Blue flags fly high for Durban
Durban - There were celebrations on Durban's beachfront yesterday as five of the city's beaches were awarded the coveted Blue Flag Status – with a further seven being given Pilot Blue Flag Status.
At the official announcement and awards held on the beachfront yesterday by the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Wessa), the beaches given Blue Flag status were uShaka, Point, North Beach uMhlanga (main) and eManzimtoti.
The seven Pilot Blue Flag status awards went to South Beach, Umdloti Tidal, Umgababa, Westbrook, Ansteys, Brighton and Bronze Beach.
The Blue Flag status is internationally recognised and is awarded to beaches, marinas and sustainable boating tourism operators across the globe. It is only awarded when a series of stringent environmental, educational, safety and accessibility criteria are met, with clean beaches, clean water and a safe environment being key areas.
The Wessa Blue Flag programme is operated under the Foundation for Environmental Educations and is headquartered in Denmark. It has 45 000 sites in 45 countries, and the baseline criteria are set by the international co-ordinators of the Blue Flag campaign.
The Pilot Blue Flag status indicates those beaches are still working towards completing criteria towards a Full Blue Flag status.
Announcing the 20th Blue Flag Awards, Wessa's Blue Flag Programme manager, Cindy Cloete, said: "Blue Flag beaches are a key drawcard for international and national tourists and 77 sites have been awarded for the 2020/2021 season. Thousands of water samples are taken, and hundreds of visits made before a beach is awarded Blue Flag status."
She said amenities, safety and quality were all strictly assessed.
eThekwini Mayor Mxolisi Kaunda said the announcement of Blue Flag status for five of Durban's main beaches came on the back of last week's activation of the Integrated Safer Cities Project, with Durban becoming one of 10 pilot cities with the goal of becoming one of the safest cities in the world.
The Safer Cities project aims to use technology to fight crime and Kaunda said CCTV cameras, on the beachfront promenade and in the CBD, would help to deter crime and identify criminals. He added that in future, the city is looking to install face recognition software.
"We have more than 100 kilometres of coastline and the busiest port on the South African coastline, and we have been working very hard to bring investment to the city, such as a cruise terminal and a number of hotels," said Kaunda.
He said the city had also launched a climate action plan and was aware of the threat of climate change to the city.
Guest speaker at the announcement, MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Ravi Pillay, said it was necessary to counter "this narrative that we are a corrupt and inept state.
"It's no secret that South Africa has some of the best beaches in the world and that KwaZulu-Natal has some of the very best, matched by our warm climate," said Pillay.
He said each province had been working on an economic recovery plan to combat the devastating impact of the Covid-9 pandemic.
"It's no mean feat to gain Blue Flag status, and it does require sustainable adherence in a number of fields," said Pillay, highlighting that upstream water and rivers which feed into the ocean also has to be monitored with regard to waste and sanitation.
He estimated that while tourism over the festive season may be down anywhere between 10-26%, the province could still expect more than 600 000 visitors during the holiday season.
"After such a difficult year, and eight long dreary months of the Covid19 pandemic, South Africans are tired of being caged and isolated, and it's time to escape, but do so responsibly, keep your distance, wear a mask and sanitise," urged Pillay.
eThekwini's head of Parks, Recreation and Culture, Thembinkosi Ngcobo, said the city wanted to ensure the sustainability of the Blue Flag status and training of beach stewards was in the pipeline.
Also at the announcement was eThekwini beach employee, Edith Mkhize, who became a sensation on social media earlier this year. When offered a tip of R100 by beachgoer Priscilla Doig for keeping the beachfront bathrooms spotlessly clean, Mkhize refused the money, saying: "How can you tip me for doing my job? This is what I should be doing."
Doig posted the interaction on Facebook and it went viral.
When learning of her hero status on social media, Mkhize said: "I don't work here alone. I have a team, and together, we make sure that our job is done brilliantly".
Yesterday, Mkhize was delighted that Durban's main beaches had garnered such international recognition with the Blue Flag awards.
The Independent on Saturday