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Cars on the beach: Experiencing or destroying nature?

Because people’s behaviour determines their ecological footprint, reducing environmental harm needs data on the motivations underlying human behaviour.  Expectations of people driving on sandy beaches are complex and somewhat paradoxical: whilst 4WD enthusiasts want to ‘get away from it all in natural settings’, their actions impact the very values they seek.

‘Cruising the coast’: What motivates people to drive on sandy beaches?

a Petch N, b Mike Weston, Grainne Maguire, c Thomas Schlacher

a Centre for Integrative Ecology; Deakin University; b BirdLife Australia; c University of the Sunshine Coast

The Limelight Moments

1) 4WD vehicles on beaches are a wicked problem in environmental management: whilst they create opportunities for people to ‘experience nature’ and relax, they also cause severe and widespread ecological harm to habitats, plants, and animals.

2) Limiting environmental damage caused by 4WD vehicles requires a basic understanding of why people ‘use’ beaches, and how they behave (as drivers) once on the beach. Thus, here we gauged the motivations and use patterns of beach drivers.

3) We found a striking paradox: the key motivation of most 4WD was to ‘get away from it all’ and ‘appreciate coastal landscapes’ and ‘access quite areas’. The irony is that vehicles on beaches and dunes, destroy this very landscape and its ecosystem and hence endanger the very values that drivers seek to experience.

4) 4WD users driving on sandy beaches clearly want their cake and eat it. This set of motivations challenges the efficacy of management interventions targeting better behaviour of drivers once on the beach.

5) Reducing environmental harm caused by vehicles must begin by influencing social norms and mindsets that discourage the use of 4WD vehicles more broadly (i.e. ‘prevention rather than cure’) and develop alternative access pathways and modes of experiencing sandy coastlines (i.e. ‘tread lightly without a car’).

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Citation: Petch N, Maguire G, Schlacher TA, and Weston M (2018) Motivations and behaviour of off-road drivers on sandy beaches Ocean & Coastal Management 163:82-91