Tourists and locals hoping to park their vehicles or pitch their tents on beaches in the Gaspé area this summer will need to head to designated campsites instead.
With travel to the Maritimes and the United States banned because of the pandemic last summer, tourists flocked to Gaspé beaches, leaving behind a trail of dirty diapers, garbage and waste from septic tanks.
To prevent that from happening again, the city has decided to ban camping on all beaches and most parking lots in the area altogether.
"It's clear that we did not want to relive the same issue two years in a row," said Gaspé Mayor Daniel Côté.
Côté said he understands the ban will upset some residents who are used to camping on the beaches but said this comes after months of public consultations and meetings with local businesses and members of the Mi'gmag Gespeg Nation.
Normally, the beaches are under provincial jurisdiction, but in order to implement the ban and other camping regulations, the city has now signed a lease agreement allowing them to rent the land and obtain legal powers.
"For sure this is not the perfect solution — there is no perfect solution," said Côté. "Everybody knows that it was a real difficult summer last year."
In addition to the ban, the city will also be placing barriers around the beaches so that vehicles cannot drive through and will be adding garbage bins to the sites to prevent littering.
The city is also hiring additional security guards who will patrol the beaches, working with provincial police to make sure the new regulations are followed.
Anyone who sets up camp on the beaches will face fines ranging from $200 to $2,000.
"Our goal is not to give fines to people. Our goal is to protect the beaches," said Côté.
Tim Adams, a member of the Mi'gmag Gespeg Nation and an interpretive guide for Mi'gmag sites, was disturbed by what he saw on the protected marshlands near Douglastown beach last year.
"There was a baby diaper — like full baby diaper on the beach and it's obviously not a local changing the baby and leaving the diapers there," said Adams.
He said he was especially concerned because the area houses several species of seabirds, as well as salmon in the river nearby.
"All these people from the big cities come here and they don't have respect for nature," said Adams. "I think [the ban] is needed because last year was just ridiculous."
Julien Roussin Côté, founder of GoVan.com and a "vanlifer" since 2015, also supports the ban. He said it is important for those who are new to camping or travelling in a van to remember to respect the residents of the places they visit.
"I don't see why anyone would park on a beach to be honest," said Côté. "Those are fragile environments."
Travellers who want to camp in the area still have options. There are more than 900 private and public campgrounds in the region and the city of Gaspé is setting up overflow sites in case those grounds fill up.