The loss of the Blue Flag status for Main Beach has provoked an outcry from local residents of Jeffreys Bay, who all feel that the situation could have been avoided had the local authority listened to concerns that the surf community and other beach users have raised over the years.
The number of sewage spills on Main Beach increased dramatically in 2010, making a mockery of the Blue Flag criteria which includes the quality of the sea water and cleanliness of the beach.
Having huge sewage dams built on the beach to contain the flow of raw effluent from reaching the sea and then sending conveys of honey suckers to drain the dams wasn’t fooling anybody about the fact that Jeffreys Bay was failing miserably in the effort to meet Blue Flag criteria.
Furthermore, the Kouga Municipality’s claim that no sewage was actually reaching the ocean was belied by surfers contracting effluent related diseases and from having to paddle through sewage when surfing the popular surf break of Kitchen Window.
Andy Thysman, the Chairman of the J’Bay Boardriders Club and former head of Jeffreys Bay Tourism was diagnosed twice with e coli related diseases in 2010 and puts the blame on surfing in contaminated water at Kitchen Window.
“I am prepared to show the Municipality my medical records to prove how ill I became from surfing in sewage”, said an irate Thysman.
“What really makes me sick, however, is that the warning signs have been there since the 1990’s when the first sewage spills started occurring and nothing has been done, except to deny that a problem exists.
Now we have lost the Blue Flag status and this will affect tourism which is the lifeblood of this town. Tourists, especially from Europe are familiar with the Blue Flag and know they can expect a certain standard when visiting a Blue Flag beach. We have marketed Jeffreys Bay on this basis but have been shot in the foot with sewage spills on the beach that are not only going to cause less tourists to visit our town but have also contaminated out lifestyle”, added Thysman.
This view is echoed by Etienne Venter who is a regular visitor to Main Beach and whose business, Jeffreys Bay Surf School brings many foreign tourists to town each year. “I have been to Blue Flag beaches in France and we need to offer the same standards to attract tourists to Jeffreys Bay. The Main Beach is our town’s primary asset and we cannot allow it to continue on this downward spiral. It really will not take a lot of effort to keep the beach clean and safe for all those who use the facilities”, said Venter.
Cheron Kraak, the former CEO of Billabong South Africa has tried to help the Municipality fix the sewage problem for years. “Together with the Supertubes Surfing Foundation, we had the water tested in 2006 and these results proved there was e coli bacteria present on the beach. We forwarded the results to the Municipality and are still waiting for a reply”, said Kraak.
Effluent borne bacteria can infect people for up to 2 weeks after a sewage spill and with many people, including children using the beach; it is scary to think that they are at risk of contracting sewage related diseases similar to Andy Thysman and other surfers.
A solution for the Shell Festival is now also at risk. One of the proposed solutions is to focus on having more sports taking place on Main Beach to attract visitors to the Festival which has received sharp criticism in the past few years. The growth of open water swimming in the town, with the EP Open Water Swim Champs being held at Marina Martinique next weekend has led to the possibility of holding a swim event at Main Beach during the Shell Festival.
“A sea swim would be the next logical step in establishing Jeffreys Bay as a prime open water swim venue internationally”, said Brenton Williams from the Kouga Swim Club, who has established the sport in the town.
“Extreme swimming is one of the fastest growing sports in the world and Jeffreys Bay is now regarded as being one of the best venues in South Africa for swims of this nature. However, water quality is something that cannot be compromised as we cannot have athletes getting sick from swimming in contaminated water”.
Living in denial will not help in regaining Blue Flag status for our beaches. The solutions are also well within our capacity and need to be prioritized to ensure Main Beach can be rated with the top beaches in the world.
Cleaning the beach must be extended through to the car park close to the Ski Boat Club as this is where many tourists, including the tour buses park to access the beach. Often this area is a mess and the toilets are filthy and stink.
The time has also come to stop offering excuses as to why sewage spills occur and for the problem to be fixed. Should our sewage infrastructure be creaking at the seams and causing spills of the magnitude witnessed in 2010, then the political leaders in the town must take responsibility and come up with the solution.
Sewage removal and treatment is a basic First World service and one that cannot be compromised upon. This problem has been coming for a long time now and postponing the inevitable will just cause the solution to become more costly and difficult to implement the longer it is left.
The beaches are Jeffreys Bay prime asset and what sets our town apart from the many other places vying for tourists. They need to be taken care of to ensure the future prosperity of Jeffreys Bay.