-established, they can effectively assist in treatment. Inter-tidal salt ponds have a considerable capacity to transform problematic sewage into living biomass in the form of trees, leaf litter, and the fish that feed upon the litter and live among the roots (Tam and Wong 1995; Wong et al., 1995). Through vigorous basin mangroves, if managed properly, resorts could transform their sewage into more stable beaches – saving the costs of both sewage treatment and of sand importation.

3.2. Political economy

42My second set of recommendations involves monetary wealth flows. First, it is vital that ownership of tourist capital migrate to local hands so that it can be invested locally, rather than siphoned away. Antigua, like all places, is capable of producing only so much wealth without mining its various stocks and productive capacities. If conditions of life are to remain at least at their current levels, no more wealth can be exported than can be reproduced. The geographies of those flows must become more closed, and the spatial withdrawal of local wealths minimized. Government ownership has proven problematic in Antigua, both from the standpoint of the liberalizing IMF and due to improper personal involvement in the government’s finances (see Coram 1993). Local ownership remains possible through smaller scale resort developments. Smaller, locally owned resorts might prove particularly effective as Caribbean tourism evolves (see Britton 1991).

43Currently, Caribbean tourism is dominated by up-market, mass tourism and large operators able to capitalize upon economies of scale. However, as Cuba becomes increasingly accessible to American mass tourist, other Caribbean islands with higher operating costs will need to re-position themselves in the market. Antigua has already begun to vigorously construct itself as a honeymoon location with its “heart of the Caribbean” campaign. People go to Antigua for a quiet time with family and loved-ones, not for night-life. Because it seems likely that large, homogenous Antiguan resorts will be least able to compete with new, cheap Cuban resorts, small, up-scale boutique resorts might be far better positioned to withstand Cuban competition. Small resorts are much more within the capabilities of local Antiguan capital – both financial and human. Smaller projects require much more modest financing, an attribute that might discourage some of the shady dealings of the past. They are also more within the capabilities of the Antiguan business class, many of whom have received training in hotel management through the sponsorship of the Curtin Bluff resort and through the Antiguan Hotel Training Center. Though a move towards smaller resorts is counter to the Bird administrations’ successful drive to gain legitimacy through job creation, there are indications that resort jobs are becoming less valuable to Antiguans.

44As tourism has matured on successive islands each has become a regional destination for labor immigration (McElroy and Albuquerque 1988, 1991). In Antigua the number of official guest workers in the tourism sector increased by 52 percent between 1993 and 1996. There are troubling indications that both registered and undocumented workers are undermining unions and the relatively high wages they have long maintained (Hector 1998, Gomes 1997b, Dorsett 1997, 3). Local labor leaders are beginning to question the wisdom of continuing job expansion if it no longer benefits Antiguans.

45Finally, a shift in management practice and policy is essential. The Bird administrations, concerned with electoral politics and job creation, focused upon short-term returns at the expense of long-term coherence. Many Antiguans are well aware of this, and some have begun to challenge ongoing tourism development (see Baldwin 2005). In 2001, for example, a large group of Antiguans blocked three shipping container-loads of supplies outside the Carlisle Bay resort. The group was protesting the Resort’s attempts to put a new road through a mangrove to by-pass Old Road, a nearby town. Antiguan police eventually responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets at the protesters (Anthonyson 2002). The conflict continued into 2002 as the initial road foundations were removed, then new footings poured. The fresh violation instigated an arson at the resort, which was in turn followed by illegal police searches of several of the protest leaders’ homes (EAG’er 2001). The construction project was in fact in violation of regulations that protect Antigua’s coasts ( 2002). Antiguan courts may still provide a mechanism for enforcement, though that process is slow. The laws to protect Antigua’s coasts are on the books, the institutions for their enactment require strengthening. A revitalized Development Control Authority and an Integrated Coastal Management Plan as outlined by Bunce (1997) are two potentially productive alternatives. Finally, the weight of Lester Bird’s transgressions swept him from office in 2004. It is too early to tell what if any changes Antigua’s new Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer will bring to tourism development and coastal protecti0on policies.


46Without much imagination one can understand reefs, beaches, and salt ponds as biogenically produced infrastructure (the physical forms life produces to institutionalize flows). They are analogous to human highways, power lines, and neighborhoods. None of these landscape elements would exist without these living communities; they are physical institutions built by and for non-human communities. The flows of sand to the beach and the quiet inter-tidal environment formed by those sand flows are wealths for mangals. Mangroves stop illthy flows to reefs and transform some of those flows into living wealthy flows to reefs.

47The proposition that humans are able to dominate their wider worlds over the long-term is spurious, at best. The consequences of failed attempts at dominance are nowhere more apparent than on small islands (Grove 1995). If the project fails, there is no place else to go. The ill effects of sand mining operations on Barbuda provide a poignant example (Baldwin 2000, 2006). As the largest source of sand exportation in the Caribbean, mining has destroyed the only fresh water aquifer on the island. Now Barbudans are dependant upon expensive and tenuous water imports and/or desalinization. As their water wealth was transformed into money, they have become less secure, and less coherent.

48Bacon’s realization that we can (and always have) put nature to work for us is powerful, but it is a half truth. Living beings and their communities do produce wealth, often in abundance. However, they can withstand only a certain level of wealth appropriation. Taking too much of those flows and productive stocks initiates a negative feedback spiral, which dampens wealth production in ecologies and tourism economies along Antigua’s coasts. Antiguan history demonstrates this. Under the extremely exploitative conditions of slavery, planters took more wealth from Black bodies than they could produce. As a result life expectancy on the island never rose above 20 years. Through the power resident in collective bargaining, Antiguans successfully negotiated wages in excess of the survival levels predicted by Ricardo. They have retained a portion of the “surplus” they produced. The living communities along Antigua’s coasts are little different. They also must retain both their productive stocks and a portion of their product in order to persist.

49Our ability to engineer living coastal landscapes is questionable at best. Those ecologies are far more complex and interrelated than we have imagined. As Frank Elgar observed, “The ecosystem is not more complex than we think, it is more complex than we can think” (quoted in Barbour 1995, 247). It is clear that development related coastal alteration has installed a precarious regime based in expensive sand importation, a practice that further undermines indigenous sand production. The long-term security, stability, and coherence of Antiguans, human and otherwise, lies not in unsustainable dominance-over nature, but in collaboration-with coastal ecologies, as Bruno Latour suggests in his Politics of Nature (2004). In this sense coastal management a political project. It is about aligning differing interests into coherent, synergistic projects that benefit as wide a constituency as possible. Antiguans can form coalition with coastal communities and still pursue sun, sand, and sea tourism. They need only to respect the claims to the wealth produced by their non-human neighbors, just as the North Atlantic community came to recognize Black Antiguans’ claims to their own labor. It is time for a new Emancipation. Antigua could lead the world.

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Jeff Baldwin, « Understanding Tourist Beaches as Eco-Social Landscapes: Seeking Sustainability through Integration of Human and Non-Human Wealth Production », Études caribéennes [En ligne], 7 | Août 2007, mis en ligne le 15 août 2007, consulté le 26 janvier 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Jeff Baldwin

Ph.D., visiting Assistant Professor, Environmental and Earth and Science, Willamette University, Salem, Oregon, USA

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