Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
Stop hogging the sand, says the country’s coast guard.
Most people with any sense of fairness hate beach-hoggers. If you’ve ever taken a summer ocean dip, you’ll most likely have come into contact with this obnoxious tribe. They’re the ones who sneak down to the shoreline at night to reserve the best spots with umbrellas, stretched-out towels or loungers. If such behavior has ever riled you, then take heart in news from Italy this summer. This season, Italy’s coast guard is impounding any stuff used to illegally reserve beach spaces, and in some cases even fining the people who left them there.
Last Saturday in Livorno, the coast guard seized 37 deck chairs, 30 umbrellas, a baby’s cot and a hefty tonnage of towels and swimsuits. Similar raids have taken place at resorts along the Adriatic Coast and in Sicily, while last month at the beach near Castiadas, Sardinia, a trawl rounded up not just umbrellas but even boats left tied to them. People who have their possessions impounded this way can still get it back, however. They just have to pay a €200 fine, which means a decent amount of stuff will have had to be impounded in the first place to make paying up worthwhile.
The Italian measures may sound harsh, but they have some justification. The beaches in question are public. To block off areas with towels, umbrellas, or chairs and walk away is to privatize a space intended for community benefit. This arguably matters even more in Italy, as many plum beach sites on the country’s coast are privately owned or rented by hotels and charge (legally) for entry, putting yet more pressure on the public stretches.
You could argue that devoting resources to an operation like this is a waste of cash, but the umbrella round-ups aren’t standing completely alone. They come as part of a broader coast guard program called Mare Sicuro 2016 (“Safe Sea 2016”), which is going after everything from illegal fishing and dumping to speeding pleasure craft. The program has already carried out actions such as removing wooden stakes that illegally prevented bathers at one beach from entering an area used by windsurfers, and fining private beach owners for failing to keep their beach space sufficiently clean or safe.
Already the project seems to be paying off. So far this year, Italy has seen just one death along its inner shoreline, compared to 10 total in 2015. The push for clearer beaches also comes at an opportune moment. With international visitors increasingly staying away from Turkey (long a major beach spot), Italy has a chance to rake in more tourist cash, and any positive publicity can help to grease the wheels. If while doing so, the country persuades citizens that an umbrella is not a deed granting you rights to beach space in perpetuity, then so much the better.