Certain characteristics distinguish the small island of La Gomera which I recently visited from the larger resort islands of the Canaries.
Very noticeable is the absence of sun-loungers on the beaches.
Over the 30 years I have known them, the beaches of the Valle Gran Rey — the best on Gomera — have remained unchanged. The sea still has its way with them, delivering more or less of the fine black sand depending on its moods.
There are no beach-loungers or sun umbrellas for hire, no beach bars and no hawkers. Planning rules dictate that the road skirting them has no buildings on the sea side, and that the pathways reaching them are left in the same natural, dusty state they were decades ago.
Sun-worshipping holidaymakers in the popular beaches of the more tourisised Canary Islands clearly enjoy the sun-loungers arranged row behind row like mussel lines in Bantry Bay. They provide welcome comfort and shade — and the local authorities wisely ensure that plenty of ‘lounger-free’ space remains.
Elsewhere, colonising of beaches by sun-loungers can be a problem. In ‘paradisiacal’ Sri Lanka, there isn’t a square metre of popular beach (ie the safe ones, for the others shelve dangerously) unoccupied by for-hire sun-loungers, beach umbrellas or restaurant tables.
To stroll along the beach at Unawatuna, one had to wade in the sea; there is no dry sand along which one could pass with having to weave between these ‘amenities’, and nowhere at all where one could sit without paying a price for the privilege.
I prefer ‘wild’ beaches, as in La Gomera, with their rock-pools, birds and no development permitted. The only human input is waste-bins, discreetly out of view. We reach our favourite via paths between dusty tamarisk bushes in which whitethroat warblers, in their season, sing, and we sit on a strand formed by nature and the tides, sometimes wider, sometimes narrower, sometimes there, sometimes gone entirely — but returning when the stones have again been covered with sand by tides.
There is not a scrap of rubbish on the sandscape — no flotsam of plastic bottles or skein of fishing net, much less any sign of human detritus left to rot. The only evidence of human use is the stone-walled bunkers built by habitués but these too are changed or knocked by the tides. The state in which these beaches are left put our Irish beaches and beach-goers to shame.
Wide areas of beautiful Inchydoney beach resembled a rubbish tip after a summer weekend last year. Readers called my attention to the vista of burnt-out disposable barbecues, abandoned babies’ nappies, beer cans and bottles, shopping bags, newspapers, broken boogie-boards, all dumped on the sands and amongst the dunes behind.
I, and many other commentators, had lamented the disgrace of it. But nothing changes, year to year.
The same garbage will litter our lovely strands after sunny weekends next summer.
The few litter bins will be overflowing — and it is unconscionable that more and larger facilities aren’t provided — but, in truth, the majority of those who leave their rubbish take it nowhere near a bin, but simply leave it on the sand as they pick up their belongings to go home.
Road verges on La Gomera are, I might say, as rubbish-free as the beaches while in Ireland it seems one cannot walk a metre of verge along a national or regional road without encountering an item of garbage.
Years ago, there used to be a prejudiced perception that all foreigners, especially Mediterranean people, were ‘dirty’. Again and again, friends, neighbours and visitors point out to me that, in the perception of visitors, the Irish are the dirtiest people in Europe.
I hate to say it, but amongst those of us who declare that we are proud to be Irish there is a surprising large number that doesn’t give a damn about the public environment or the natural world. Selfishness comes first; it’s easier to dump your detritus in the dunes or in the ditch than bring it home.
They know what they are doing and no amount of education will change them. They are a disgrace to Ireland, but they have no shame.
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