Coast KZN

07 Jul 2019

Is the Blue Flag a pipe dream or tourist magnet?

Penny Fourie (North Coast Courier) Picture: South Africa currently has 46 Blue Flag beaches that have been recognised for being clean, safe and meeting high environmental standards.

Plans are underway to include eMdloti Main Beach as one of six additional coastal beaches to be accepted into this year’s Pilot Blue Flag Programme, despite criticism from environmentalists who question the value of the beach award.

Di Jones a member of the Provincial Coastal Committee feels achieving full Blue Flag status will not be possible for many of the North Coast pilot beaches as the region’s coastline constantly faces challenges due to urban and industrial developments‚ the presence of many waste-water (sewage) treatment works and informal settlements along the rivers‚ and the presence of numerous storm water drains.

“Improvement in water-quality and management is required in order for WESSA and the city to reach its goal of having a Blue Flag coastline‚” she cautioned. “However, I feel the funds will be better utilised to first upgrade our beach facilities and improve the standards all round rather than wasting ratepayers money on these pilot programmes.”

Jones said the Blue flag programme was strictly focused on services offered to the users of the beach, and they do not take in account environmental and ecological issues related to the behavior of beaches as natural and fragile systems.

“Municipalities should rather concentrate on achieving a Green Coast label as it is unlikely that Durban will be a “Blue Flag coastline” in the immediate future as most beaches have not managed to consistently meet the criteria for E.coli bacteria and water quality,” she added.

According to WESSA Green Coast is their newest eco-label, awarded to coastal sites in South Africa where a sensitive species, habitat or cultural heritage site is being sustainably managed, leading to increased tourism along the coastline. Suitable sites include unspoilt beaches and non-urban, wild spaces with minimal infrastructure.Westbrook is the only beach on the North Coast to have achieved Blue Flag status while four KwaDukuza municipality beaches are allowed to fly “pilot-status” flags‚ with the long-term goal of achieving full Blue Flag status.

Blythedale, Salt Rock, Willard and Tinley Manor beaches were all awarded pilot status for the 2018/19 season.

The additional five beaches to be included in the pilot programme are Vetch’s Beach, Anstey’s Beach, North Beach, South Beach and uMhlanga Main Beach.

The Blue Flag programme was initiated in Denmark in 1985 and in 2001. South Africa became the first country outside of Europe to be awarded the right to implement it and has become the most well-known eco-label of its kind.

South Africa currently has 46 Blue Flag beaches that have been recognised for being clean, safe and meeting high environmental standards. The Blue Flag programme is managed by the Wildlife and Environment Society (Wessa) and participating coastal municipalities.

A pilot Blue Flag programme costs R21 200 for the season while a blue Flag status is valid for one year and needs to be applied for and granted annually at a cost of R25 440.

According to WESSA, the local authority has a five-year time frame to uplift its pilot status once approved by WESSA to achieve full Blue flag status.

“The international Blue Flag are quality marks for beaches and mean they are clean, safe and meet high environmental and bathing water quality standards,” said Ward 58 (Seatides, Westbrook and Canelands) Cllr Geoff Pullan.