Summer Safety: How to turn the tide on beach dramas this festive season

2017-12-11 12:32
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Photo: iStock

Cape Town - The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) is encouraging the public to be environmentally and socially-aware during their beach visits this summer holiday.

This means not only ensuring beach safety but also showing respect to fellow beach-goers and the coastal environment, and following the rules and laws at respective beaches. 

Together with other stakeholders, DEA hosted a beach clean–up and an awareness session on Friday, 8 December, at Reunion Beach in Durban - as part of its Coastal Awareness Campaign - to highlight some issues that impact the coastal environment.

These issues include access to coastal public property, vehicle access on the coastal zone, marine pollution, and ensuring compliance and enforcement of legislation relevant to the coastal environment.

SEE: #EcoTravels: DEA's coastal awareness campaign cleans up KZN beaches

According to DEA, government has a duty to manage, protect and enhance the interests of the community while ensuring that the "natural resources within the coastal areas are used in a socially, economically justifiable and ecologically sustainable manner for the benefit of the current and future generations".

Minister Dr Edna Molewa urges everyone to "be responsible as they exercise their right to equitable access to coastal public property", saying that “access to natural resources including the beach is a constitutional right". According to the Integrated Coastal Management Act, unlawful for anyone to implement measures which prevent public access to the beach and no one may charge a fee in order to access coastal public property. "It is only under certain strict circumstances that the public’s access to the beach may be limited," says Molewa.

Exercise duty of care

The Act also requires the users of coastal public property to exercise duty of care while they enjoy the facilities, and Molewa appeals to holidaymakers that while they enjoy beaches, they must "do so in a manner that does not compromise the integrity of the environment".

“It is therefore our responsibility not to litter nor drive on our beaches. We are all duty-bound to keep our beaches clean and useable. Let us all work together to ensure that we eliminate all items that could pollute our beach environment as this is important for our health and wellbeing,” says Molewa.

SEE: Summer Safety: Beware the Swim Reaper

According to DEA, the use of vehicles in the coastal area is generally prohibited, "given the need to balance and manage conflict that may arise between the Off-Road Vehicles (ORV) users and the general public that accesses the coast by foot".

In addition, "the vehicles have potential to destabilise and destroy vegetated dunes".

"The vegetated dunes are important as they absorb the energy generated by waves and storms and protect the area behind them from wave damage and salt intrusion. They act as a barrier and the first line of protection for inland areas, homes or property from the wrath of ocean waves,' says DEA. 

The public must report all acts that may restrict free public access to coastal zones, and illegal use of ORVs in these areas, says Molewa.

Beach safety

In South Africa, 600 children die each year from drowning according to National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI). NSRI conducted a report of the 2016 fatalities and concluded over 2 000 fatal drownings.

This sombre reminder is coming at the right time for South Africans as we head to the beach this festive season. Remember to drink responsibly - avoid the water if you have had too many drinks.

With many public pools being closed in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape following the drought, beaches are expected to be even busier this year as visitors seek a cool escape during the hot festive period. It is therefore advised to practice even greater caution while enjoying SA's coastal region.

SEE: Beach safety 101: Plett shark attack a 'freak incident' - NSRI

Beachgoers are also advised to swim as close as possible to lifeguards who are on alert to close beaches if necessary.

"The best thing would be keep an eye on the shark alert flags and to swim close to the lifeguard tower and they will be calling people out of the water when necessary," says NSRI's Marc Rodgers.

Familiarise yourself with the colour-coded flag system:

A red flag - The most serious of all beach warning flags, red flags warn swimmers of serious hazards in the water. One red flag means that the surf is high or there are dangerous currents, or both. Though you can still swim if there is a red flag, you should use extreme caution and go in the water only if you're a strong swimmer.

A green flag means that the spotting conditions are good and no sharks have been seen. 

A black flag means that the spotting conditions are poor, but no sharks have been seen. 

A white flag with a black shark diagram means that a shark is currently near the beach, and beach users must get out of the water. A siren is sounded and the white flag is raised. 

ALSO SEE: Safe surfing with new Shark Spotters app!

To make summer shark safety even easier, Shark Spotters has also released and app that provides current and accurate shark safety information on smartphones. 

Save these emergency numbers on your cell phone:

  • South African Police Service and National Emergency Response 
    Phone: 10111
    Phone from cell phone: 112 (automated response)
  • Ambulance Services
    Emergency - Ambulance Phone 10177
    Emergency - From Cell phone 112 (automated response)
  • Netcare
    Phone 021 981 9890
    Missing Children Emergency 
    Phone 072 647 7464
  • National Sea Rescue Institute 
    NSRI Cape Town - Phone 021 449-3500
    NSRI Saldhana - Phone 022 714-1726
    NSRI Mossel Bay - Phone 044 604-6271
    NSRI Port Elizabeth - Phone 041 507-1911
    NSRI East London - Phone 043 700-2100
    NSRI Durban - Phone 031 361-8567
    NSRI Richard's Bay - Phone 035 753-1991
  • NSRI Inland Dams and Lakes 
    Vaal Dam – Dick Manten – 083 626 5128
    Hartbeespoort Dam – Rod Pitter – 082 990 5961
    Victoria Lake – Graham Hartlett – 082 441 6989
    Witbank Dam – Dean Wegerle – 060 962 2620
  • SANParks - Table Mountain National Park
    In case of emergencies - Phone 021 957 4700
  • SANParks - Kruger National Park 
    In case of emergencies - Phone 013 735 4325
  • SANParks general call centre 
    Phone 012 428 9111
  • Airports emergency numbers: 
    Bloemfontein International  - Phone 051 433 2901
    Cape Town International - Phone 021 935 9745
    Durban International  - Phone 031 408 1990
    Polokwane International - Phone 015 288 0083
    OR Tambo International - Phone 011 941 6200
    Lanseria International - Phone 011 659 1229
    Kruger Mpumalanga International - Phone 013 750 2937 
    Pilanesberg Airport - Phone 014 552 2320
    Port Elizabeth Airport - Phone 041 404 8323 or 082 809 5237/38
    Upington Airport - Phone 054 332 3117/8 or 076 987 3944 

ALSO: Check-outTraveller24's Find Your Escape section for Top events and things to do across SA.