The beach forecast for the festive long weekend is great (Durban must wait until Tuesday) and you’re probably already got the out-of-office set for your coastal adventure, but this year is different. KwaZulu-Natal has been grappling with sewer problems as a hangover from the floods earlier this year and some poor maintenance on the municipality’s infrastructure.

Even the picturesque Garden Route – filled with a coastline of certified blue flag beaches – is not immune to beach day disruption. Mossel Bay closed off access to the public after an oil spill at the end of November.

What does this mean for your beach days? We spoke to coastal municipalities across the country to get a heads up on the best swim spots. 

/Escherichia coli/

You know it as E. coli and it’s part of a family of rod-shaped bacteria that live in your intestines. E. coli O157: H7 is the family member that can cause kidney failure along with the usual tummy wobbles.


Those sewage leaks have led to high E. coli levels at some of Durban beaches, but recently the City took the decision to open some beaches after experts tested the water and gave it the green card for an acceptable standard to be opened once again.

Speaking to /explain/ Dr Ferrial Adam, Water and Environment Manager for the Community Action Network (WaterCAN) said that key beaches in Durban have been tested and have shown elevated levels of E coli – that makes it unsafe for recreational use. 

“It was irresponsible for the municipality to announce that the beaches are safe. What this has done is cause more confusion and mistrust,” said Adam. “Moving forward it is important to have consistent testing and the results must be made public.”

/Green Drop Certification/

Awarded to wastewater systems that obtain scores of 90 percent when compared against the criteria set for wastewater management. The annual Green Drop Report provides an analysis of the current state of wastewater infrastructure and management in the country and also looks at the state of municipal wastewater treatment.

“If we look at the Green Drop report and the state of wastewater treatment in our country – it is very concerning. There are high levels of E coli in many of our rivers and streams – which then flow onto our beaches. This is not a KZN challenge alone – so we will have to monitor beaches across our coastline,” he added.

Good beaches in KZN


City of Cape Town Eddie Andrews Mayoral Committee Member for Spatial Planning and Environment said that while there are some subtle shifts, overall water quality across the city’s coastline remains consistent. 

“A key point is that we know from 22 years of data that we have beaches that are consistently excellent or good – these areas have little sources of pollution such as stormwater drains, beaches that are consistently excellent or good but at times are impacted by a discreet pollution event that reduces their overall rating. Areas of our coastline that are exposed to chronic sources of pollution – these are always those that are located next to a large stormwater outlet or a river mouth,” he explains.

The patterns of pollution described above are consistent across cities all around the globe and are not unique to Cape Town.

/Blue Flag/

An international voluntary award that signifies adherence to a set of environmental, educational and safety standards and  criteria set by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) in Europe. 

This contamination trend and pattern remain constant where stormwater outlets and river mouths remain significant sources of pollution. Which confirms that sewer blockages and overflows, illegal discharges, and general urban run-off and waste disposal discharged via the city’s stormwater system and rivers have a significant impact on coastal environment and coastal water quality.

The City is publishes updated information on coastal water quality, which now includes the latest raw data results on our web portal – as well as the 11 new sites added to its existing 88 coastal quality sampling points. 

Water quality at 20 out of 28 recreational beaches and tidal pools met the minimum requirement for swimming and surfing, which is a massive improvement from only 19 beaches in 2020.

Cape Town’s best (and worst) bathing spots


Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) senior communications officer Marillia Veldkornet said there are Blue Flag beaches within the region, and informed /explain/ that the water quality is good and ready for holiday makers.

Environmental Health Practitioners (EHP) from GRDM are the key players in maintaining the coveted Blue Flag status. Sampling of the ocean happens from October and ends in April each year.

There are 19 Blue Flag beaches to visit in the 2022/2023 season and the municipality confirms that all meet the minimum requirements for summer fun. There’s additional measures taken to ensure safety during the December holiday period, EHPs from GRDM specifically focus on the quality of water at the recreational hot spots.

South Africa was the first country outside Europe to be awarded Blue Flag accreditation. Locally, the program is managed by Wildlife Environmental Society of South Africa (WESSA). 

South Africa’s Blue Flag beaches

Blue Flag status is awarded annually and not every beach can keep its status. Once approved as a pilot status beach, the authorities have about three years before they can apply for full Blue Flag status. 

This is an environmental award given to communities that make a special effort to manage their coastal/inland water environment and beaches with respect for the local environment and nature.

Safe swimming!

Featured image: Weyland Swart/Unsplash