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The Mauritian coastline is one of our great natural assets. The white sand, transparent blue sea and lapping lagoons protected by reefs are what attract tourists to the island in ever larger numbers and boost our revenues. But do we get a fair deal from this public resource? We need to ask searching questions about security, access, cleanliness and maximisation of potential.

Firstly are our beaches adequately accessible to local people to use, and, at the same time, are they sufficiently safe for the tourists to enjoy? Many of the loveliest beaches are guarded by hotel employees and security guards, but in laying claims on public property the hotel management cannot do justice to the public at large. Many people would like to think that when they go to the sea-side, they will be free to choose where they would like to picnic and also where the water is nicer for them to swim. Beaches all around the island should be accessible for members of the public to enjoy like anybody else. Nevertheless we should not see security guards on the coasts simply as an obstacle or like a sea urchin that we try to avoid, for fear that they will tell us off or hurt our feelings. Security on beaches is very important, after all; it helps to rid the beaches of unpleasant characters, and ensures that holidaymakers are not harassed by unwelcome attention.

The 4 or 5 star hotels that have the monopoly of some of the most beautiful coastal spots are trying hard to provide the best tropical holiday money can buy. Hotels that we rely a lot on, for tourism is one of the pillars of the economy. We have a duty to look after the tourists on the island, to make sure that they are safe, to give them direction when they are lost and to make their holiday a pleasant one. But those beautiful beaches should remain in the public domain, each and every individual should be allowed to stroll peacefully without having dogs from a seafront bungalow barking and snarling at them; or, the security staff of a 5 star hotel glaring at them. A balance needs to be maintained between security and courtesy. It would be a great boon if security guards could extend their service to cater for members of the public who are trying to have a pleasant day out in the vicinity. Instead of making them feel that they are unwanted, they should help them feel safe. For there will always be the occasional unpleasant character loitering, waiting for a chance to snap up a camera or a pair of Reeboks; after all, it is not only the tourists who are the victims of theft.

For a holiday to be a pleasant one, and also for the local people to enjoy the seaside, the environment needs to be clean and healthy. This is where we can see how important a part the hotels are playing in maintaining the beaches: sweeping, weeding, and furnishing the area with thatch parasols, lights, and so on. Yet again, there is the flip side: do existing regulations make adequate provision to ensure that the sewage pipes and other ecologically unsound discharges are policed, so as not ultimately to spoil this environment that we would like to think is one of the best features of the island?

The seaside is free for everybody to enjoy. But, could it also be free for women who wish to be spared the attentions of male voyeurs and even for people who would like to sunbathe in the nude? Many tourist resorts offer special interest beaches where individuals can take advantage of extra privacy; a place where they will feel free to relax; and equally a place where people who are present will not be embarrassed. Should Mauritius go down this road?

MauriPost Newspaper

London, 1996


© C Cuniah

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