Sunday, July 10, 2022

The Beach


The Atlantic - "Beware the Luxury Beach Resort"

"In the United States, summer resorts had been thickly established along the coasts of the Northeast since the early 19th century; Long Branch, New Jersey, was even touted as the “American Monte Carlo.” But the beach resort in its most romantic form—seared into the public consciousness as a tropical wonderland of sea and surf and fruit and floral shirts—truly began in Hawaii, not long after a bunch of greedy American businessmen effected a coup d’état that removed the Hawaiian monarchy and claimed the archipelago for the United States in 1898. The deposed Queen Lili’uokalani lived by a breeze-swept bay called Waikiki, on the island of Oahu, where one of the first major resorts was built, the Moana.

Later, in 1927, a fever dream of a resort hotel opened, the Royal Hawaiian, a great pink hulk that ushered in the beach glamour and exoticism that we associate with luxury resorts today (where Joan Didion once fled, as she wrote in an essay, “in lieu of filing for divorce”). What was good for the economy of the gorgeous locale, however, was bad for its ecology—a trade-off that, though glaring, not surprisingly went ignored. The new buildings of Waikiki were constructed so close to the shore that they impeded the natural flow of sand, and the once-abundant beaches washed away. A tourist now sees sand that is replenished by machines and held in place by man-made barriers that stop its natural movement, which serves only to erode beaches farther down the current.

Stodola is, like me, skeptical about the beach idyll, constantly seeing the darker forces of environmental and cultural degradation amid all the luxury she describes. She is at her most incisive when she calmly, clearly lists what is lost when beach resorts take over a place. For instance, she describes the Fijian village of Vatuolalai, where two clans used to live as equals, one owning the beach where they fished, the other the acres inland where they grew crops such as taro, coexisting according to solesolevaki, which means that “everyone in a community is obliged to work together toward common ends.” Then, in the 1970s, the resort developers crept in, renting the land from the beach owners, who now had the funds to buy nontraditional foods and goods. The Polynesian chestnut trees were ripped out and non-native coconut palms put in. Fiddler crabs and the golden plovers that ate them disappeared; turtle-nesting on the beach became rare. Silt built up in the local river and blocked the trevally fish from swimming and spawning there, and the coral reefs were damaged first by river silt flowing into the bay and then by the fertilizer runoff from the golf course, as well as by the sunblock that washes off tourist bodies.

Diminished coral reefs meant far fewer fish. Faced with scarcity, Vatuolalai’s inhabitants started working for themselves, not for the collective good. Ninety-two percent of them became involved in tourism. The knowledge of how to make oil and traps and mats was lost, as were traditional dances, supplanted by those from other nations in the Pacific, which young people performed for tourists. The provisions that since time immemorial had been saved up in case of emergency were no longer there for the villagers. When Cyclone Kina hit in 1993, the residents had to rely on the government to survive, instead of on their own stores. Diabetes became endemic, the result of a new diet of processed foods. Stodola watches happy families from Australia in the resort’s pools, the adults bellied up to the bars set into the water, and feels certain that none of them sees any of the trade-offs that went into making the resort they’re enjoying."

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