that public access to Bob Marley Beach in Bull Bay is going to be restricted due to construction of a hotel on land leading to the facility has left the Government puzzled, Information Minister Robert Nesta Morgan said on Friday afternoon.
“The Government has not given anybody any permission to restrict access to the beach or take over the beach,” Morgan told the Jamaica Observer after residents voiced opposition to what they said was notice given to them by a developer to leave the property located near the border between St Andrew and St Thomas.
The residents — determined to protect their livelihoods — did not stage a revolt on the beach named in honour of the late Jamaican reggae superstar, whose 1980 album Uprising includes the single Bad Card. However, they threatened to block roads until the developer’s plan is overturned.
Camala Thomas told the Jamaica Observer that up to four generations of her family have lived on the beach for more than 60 years and have been operating a thriving business in the space. They also make a living from fishing there.
“We are the Rastafari community on Bob Marley Beach. There is a new highway development going on in the eastern direction from St Andrew to St Thomas and we have lived on this beautiful piece of beach space that we carved out. It wasn’t like this. With the new road it is expected that there would be some development in the space,” Thomas said.
“We heard that there is going to be a 4,000-room hotel and they plan to build it behind this property, and they seem to want the whole space. We were approached by the commissioner of lands in 2021 and they mentioned that we here are okay and they would make sure that we are secured. Before they came we were paying taxes and so on. We got tax papers, paid up the taxes, and we filed for adverse possession,” she said.
“All of a sudden we are hearing that it is Crown land. It just looks so fishy to see how far we have gone and then we were threatened that the light and the water can be removed from the beach. The light gone from earlier this week. We have our own water source, but they are still threatening us because they are saying it runs through their property,” she said.
A visitor from the United Kingdom, who brought her two children along with her sister and niece, was appalled by the news.
“I come here two or three times a week. Nature spaces are important for people to de-stress and so people use this beach quite often. It is literally one of the most peaceful, relaxing places. You can get your fish, your bammy, and other food and there is no one to bother you at all. If it was to be taken over by other people that would be extremely distressing, not only for me, but to the livelihood of the residents who depend on fishing to feed their families,” she said.
“We are talking about a community that is already depressed and already have issues with crime. Where are they going turn when they can’t come and fish to go and feed their families?” the woman asked.
Attorney-at-law Marcus Goffe, who was at the beach on Friday, said he has taken the matter to court.
“The company executing the project owns 200 acres of land. They can still own a beach for themselves, but why do they want Bob Marley Beach? To me, it is because they see that it has a brand already. They want this as a fully private beach for the hotel. I have taken the case to court. I filed something in court on Thursday to get an injunction to stop them from doing that, and I am also going to file a prescription notice to say that the beach must remain public forever,” he told the Observer.
People’s National Party president and Opposition Leader Mark Golding, who visited the site, said the beach has too much historic value for it to be given up to people from overseas.
“This was the first Rastafari tabernacle in Jamaica. Bunny Wailer built a house out here and Peter Tosh and Bob Marley used to come out here and stay out here. Many songs were written out here. It has a strong significance to Jamaican culture. As far as I am concerned, the owners from overseas should work with this community and do something inclusive rather than throw them off and destroy what is here,” he said.
“I do not approve of hard tactics, especially by the State. We can’t pretend that the law only favours the ‘big man’. The law favours everybody. We are all equal under the law and we need a system that ensures that is what happens,” Golding said.
However, Morgan said he checked with the National Land Agency (NLA) and the information he has is that the beach has neither been leased nor sold to anyone.
“There’s a gentlemen who we bought some lands from for the highway now under construction who is trying to claim additional property and the NLA has said to him ‘you will not be given any additional property, you need to go though the legal process’,” Morgan told the Observer.
“So there is no order by the Government, there is no plan by the Government to remove people from Bob Marley Beach, and I have not seen anything, and we had the NLA searching since midday and we don’t have any lease application for Bob Marley Beach, so we’re trying to figure out where this is coming from,” the minister said.