AS the summer holidays approach only beaches on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast have been awarded Blue Flag status, with none of Durban’s beaches holding this prestigious international certification for the 2023/24 period.
Five beaches in eThekwini, including Ushaka, North, Point, eManzimtoti and
uMhlanga Main, last held full Blue Flag status in 2021.
The Wildlife and Environmental Society of South Africa (Wessa), that has been locally managing the certification in partnership with the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) since 2001, announced on Friday that Marina, Trafalgar, Southport, Umzumbe and Hibberdene beaches, which fall under the Ray Nkonyeni Municipality, were awarded the full Blue Flag status – the only beaches to hold the status in KZN.
Other beaches on the south and north coast are pilot sites.
Wessa said 48 beaches across the country were awarded their “eco-labels”. The awards serve as a benchmark for sustainable tourism where qualifying criteria for Blue Flag status involve a series of stringent environmental, educational, safety, and accessibility criteria which must be met and maintained.
Water quality is listed as one of the criteria and states that a beach must comply with water quality sampling and frequency requirements; the standards and requirements for water quality analysis; industrial and waste-water or sewage-related discharges must not affect the beach area.
EThekwini Municipality spokesperson Lindiwe Khuzwayo said due to the various issues that have had an impact on the state of beaches, the City made the decision not to apply for Blue Flag status for the 2023/24 period.
She said Durban beaches had previously held the Blue Flag status.
“Twelve Durban beaches (seven of which were pilot beaches that made an effort to meet the requirements) have had Blue Flag statuses which were considered an international standard indicating that our beaches were among the safest, cleanest and well maintained.
“The disasters and inclement weather that hit our city in April and May last year have had a significant impact on the state of our beaches,” she said.
Khuzwayo said the damage to the sewer infrastructure as a result of the floods was unprecedented and included damages to the wastewater treatment plants, sewer pipes and more than 50% of wastewater pump stations.
She said while work was still in progress to rehabilitate the sewer infrastructure, especially on major wastewater treatment plants, the municipality had been able to restore functionality to most of the treatment plants, repaired all the pump stations and was finalising repairs to the remaining sewer pipes washed away by the floods.
“Over R1 billion will be needed in upgrades and repairs to the flood-damaged sewer infrastructure, and more than R200 million has already been spent on some of the key repairs.
“We have successfully fixed most of the damaged sewer infrastructure and are forging ahead with our service delivery programme of action,” she said.
Khuzwayo added that in the meantime the City continues to test the beaches water quality and published weekly test results on www.durban.gov.za
The Mercury reported earlier this month that the City would partner with independent laboratories to test water quality to prevent conflicting results, as was often the case.
Last week the municipality closed all beaches until further notice after a few days of heavy rains which resulted in murky water full of logs and other unsafe objects.
Brett Tungay, East Coast chairperson of the Federated Hospitality Association of SA (Fedhasa), said that it was very concerning that Durban beaches have not secured any Blue Flag status.
“This is an ongoing problem. We as Fedhasa have been hammering the issue of Blue Flag status for Durban beaches but nothing seems to be changing.”
He said Durban used to be the premier holiday destination in South Africa but had lost that status.
“We need the municipality to address this. Having Blue Flag status on the beaches is what is going to attract tourists during the summer holidays. Tourism has been down in Durban, we have had events that have boosted tourism but we still need holidaymakers to book at the Durban beachfront to boost tourism.’’
Jeannie Sarno, the chairperson of uMhlanga Tourism, said that she had raised questions about the Blue Flag status of eThekwini beaches.
“Working against us in uMhlanga is the chemical spill that has affected a section of our beach and its ecosystem. This I’ve been told will take years to rectify.
“Then there are the ablutions that we have approached eThekwini Parks Department about and are still waiting for a reply. With peak season rapidly approaching, these need to be seen to with utmost urgency,” said Sarno.
Wessa CEO Helena Atkinson said it takes great dedication and effort to manage a beach or marina to meet the rigorous standards set out for the prestigious Blue Flag award.
“We extend our warmest congratulations to all the deserving sites that have achieved the eco-labels.”
CEO of South Coast Tourism and Investment Enterprise, Phelisa Mangcu, said: “We are delighted that the KZN South Coast has, once again, shown it’s a premier seaside destination that takes environmental conservation and bather safety seriously.”