Social Carrying Capacity as a Management Tool for Sandy Beaches


  • M. C. De Ruyck
  • Alexandre G. Soares
  • Anton McLachlan


Crowding perception, development, beach recreation, coastal management, personality types, crowding tolerance, South Africa


The social carrying capacity (SCC) of three South African sandy beaches with different levels of development was estimated from beach users' crowding perception at different densities. This was obtained by questionnaire survey and hourly beach visitor counts on 26 December 1992 and 1 January 1993, the two most popular days for visiting the beach. Because of patchy distribution of visitors with aggregation around entrances and lifeguard zones, we distinguished between beach visitor density (total number of visitors counted on the beach per beach surface area) and patch visitor density (the actual density observed by interviewers in 10 X 10 m blocks). Beach visitor density was always lower than patch visitor density, confirming the patchy visitor distribution. The smallest of the three beaches showed the highest mean beach and patch visitor densities on both days and the highest maximum patch visitor density (40 individuals per 100 m2 on 26 December 1992) due to a volley ball tournament held on the beach. Estimates of SCC were expressed in two forms. Abundance social carrying capacity (ASCC) was obtained from the visitor abundance on the entire beach, and patch density social carrying capacity (PDSCC) from visitor densities in 10 x 10 m blocks at times when most respondents felt comfortable with the number of visitors on the beach on 1 January, the most crowded day. Patch density SCC was lower on the less developed than on the more developed beaches, demonstrating the importance of facilities and crowd-attracting activities in regulating SCC. We conclude that external factors such as facilities, crowd-attracting activities, beach and visitor group size enhance social carrying capacity. Furthermore, SCC can be a powerful managing tool when used together with ecological carrying capacity to determine level of beach development.