Blue Flag status is the ultimate accolade for beaches across the world and a sure way to attract both domestic and international tourists to coastal towns.
However, achieving Blue Flag status takes a collaborative effort and needs the buy-in of communities. A training programme presented by the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (Wessa ) and the Department of Tourism aims to create eco-warriors who are able to spread awareness of how litter impacts beaches and affects the tourism economy, while carrying out various other tasks at the beaches to which they are assigned.
The accredited training also positions trainees for entry into the coastal tourism sector.
One of the programme’s trainees said the skills he learnt will help him teach people from his village about the importance of recycling, especially at the beach.
Junior environment education officer Khanyisane Sikhakhane said he wants to impart the knowledge he has gained to his community. The 34-year-old said schools should have programmes to teach pupils about the importance of keeping the environment clean.
“They need to understand that the things people throw away at the beach are killing fish and other marine life,” he said.
The former Durban beachfront waiter said he joined the programme after reading an advert calling for trainees. “Because I come from a rural area, I didn’t know much about the beach,” he said.
Speaking to Vuk’uzenzele from his home in the Ozwathinin village, he said the training had opened his eyes to how marine life is affected by the decisions people make.
“Take for example how people litter on the beachfront because they say someone will pick it up. They don’t think it will blow into the sea where fish will eat it thinking it is food. Turtles eat jellyfish and plastic floating in water looks like a yummy meal to them so they eat it and end up dying.”
At a recent graduation for the 200 KwaZulu-Natal participants, Wessa representative Nerosha Govender said: “The stewards have improved the tourism facilities and services offered at the Blue Flag beaches across three provinces. The Tourism Blue Flag programme has led to a cadre of skilled youth who are now better placed to access further employment.”