Unprecedented WESSA Blue Flag results a triumph for coastal conservation during National Marine Week
WESSA (the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa) has announced a record 82 Blue Flag sites for South Africa at the national launch of this year’s Blue Flag season held at Thesen Islands Marina in Knysna on the Garden Route today. The 2014-2015 South African Blue Flag season opens officially on 1 November.
Blue Flag is the prestigious, voluntary eco-label for beaches, marinas and boats that is recognised as a trusted symbol of quality and regarded by the World Tourism Organisation as the most well-known eco-label globally.
The decisions of the 2014 International Blue Flag Jury were announced at the launch event and were preceded by a rigorous multi-stage approval process involving both local and international assessments. The 82 Blue Flag sites in South Africa this year consist of 45 beaches, 6 marinas and 6 whale-watching, commercial or private boats that have been award Full Status; in addition to 25 sites that have been awarded Pilot Status, which is an important developmental stage acting as an incubation period for potential Blue Flag sites.
The launch was event hosted by the Knysna Municipality and attended by Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom, Knysna Municipality executive mayor Georlene Wolmarans, WESSA CEO Dr Thommie Burger and WESSA National Coastal Programme Manager Ted Knott. The attendance of the Minister of Tourism at the event is confirmation of government’s strong support for the Programme. Speaking at the launch event Minister Hanekom said that investing in the environment has significant economic benefits. He emphasised how important the WESSA Blue Flag Programme is for coastal and marine conservation and in turn for tourism, adding that tourism is a very important sector of our economy as it is responsible for creating 1.4 million jobs in South Africa. This is more than the total number of jobs in the mining sector. He went on to say that recognising this point is important given that we are facing big challenges with unemployment, and that every bit of investment and enhancement that brings more tourism to our country makes a substantial contribution towards economic growth and towards job creation.
On World Oceans Day in June this year WESSA announced that an unprecedented number of Blue Flag applications had been received, and rather appropriately, the announcement of the record number of Full Status Blue Flag sites has now followed during National Marine Week.
Ted Knott, WESSA’s National Coastal Programme Manager says: “We have done well to get this far. As a country we marked 20 years as a democracy this year, so it is fitting that as a nation that loves our coast we can also celebrate over 50 Blue Flag sites.”
WESSA's Blue Flag Programme continues to grow significantly with a major contributing factor being the ongoing commitment from local governments which has resulted in several new municipalities joining the Programme – these are Umdoni (Pennnington Beach) and KwaDukuza (Blythedale Beach) in KZN and Ngqushwa (Hamburg Beach) in the Eastern Cape. Every coastal municipality in KZN is now involved in WESSA’s Blue Flag Programme, with Full or Pilot Status sites, while the Western Cape’s Hessequa Municipality is the first municipality in South Africa to have all of its beaches feature on the Blue Flag programme.
The entry of the Umdoni and KwaDukuza municipalities onto the Programme was facilitated by the Blue Fund, which is a partnership of Grindrod Financial Services and Wildlands Conservation Trust. The Blue Fund focuses on the sustainable development of coastal communities and the conservation of coastal marine ecosystems.
Newcomers to the Programme in the Western Cape are Plettenberg Bay’s Lookout Beach and the Gordon’s Bay Harbour Island Marina, while a new whale-watching boat on the Programme is the “Ocean Odyssey” with its home port in Knysna.
Blue Flag stalwart Humewood Beach in Port Elizabeth, the oldest Blue Flag beach in South Africa, is still on the Programme along with fellow longstanding Blue Flag site, Muizenberg beach in Cape Town.
Blue Flag status has been awarded to many sites in South Africa that are either in or near conservation areas, and WESSA is proud to have several Blue Flag beaches in national parks. Wilderness Beach and Nature’s Valley Beach are situated within the Garden Route National Park, and Boknes Beach is in Addo Elephant National Park. The SANParks staff at the Garden Route National Park has worked closely with WESSA, Eden District and local municipalities to achieve Full Status for Wilderness and Brenton-on-Sea beaches year on year.
Knysna Municipality, which was the host of this year’s launch event, is also the site of last year’s Kiani Satu shipwreck and oil spill. This spill had the potential to disastrously affect the local coastline –which includes Buffalo Bay, Brenton-on-Sea Beach and Thesen Islands Marina Blue Flag sites - but this was fortunately averted thanks to the quick and efficient emergency response. As a result there has been no change to these sites’ Blue Flag status.
Later this week WESSA will be running the very first workshop for companies operating Blue Flag Nature Viewing Boats, which will be hosted by Ocean Blue Adventures who have two whale-watching boats on the Programme. The workshop aims to align the boats currently on the Programme with international trends in ecotourism boat operations, to expand the category to include penguin, seal, bird and shark viewing boats, and to help improve the international standards of Blue Flag Nature Viewing Boats. These new international standards will then be piloted by WESSA Blue Flag in South Africa.
This is the second WESSA Blue Flag workshop held over the past year in an ongoing effort to improve the standards of Blue Flag sites and support the various stakeholders. A Blue Flag workshop was hosted by the City of Cape Town in March this year to improve the standards of environmental education on Blue Flag sites throughout the country.
The success of WESSA’s Blue Flag programme would not be possible without the support of coastal municipalities and conservation parastatals. WESSA is grateful to the Department of Environmental Affair’s “Working for the Coast” Programme that contributes to the successful operation and upgrade of many Blue Flag Beaches. The assistance of the Ford Wildlife Foundation, who make a vehicle available for WESSA’s coastal conservation work, is also greatly appreciated.
The Blue Flag Programme has been running internationally for 28 years this year and has been implemented in South Africa through WESSA since 2001. The Programme is focused on the conservation of our marine and coastal habitats, and is designed to raise environmental education and awareness, and increase sound environmental practices among tourists, local populations and beach management. To achieve Blue Flag status, as many as 33 different criteria spanning over four aspects of coastal management have to be met: water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management (including access to sensitive areas) and safety and services. Each Blue Flag site is compelled to conduct several environmental education activities during the year, and to practise effective and efficient conservation management.
For further information about the Blue Flag Programme please visit www.blueflag.org.za
View the 2014/5 International Blue Flag Jury results for South Africa
For more information contact:
Ted Knott, WESSA National Coastal Programme Manager
Cell 082 337 1273
Tel 033 330 3931 ext 2117