(ICS 2002 Proceedings)
Beach Carrying Capacity Assessment:
How important is it?
Carlos Pereira da Silva email@example.com
Centro de Estudos de Geografia e Planeamento Regional
Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas
Avenida de Berna 26 C, 1069-050 Lisboa, Portugalcpsilva@fcsh.unl.pt
Beaches are highly valuable tourist resources; therefore determining their carrying capacity is an essential factor
for their sensible use and management. The study synthetically presented in this paper is focused on the SW coast
of Portugal, during the summer of 1998 and 1999. It explores the concepts of physical carrying capacity (number
of individuals a beachcan physically accommodate) and social carrying capacity (concentration of individuals
above which beach users become uncomfortable – crowding perception).
Two distinct methods of data collection were used. Measurements on georeferenced digitised aerial photography
were used for the physical carrying capacity evaluation. For the social carrying capacity, several user counts, video
images andmore than 200 interviews were conducted at five different beaches, exploring landscape perception,
landscape evaluation and behaviour.
The results achieved enable the understanding of fundamental differences between the two carrying capacity types
and how to link and integrate them within management plans. The results also illustrate the difficulties in producing
a universal carrying capacityformula, which can be applied in any beach indiscriminately. Nevertheless, the
limitations encountered do not question the validity of these studies, as they are evidently of great importance for
beach management and thus should be used in a flexible way, fully adapted to the existing specific site conditions.
Beach zoning, perception, coastal management.
INTRODUCTIONIn the last fourty years, with the increase of time for
leisure and recreation, the concept of carrying capacity has
been a central research theme for social scientists
(GRAEFFE et al. 1984, SHELBY 1984, STANKEY and
McCOOL 1984). Problems like crowding and recreation
satisfaction have been introduced as research issues, a
method to measure the experience felt by people, and to
define whathas been identified as the recreation carrying
capacity of places (CLARK, 1996; MANNING, 1999).
These problems became important in coastal areas, where
tourism has increased dramatically, with harsh associated
impacts such as traffic congestion, crowding, and pollution.
Defining the carrying capacity of these places is easier in
terms of physical carrying capacity, where the limits are setby the available space for building, the dimensions of the
infrastructure (roads, water, electricity, etc.) and not by
other kinds of constraints.
In contrast, the evaluation of social carrying capacity
limits is much more difficult to achieve (SCHREYER
1984), although it is clearly defined as the maximum level
of recreational use, in terms of numbers and activities,
above which there is adecline of the recreational
experience, from the point of view of the recreation
participant (PIGRAM, 1985). But while this kind of
correlation is easy to assume, i.e.higher densities – less
quality, it is much more difficult to demonstrate it on the
field, as people often behave differently from their survey
The carrying capacity of a beach is a good example of
these problems.It does not derive strictly from the area of
sand available to beach users; other aspects have to be
carefully assessed like the distance to a nearby urban centre,
beach accessibility, car park availability, beach access
condition, existence of life-guards, restaurants, leisure
facilities (HECOCK, 1983), children playground and, in
particular, peoples behaviour and characteristics (sex,...