Environment and development
in coastal regions and in small islands

Coastal region and small island papers 19


  Human activities on the beach

Beaches are always popular
places, especially at weekends
and public holidays, Buje, Puerto
Rico, 1997.

Fisherman’s Day at Long Bay, Beef Island,
British Virgin Islands (1992), brings a large
number of people to the beach.


Human activities include anything people do on the beach, from picnicking to swimming, from mining sand to fishing. Any or all of these activities might impact the beach environment, e.g. picnickers may leave a lot of their garbage behind which might cause a bad smell and a lot of flies.

Careful observation of the beach environment will likely yield a list of different activities taking place, often at different times of the day, e.g. fishers might take their boats out early in the morning, the sunbathers might not appear before noon, and the sand miners might only come at night when no one else is around.

Activity 6.1


Observing different activities on the beach

What to measure


Observe and record the different activities taking place at the beach and the time of day, and draw up a time line of activities – a sample is shown opposite. The more detailed the observations, the better.

Taking this activity a little further, list all the different activities and the number of people involved in those activities to try and build up a picture of the use pattern of the particular beach. The table below provides an example.

6–7 am Fishers take their boats out to sea.
Early morning bathers visit the beach to bathe and swim.
7–10 am Walkers, people with dogs.
10 am–3 pm Sunbathers, picnickers use the beach, people bathing in the sea, children playing, people walking. Fishing boats return around 3 pm, catch is unloaded into pick-up trucks and taken into town. Fishing boats left on mooring buoys, one boat is pulled up on to the beach.
3–6 pm Other groups of picnickers arrive, one group has a barbecue.
Hotel guests playing volleyball on the beach.
6–7 pm Few people walking the beach and watching the sun go down.


  6 am 8 am 10 am 12 noon 2 pm 4 pm 6 pm
Number of sea bathers 2 0 4 22 19 14 4
Number of sunbathers 0 0 12 18 23 15 0
Number of walkers 5 8 10 11 13 4 9
Number of picnic groups 0 0 0 5 6 8 0
Number of fishers 7 0 0 1 2 5 1
Number of children/people playing 0 0 9 27 19 44 2
Number of windsurfers 0 0 0 0 0 2 0
Number of horse-riders 0 0 0 11 0 0 0


  How to measure

This is simply a case of observing, counting and categorizing. It is best to prepare a data sheet first so that the numbers can be inserted in the appropriate column. While recording the different activities, further observations can be made such as how the different groups relate to each other, e.g. people having a party and playing loud music might disturb people trying to relax and sleep; horse and dog droppings left on the beach are not pleasant for other users; and overflowing garbage bins are unsightly and unhealthy.

Sharing family moments, as
seen here at Male in the
Maldives, 2003, is another way
people use the beach.

Fishers may use the beach
to launch and beach their boats
early in the morning or late in
the evening, Britannia Bay,
Mustique, St Vincent and the
Grenadines, 2004.

When to measure


This will depend on the depth of the investigation; however, it is always important to realize that user patterns vary according to the time of day, and whether it is a weekday, weekend or public holiday.

What will the measurements show


The measurements will show how many people use the beach on a particular day and the numbers involved in different activities.

Divide the activities into two lists:

  • List A: activities that might harm the beach
  • List B: activities that do not harm the beach or may be good for the beach

Have a classroom discussion about how some activities are good for the beach and do not harm it in anyway; and what can be done to stop or lessen the harmful activities.

You might also wish to compare use on a public holiday and use during a weekday, or alternatively do the same measurements on two different beaches and compare them.

Activity 6.2   Finding out the views of beach users

What to measure

Tourists are another
important group of
beach users, as seen
here at Pinney’s Beach,
Nevis, 2000.

Finding out what people think about their beach or a particular beach-related problem can be done by a questionnaire survey. The first step is to define your objective – what do you want to know? Try to be as specific as possible, e.g. do beach users think the beach is too crowded, or do they think the beach is clean.

How to measure


Design your questionnaire and decide how many people you plan to survey (sample size). When deciding on sample size, also consider:
  • Selection – are you going to pick people at random, e.g. every fourth person who arrives
    at the beach, or are you going to select persons of a certain age or gender?
  • Do you want your survey to reflect all beach users or certain groups, e.g. adults or
    children, residents or visitors?
  • How are you going to approach and introduce yourself to the people you want to
    question? Putting students in pairs for this activity allows one student to speak and one
    to record the answers.

In designing the questions, go back to your objective and prepare questions that will provide information relating to your objective. A sample is provided below.


Objective: To find out why people use a particular beach

1 Is the bay safe for swimming?   Yes No Sometimes
2 Is the water clean? Yes No Sometimes
3 Is the beach clean? Yes No Sometimes
4 Is there good access to the beach? Yes No  
5 Are the parking facilities adequate? Yes No Sometimes
6 Are the bathroom facilities well maintained? Yes No Sometimes
7 Is the beach crowded? Yes No Sometimes
8 Is there sufficient shade on the beach? Yes No Sometimes
9 How would you like to improve the beach?      

Note that in this sample questionnaire, questions 1–8 are very simple and direct and can be answered with a ‘yes,’ ‘no’ or ‘sometimes’ response. Question 9 has been inserted as an ‘open-ended’ question and it is expected that respondents will provide various suggestions which can be written down.

What will the measurements show




After the results of the survey are tabulated, you should be able to answer the question underlying your objective.

For example, tabulating the results of the questionnaire above might show the following:

Number of people sampled = 20



Yes No Sometimes
Bay is safe for swimming 19 0 1
Water is clean 18 1 1
Beach is clean 15 5 0
Good access 20 0 0
Adequate parking facilities 18 0 2
Bathroom facilities well maintained 9 7 4
Beach is crowded 13 3 4
There is adequate shade 10 7 3
Improvements required:
More bathrooms
Fewer people
Less noise
Plant more shade trees

Thus, in this case the results showed quite clearly that people used this beach because they thought the water was safe and clean, that the beach itself was clean, and that there was good access and parking facilities. However, there was a need to keep the bathrooms cleaner and to provide more shade, and some people felt the beach was too crowded. Finally there were requests for improvements to the beach.

Graphs can be prepared to illustrate the answers to the different questions (see example in Figure 13 below).


Figure 13
Pie graph showing users’ views on beach cleanliness.


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