Academic journal article St. Thomas Law Review

Where the Sea Meets Land

Academic journal article St. Thomas Law Review

Where the Sea Meets Land

Article excerpt

Each wave that we danced on at morning ebbs from us, And leaves us, at eve, on the bleak shore alone.

--Thomas Moore (2)


Those who have been to Siesta Key, Florida, in the last couple of years have noticed the growing number of hotels and timeshares along the beach. (3) Some of these hotels start early in the morning putting up rows of chairs along the sandy part of their private beach in order to keep the public off of it. (4) The part of the beach these hotels claim as private is all of the soft, sandy part of the beach, essentially leaving a small, rock-hard portion where the tide has just receded from the night before, for members of the community and public to use. (5) This has started a war among public beach goers and private landowners in Sarasota County because, although portions of Siesta Key beach are privately owned, the public also customarily enjoys these parts of the beach. (6)

My husband and his family have been visiting Siesta Key beach for almost thirty years; he first took me there when we started dating, eager to share his favorite childhood pastime. (7) I had never been to Siesta Key, but had heard countless members of his family describe the smooth white sand and the clear blue water, filled with stingray, dolphins, fish, and kaleidoscope shells. (8) I can honestly say I have never witnessed a more beautiful view of the setting sun than from the shoreline at Siesta Key; because as that large ginger ball dips into the dark blue water at the earth's end, the sand on Siesta Key's shore seems even more whitened against the settling dusk. (9) It is the sand we come for. (10) Indeed, what makes Siesta Key Beach so unique is its sand. (11) It is white as snow, smooth, and as soft as flour. (12) Further, unlike the sand at other beaches in Florida (especially on the east coast), it stays cool all day long. (13)

Unfortunately, within the last several years, a well-known hotel chain was built along Siesta Key Beach. (14) Before this hotel was built, other hotels along the beach shared the beach with everyone, including the public. (15) However, this hotel started putting up chairs for its guests across the beach, as close to the water as possible, intending to block the public. (16) Consequently, when a member of the public tried to put down a chair nearby--whether it was in front of the hotel's row of chairs or in the midst of them--security personnel from the hotel would tell them to move. (17) Most people simply moved, however reluctantly, mumbling that they did not think anyone had the right to own the beach. (18) Still, one hotel's action triggered a ripple effect, spurring the other hotels along the beach--that had previously left space for the public along the shoreline--to also start pushing the public off the beach, because now too many people were concentrated on a single part of the beach. (19)

One morning, during one of our vacations to Siesta Key, my husband and I were two of the people this hotel told to get off its beach. (20) We got to the beach before the hotel set up its chairs, set up an umbrella and two of our own chairs along the shoreline, where the rock-hard portion of sand meets the soft sand part of the beach, and in front of the large hotel. (21) Sure enough, hotel security approached us and told us to move. (22) The thought of not being able to dig my toes into the soft white sand of the beach, while I read my book and enjoy the ocean view, upset me, so I start to wonder: can this hotel really own the beach and also exclude the public from enjoying it? (23)

This question is not as easily answered as I had imagined because to my surprise, ownership, boundary lines, and the use of the beach are still widely debated. (24) In Florida, the area of wet sand below the mean high water line belongs to the public. (25) This area of the beach has been held by the state in trust for the people since Florida became a state in 1845. …

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