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Durban beaches pulled out of Blue Flag sparkling sea awards

Durban beaches pulled out of Blue Flag sparkling sea awards
Durban will have to remove its Blue Flags and signage from its beaches for the next year at least after choosing to pull out from the 2023 awards season. (Photo: Tony Carnie)

More than 50 beaches across South Africa will be flying Blue Flags for the next year in recognition of their sparkling clean seawater and other features of excellence — but not a single beach in Durban will be among them for at least another 12 months.

Blue Flags — an internationally recognised symbol of consistent standards of excellence — are awarded every year in a scheme managed by the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Wessa) under the auspices of the Foundation for Environmental Education in Copenhagen, Denmark.

During the 2023 season, 51 beaches, four marinas and two tourism boats in South Africa will have Blue Flags flying after they successfully demonstrated their ability to meet 33 criteria related to water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management, and safety and services. 

Of the 51 beaches awarded Blue Flags this week, 33 are in the Western Cape, nine in KwaZulu-Natal and nine in the Eastern Cape.

The most consistent performer in the country is Marina Beach on the KZN South Coast, which has managed to fly a Blue Flag for 21 years in a row. Several other beaches along the KZN south and north coasts also received Blue Flags for the 2023 season.


But the coastal tourism city of Durban failed to make the cut again, largely because of the torrent of untreated human sewage and industrial wastewater still flowing into the sea after the devastating floods of April and May. The floods damaged several sewage treatment works and substations and further exacerbated the city’s recent poor record of managing its wastewater flows.

Earlier this week, the city announced that it was reopening a number of popular tourist beaches along the central beachfront after a recent improvement in water quality. The eThekwini municipality said the decision to open these beaches was taken “after recent water tests conducted by experts confirmed that beach water is at an acceptable level for recreational activities”.

Beaches that are now open include Point, Ushaka, Addington, South, Wedge, North, Bay of Plenty, Battery, Country Club, Brighton, Reunion, Pipeline, Toti Main and Warner.

However, Umhlanga, Bronze, Westbrook, Laguna, Thekwini, Umdloti, Umgababa and several others are still closed — and neither the city nor the provincial department of environmental affairs has disclosed the contents of an official government directive served recently on City Manager Musa Mbhele to remediate beach water sewage pollution.

Raising the latest Blue Flag awards this week ( from left) are Jonga Kuhlane of the national Department of Tourism; David Swart, the Executive Mayor Bitou Municipality; and Wessa CEO Helena Atkinson. (Photo: Elle Photography)

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Because Blue Flag status requires consistent quality to be demonstrated in at least 20 consecutive water samples, no Durban beaches can requalify until December 2023 at the earliest.

At a ceremony in Plettenberg Bay on Thursday, Wessa CEO Helena Atkinson paid tribute to the municipal authorities whose beaches qualified for Blue Flag status.

“South Africa is proud to be one of 48 countries implementing this internationally recognised eco-label. There are now over 5,000 Blue Flag beaches, marinas and tourism boats around the world.

“The Blue Flag programme continues to expand into new South African coastal areas … While this growth is evidence of the success of the programme, there are always challenges which arise and need to be addressed.

“One of the key challenges over the past season included sewerage-related issues, which can often result in water quality sample failures. Water quality is an important factor in retaining a beach’s Blue Flag status, because only excellent bathing water quality is accepted.”

Without naming any particular beaches, she said: “Unfortunately, some beaches have fallen off the programme due to non-compliant water quality. Wessa is committed to working closely with these municipalities to help address the root cause of the issue and get those sites back on the programme in order to achieve excellent bathing water standards that’s safe for both South Africans and international tourists…”

Notably, however, Durban had just three Blue Flag beaches during 2022 (Ushaka, Point and North beaches).

Atkinson said the award also allowed for potential Blue Flag sites to participate in a pilot programme.

Twenty pilot sites were recognised this year for working towards meeting the minimum requirements for Blue Flag status. There were also three beaches that received certificates for being awarded Blue Flags for 10 consecutive years: Preekstoel in Hessequa, De Bakke in Mossel Bay and Kings in Nelson Mandela Bay. OBP/DM

Footnote: The headline and top caption were amended to reflect the fact that the Ethekwini municipality did not fail Blue Flag’s water quality testing criteria, but rather, the municipality chose to withdraw voluntarily for the 2023 season

Absa OBP

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