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

2017-12-11 12:32
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Minister of the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) Nomvula Mokonyane 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. 

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Together with other stakeholders, is continuing with a coastal awareness campaign to remind beachgoers that we are all responsible for the safeguarding of our coastline. 

The issues highlighted 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.

“It is our duty to ensure that we do not litter, do not drive on the beach and accord everyone their right to access public coastal property,” says Mokonyane.

“Members of the public are encouraged to report illegal beach driving and private beaches (exclusive use) including any other illegal activities in the coastal areas.” 

Illegal to limit public access to beaches

A main issue the department deals with every year during this time is the illegal limitations on public access to the beach.

"It is unlawful in terms of the The National Environmental Management: Integrated Coastal Management Act (ICM Act) to implement measures which prevent public access to the beach, not permitted under that Act.  It is only under certain strict circumstances that the public’s access to the beach may be limited," says the DEA.

This also means that no one is allowed to charge for access to a public beach without the permission of the minister. 

The Act ensures that everyone can enjoy South Africa's natural heritage and through this support local tourism, recreational fishing and have fair access to amenities. 

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Off-road vehicles

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.

Say no to litter

The DEA has also embarked on a Source-to-Sea initiative to help combat pollution along the coast, specifically plastic that's become a big cause of concern for the world. The new initiative - involving academia, government departments, plastic industries and NGOs - will enable scaling up litter collections, promote community involvement in waste sorting at source and recycling in cooperation with the private sector.

Globally, plastic production has reached new highs, with over 320 million tons now being produced annually. Annually the department undertakes a coastal clean-up campaign with the intention to highlight the importance of building an understanding and knowledge of the coastal environment to the community and other marine users.  

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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.

The water restrictions in Cape Town have lessened a bit, with most public pools open for the summer perios (see schedule here), so beaches may be a little less busier than last year as visitors seek a cool escape during the hot festive period.

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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 

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