The annual Blue Flag Awards celebrated the sustained partnerships that WESSA has built with key municipalities as well as committed private entities around the country. These Municipalities and private entities have recognised the value of Blue Flag not only to environmental management and education, but also to tourism, economic development and job creation.
The Blue Flag South African Launch was hosted by the Ray Nkonyeni Municipality (formerly known as the Hibiscus Coast Municipality). Ray Nkonyeni walked away with seven Full Status Blue Flag beaches at the launch. The regular attendance of Minister of Tourism, Derek Hanekom, is a confirmation of the ongoing support for the Programme by the South African government. The Minister had said that we have an incredible diversity of marine life along our country's 3,000km of coastline. We need to double our Blue Flag coverage to protect our natural heritage as this creates tourism and tourism creates jobs. He added that he really values the partnership the National Department of Tourism has entered into with WESSA. The project is about looking after our precious coastal resources and marks the beginning of the Working for Tourism programme. The Mayor of Ray Nkonyeni Municipality, Nomusa Mqwebu (Figure 1), who delivered the opening address at the event said: "Blue Flag is the ideal catalyst to improve tourism".
This year’s event also marked the launch of an exciting new coastal tourism project to be managed and implemented by WESSA in partnership with the National Department of Tourism. The Tourism Blue Flag Project aims to improve tourism facilities and services offered at 50 Blue Flag sites across South Africa, while also providing youth employment opportunities. Through this project, 200 participants will be employed in the role of “Beach Stewards” (Figure 3) and hosted by local coastal municipalities at beaches. The participants will also receive accredited training in environmental education and practical work experience centred on monitoring and data collection, as well as facilitators of tourism initiates and hospitality on beaches. The ultimate aim of the Tourism Blue Flag project is to developing the Beach Stewards for further employment in the coastal tourism sector.
An exciting development in the Blue Flag programme internationally has also been the expansion of Blue Flag certification programme to acknowledge sustainable boating operators in the tourism industry (Figure 4). In the past, sustainable boating operators have simply signed a code-of-conduct with Blue Flag around operating sustainably, but now operators offering boating activities – such as bird, seal and whale watching, cage diving, recreational diving and recreational fishing – can be awarded formal certification if they comply with Blue Flag’s newly defined set of strict boating criteria. South Africa is at the forefront of this new development as one of only three Blue Flag member countries to have received accreditation for sustainable boating operators in the 2016/17 Season.