19 October 2012

South Africa boasts record number of Blue Flag beaches

It was announced in Hermanus last week that South Africa now has 36 full-status Blue Flag beaches.

Grotto Beach in Hermanus. Grotto Beach in Hermanus.

Grotto Beach in Hermanus was the venue for last week's launch of the 12th season of Blue Flag South Africa, the internationally recognised beach certification programme. Grotto Beach has sustained its Blue Flag status for the past 11 years.

At this year's event it was announced that 36 beaches have achieved full Blue Flag status, and 17 beaches have pilot status.

Addressing the launch, Minister of Tourism Martinus van Schalkwyk stressed the importance of the provision of world-class beach facilities in a country where beach tourism was a significant aspect of the marketing brand. The existence of Blue Flag beaches in the country improved its competitive edge, he said.

In addition to the 36 beaches with full Blue Flag status, this year 4 marinas were awarded full certification for the first time: the Yachtport in Saldanha; Granger Bay Water Club and False Bay Yacht Club in Cape Town; and the Royal Alfred Marina in the Ndlambe Municipality in the Eastern Cape.

Blue Flag status is dependent on meeting a standard of excellence on a number of points – safety, amenities, cleanliness, environmental information and environmental management. The criteria are set by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) in Europe, the international co-ordinators of the programme.  

The programme in South Africa is managed by the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA), along with participating local authorities under the Department of Environmental Affairs' Coastcare initiative. South Africa was the first country outside Europe to be awarded Blue Flag accreditation.

In the past year, WESSA has chalked up some significant achievements. The society partnered with Plastics SA and the Dyer Island Conservation Trust on a Fishing Line Bin Project, to reduce marine animal mortality caused by discarded fishing lines.

Following discussions with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), WESSA also motivated the inclusion of marine protected areas into Blue Flag criteria, and Wilderness Beach at George in the Western Cape was named South Africa’s first Blue Flag beach situated in a national park.

WESSA also introduced a programme whereby whale-watching boats that comply with a stipulated environmental code of conduct can be awarded Blue Flag status. This year 3 whale-watching boats were awarded full status, namely The Whale Whisperer, Miroshca and Damara.