If you’ve paid a visit to any of Dubai’s beaches recently, or taken a trip to our neighbouring emirates for a spot of R&R, you may have noticed a handful of cobalt-hued flags fluttering in the breeze. These blue flags, awarded to beaches that meet high standards of health and cleanliness, are likely to become a common sight across the UAE, thanks the work of Moaz Sawaft from Emirates Wildlife Society-WWF. ‘I’d love to see the rest of Dubai’s public beaches developed to Blue Flag standards,’ he says as he explains the criteria, of which there are 32, including providing clean toilets, changing rooms and drinking water.
The Blue Flag is a voluntary scheme, open to all beaches and marinas, whether private or public. In order to qualify for Blue Flag status, those who manage the areas must show a commitment to health, safety, environment and education. ‘When a beach takes Blue Flag on board, they have to start testing the sea water at the beach, and there are certain standards for water quality. This means if you visit a Blue Flag beach, you know the water is safe to swim in – there are no diseases, bacteria or germs,’ Moaz explains. These beaches must also invest in safety essentials, such as lifeguards, first aid, emergency plans and contacts. As a bare minimum, they also need to commit to five educational activities per season. ‘When I say season, in the UAE that means per year. Each beach or marina can come up with their own activities, but they must be beneficial to the environment or environmental awareness. They don’t even have to be especially related to beaches.
‘One common question people always ask me is, “Only five activities?” But look at it this way: say you have 100 beaches and marinas doing five activities, that’s 500 in total, and that makes a big difference.’
There are currently four beaches and one marina in Dubai that have volunteered for the initiative and met its high standards: Jebel Ali Golf Resort (both the beach and marina), Jumeirah Open Beach, Al Mamzar Beach Park, and Le Méridien Mina Seyahi. ‘The season runs from October to October, and I’m already working with another 15 beaches for next season,’ Moaz explains. ‘By October 2013, we will have 27 Blue Flag beaches and marinas throughout the UAE.’ Four of these new additions will be in Dubai. Not bad going considering the initiative’s pilot Blue Flag was only rolled out in 2009, at the Abu Dhabi Corniche.
Moaz reveals there are now about 5,000 beaches and marinas throughout the world that carry the Blue Flag standard, ‘mainly in Europe, the Bahamas and Costa Rica, South America and South Africa’. It’s an impressive figure for a scheme that is currently celebrating its 25th year in action – as Moaz admits, getting people to pay attention to a new environmental concept is half the battle. ‘When you introduce something new like this to a country, it takes time [for people to show interest]. I wouldn’t say we’ve struggled, but it was always going to be a matter of time. Now, the ball is rolling, and rather than us going out to promote Blue Flag all the time, I’m getting calls from hotels and marinas asking to come and see us to find out how they can get the Blue Flag.’
When asked what the community can do to encourage the adoption of Blue Flag schemes across the city, Moaz suggests making requests with Dubai Municipality, which he explains is already involved. ‘I’m sure they would take it into consideration,’ he notes. ‘In Abu Dhabi, it has been agreed that any future beaches have to be developed according to Blue Flag standards. This is their principle now. I would love to see the same in Dubai.’ Here’s to 2013, and a lot more blue in sky.
Find out more about Blue Flag in the UAE at www.uae.panda.org.
Dubai’s Blue Flag beaches
Jebel Ali Golf Resort and Marina
This private beach resort has introduced an artificial reef to the area.
Sun-Thu Dhs180 (adults), Dhs90 (under 12s); Fri-Sat Dhs220 (adults), Dhs110 (under 12s). Jebel Ali (04 814 5555).
Jumeirah Open Beach
A public beach that’s great for a morning run.
Free. Turn right after Palm Strip Mall on Jumeirah Beach Road (04 344 3379).
Al Mamzar Beach Park
Positioned between Dubai and Sharjah, there are five different beaches to enjoy here.
Dhs5 per person, Dhs30 per car. Al Mamzar (04 296 6201).
Le Méridien Mina Seyahi
A private stretch of beach that’s also home to Dubai’s beloved Barasti.
Sun-Wed Dhs200 (adults), Dhs125 (under 17s); Fri-Sat Dhs300 (adults), Dhs175 (kids). Le Méridien Mina Seyahi, Al Sufouh Road, Umm Suqeim (04 399 3333).