Durban beach blues

2013-10-09 00:00

DURBAN’S beaches, undoubtedly some of the most famous in the country and attracting tens of thousands of visitors a year, have still not been given the much desired Blue Flag status.

And unless the city deals with the serious environmental challenges affecting its water quality, it will not be able to apply for its beaches to be upgraded.

There are now seven Blue Flag beaches on the lower South Coast — Hibberdene, Lucien, Southport, Trafalgar, Umzumbe and Marina Beach.

Yet South Africa’s beach playground has yet to pick up the pace.

Durban pulled out of the Blue Flag project in 2008, when former city manager Michael Sutcliffe argued that Blue Flag administrators were applying “double standards” when comparing the cleanliness of sea water in Durban with that in Europe.

In June this year Mayor James Nxumalo announced that the city would be rejoining the programme.

Pilot status was given to uShaka, the Umdloti tidal area, Umdloti main and Umgababa. He added that they would apply for pilot status for the main beach at Umhlanga Rocks and Westbrook on the North Coast at a later stage.

Yesterday, Tourism Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk unveiled Rams­gate Beach’s Blue Flag status at a ceremony that coincided with National Marine Week.

He stressed that the status brought with it environmental awareness and job creation.

“Many people protect the environment for the sake of protecting it, but we must understand the economic potential of environmental protection and Blue Flag brings that factor with it,” said Van Schalkwyk.

He added that this would help grow tourism in the area. “It will also bring in money, people will want to invest and that will create jobs,” he added.

Speaker of the eThekwini Municipality Logie Naidoo yesterday said he was confident the municipality could get up to speed with all aspects required by Blue Flag — including water quality, infrastructure, cleanliness and facilities. “Come next year, we’ll comply 100%.

“We’ll not only make sure we comply, but also exceed the level and standards to reach the Blue Flag status,” he promised, admitting that the city is currently dealing with the sewer and water quality issues.

Ted Knott, Wessa’s national coastal projects manager, said it was not unusual for bigger cities not to have a Blue Flag status because of the serious environmental challenges that came with their being more urbanised and developed.

“We advise every municipality along the coast to be part of this programme, but eThekwini did not apply last year because they did not feel ready.

“I consider them part of the programme already because they have a pilot status.”

Knott said once the municipality decided it was ready, they would have to submit an application. Wessa (Wildlife and Environment Society of SA) will then conduct an assessment and the application would go before a national and finally an international jury.

CEO of the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Andrew Layman, said the chamber has supported the Blue Flag status for many years.

“In 2011 we wrote to the municipality requesting that they reconsider the decision to pull out of the international Blue Flag beach excellence programme.

“Participating in the programme is good for our beaches as this gives us an indication and assurance to international tourists that we have good, well maintained beaches that meet the international standards.”

Peter Rose of the Umhlanga Tourism echoed Layman’s sentiments: “I was sad to see the blue flags go and I would be delighted to see them coming back.

“However, I must stress that there is more to tourism than having blue flag status. It must be noted that the blue flag status is only part of the marketing mix.”

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