Today, the white sand beach is crowded with heavy trucks and around it the land is denuded of trees as diggers level part of the mangrove forest to make way for a new $550 million resort project.
"It is a beautiful property. It is heartbreaking to see what is being done," said Grizzle Roumel, a director of the beach resort town of Negril's Chamber of Commerce.
"I'm devastated at the destruction and the long-term effects it will have."
Located just past Jamaica's famed stretch of all-inclusive resorts on the north coast, the project is a stark example of the twin challenges the country faces: how to bring in visitors and boost jobs in the wake of COVID-19 while also keeping its commitment to slowing global warming.
Across the Caribbean, one of the world's most tourism-dependent regions, states are struggling to balance protecting the environment and stoking their economies, said Mark Bynoe, assistant executive director of the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC).
"Governments are often caught in a position of wanting to do what is right, but the rest of the population is agitating to see changes and those are often measured in very discrete terms," including in jobs and poverty rates, he said.
The new more than 2,000-room resort will be one of the largest in Jamaica, according to Spanish developer Princess Hotels and Resorts, which started preparatory work on the project two years ago.
Rafael Millan, country manager for Princess Hotels and Resorts, said the completed resort could welcome up to 4,070 visitors per day and will create 3,500 jobs.
The company is focused on minimizing the project's environmental damage, he added. "Every single action that we take has compensation measures," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview.
That includes replanting any mangroves, seagrass and coral that are removed during construction.
"We know that preserving the mangroves is a sign of the identity of our resort," Millan said. "There is a way to keep sustainable tourism within an existing natural area which is subject to tourism activity."
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