Twelve beaches in the Eastern Cape and the Garden Route have been awarded Blue Flag status.
This announcement was made at the prestigious national Blue Flag launch hosted by the Kouga Municipality at Dolphin Beach, Jeffreys Bay, on Wednesday.
The 12 beaches were among 44 beaches awarded with the Blue Flag status, along with seven marinas and seven sustainable tourism boats that will fly the Blue Flag during the forthcoming 2017/18 South African Blue Flag season which opens officially on 1 November 2017.
Earlier this year all applications for the Blue Flag eco-label were reviewed through a rigorous multi-stage approval process involving both national and international assessments, by a South African and International jury panel.
The Western Cape has achieved the highest number of Blue Flag sites, with 28 of the beaches, all eleven boats and six of the seven Blue Flag marinas falling in the province. This shows an increase of three Blue Flag boats from the previous season, and one additional marina.
KZN again has nine Blue Flag beaches for the 2017/18 season. Seven beaches and one marina have been awarded the eco-label in the Eastern Cape, which is on par with the previous season.
An additional 22 beaches across the three provinces will participate on the Pilot Programme. This is an important developmental stage for potential Blue Flag sites, during which WESSA works with beach managers and Tourism Blue Flag Beach Stewards towards the longer-term goal of achieving full Blue Flag status. Internationally, over 4,400 beaches, boats and marinas currently hold Blue Flag status in 46 countries.
Speaking at the event, Minister of Tourism,Tokozile Xasa, thanked WESSA for the work the organisation is doing through the Blue Flag programme. She said that the department is looking to attract five million tourists to South Africa over the next five years, and Blue Flag must be used as a selling tool to bring these visitors to out shores, and to ensure that visitors have a positive experience in the country.
She added that by entering into a partnership with WESSA in 2016 to implement the Tourism Blue Flag project the department is utilising the Expanded Public Works Programme to ensure that jobs are created for young people in the tourism industry.
The annual Blue Flag Awards also celebrate the sustained partnerships that WESSA has built with key municipalities around the country, who have recognised the value of Blue Flag not just to environmental management and education, but also to tourism, economic development and job creation. Their commitment to the programme is evident in the fact that 25 beaches have been on the programme for five or more consecutive years, while eleven beaches have achieved Blue Flag status for more than 10 consecutive years. Dolphin Beach, which provided the backdrop for the season launch, celebrates a remarkable 16 consecutive years on the programme this year. Humewood Beach in Port Elizabeth along with Grotto Beach in Hermanus has participated for all seventeen years that the Blue Flag programme has been running locally.
"Blue flag (status) is an excellent example of what is achievable when government, both local and national, partner with civil society. Not only does the programme encourage adherence to very high, international standards for beaches, boats and marinas but it has also created an excellent platform from which to develop young and enthusiastic, sustainable tourism ambassadors," WESSA Ecotourism Manager, Vincent Shacks, said
"Through the Tourism Blue Flag project, the National Department of Tourism has partnered with WESSA to demonstrate its commitment to the development of South Africa's youth. Over the past year these Blue Flag "Beach Stewards" have played a critical role in the maintenance of the Blue Flag standards at our beaches as well as conducting valuable environmental education activities and campaigns all along our beautiful coastline," Shacks added.
According to WESSA, since its launch in 1987, the Blue Flag programme has continued to grow, not only regarding the number of member countries and sites involved, but also in its range of expertise within marine and freshwater environments. WESSA is proud to have been the national implementing partner for Blue Flag in South Africa since 2001.
The Executive Mayor, Elza van Lingen, who delivered the opening address at the event spoke about the value which Blue Flag adds to tourism, adding that while Kouga Municipality only has one beach on the programme their approach is to raise the standard of all Kouga beaches to that of Dolphin Blue Flag Beach.
(Statement provided by WESSA)