The Blue Flag is one of the most recognizable beach flags in the world and equates to the confirmation of a clean coastline and transparent ocean water. Raising the Blue Flag means offering a higher level of standard when it comes to beach and saltwater quality. Wilderness beach is one of 48 locations in South Africa that has achieved Blue Flag Status for the 2021/22 season.
George Municipality sees this award as a feather in its tourism cap, as the Blue Flag is regarded by the World Tourism Organisation as the most coveted and respected international award that could be bestowed on top beaches. Blue Flag standards are only enforced at the participating beach’s stated season, which varies from just one month of a year to the full 12 months. The status is awarded one season at a time and municipality must apply annually to renew the status of their beaches. The Blue Flag reviewing panel reserves the right to accept or withdraw membership should the qualifying criteria not be fulfilled and impromptu inspections are carried out during the festive season with no prior warning.
To achieve Blue Flag status, 33 main criteria have to be met, including:
- Compliance with Blue Flag criteria
- Information relating to local eco-systems
- Environmental Management of beaches
- Beach facilities such as parking, access points, public facilities, cleanliness
- Access for the physically disabled.
- Safety services provided on the beaches and enforcing of regulations such as no alcohol, no dogs etc.
The Blue Flag international award focuses on the environmental management of coastlines and coastal waters that aims to promote tourism and development, but is also a symbol for beach quality. WESSA rates Blue Flag status as one of the world’s most acknowledged eco-labels awarded to beaches, marinas, and sustainable boating tourism operators. The programme provides an excellent international standard for municipalities and tour operators to strive toward. Sites flying the Blue Flag are showing their commitment to conserving the fragile marine and coastal environment, raising environmental awareness and increasing sound environmental practices.
Wilderness beach is managed as a collaborative effort by George Municipality with key stakeholders including South African National Parks, National Sea Rescue Institute, and GRDM. Victoria Bay and Herold’s Bay this year both gained Pilot status following application by the George Municipality.
Acting Municipal Manager for George, Dr Michele Gratz said that Blue Flag status offered many benefits besides improved tourism facilities and that the resources allocated to maintaining daily compliance play an important role in job creation. George Municipality has established a festive monitoring committee which meets daily to review facilities, safety and cleanliness at all of the beaches across George, including Wilderness Salina’s, Wilderness Leentjiesklip, Herolds Bay, Victoria Bay and Gwaing River Mouth beach.
The Blue Flag season runs from 1 December 2021 to 31 January 2022. Compliance includes high standards of water quality monitoring, public safety and lifeguard services, and well-maintained coastal amenities. South Africa has participated in the Blue Flag programme since 2001.