Are the beaches clean?

Is it safe to swim off Dubai's beaches? <em>Time Out</em> puts on a swimming costume and goes in search of safe surf

The Knowledge

Regular beachgoers may have noticed that warning signs telling people not to go in the water have been removed from the open beach next to the Dubai Offshore Sailing Club (Dosc). The Municipality say it has stopped sewage coming through a nearby storm drain and tests show the water is now safe. So why was Keith Mutch, Dosc manager, recently reported to have said, ‘Our tests show too many E. coli to count. It’s like swimming in a toilet.’

‘Those quotes are from last November,’ Keith tells us when we call. ‘I’ve taken the red flag down and opened our section of the beach to the members.’

Is he confident that the water is now safe for swimming? ‘We’re testing the water every two weeks – I have a duty to our members and their children – I can’t have them getting sick. At the moment the toxicity levels are back down within international standards.’

He says this is because the problem of illegal sewage dumping in storm drains has been alleviated in recent weeks. ‘The municipality has been sending out inspectors at night to catch offenders and that has certainly helped. Plus it has built a temporary facility for waste disposal.’

This doesn’t mean the problem has necessarily gone for good. ‘The harbour [where the boats are moored] will be contaminated for years,’ he warns. ‘There is no way for the water to flush through that area so it just sits there. But the beach is a lot better. Waste is still coming through periodically in small quantities, but nothing like the scale previously, where vast quantities of sewage were spilling out.’

He is therefore on his guard about the future state of the beach. ‘People got sick, and there was a really big problem down here. If that pipeline opens tomorrow, we are back where we started. And no one cleaned the beaches; no one came to see me.’

However, it looks like more positive steps are being taken to safeguard the future of the coast. Dubai Health Authority has appointed new inspectors who met with Keith last week.

And in a broader move to protect Dubai’s coastal environment, the Emirates Wildlife Society (EWS-WWF) has become the co-ordinator for the Blue Flag Programme, an international scheme acknowledged by the UN environment programme and the World Tourism Organisation. UAE co-ordinator Maisoun Al Sharif says this will help to inform the public of any issues that need tackling. ‘Beaches that apply for the Blue Flag certificate will have to monitor the water quality to ensure it meets strict international criteria,’ he tells us.

Back down at Dosc, Keith says they will keep a close eye on the water quality. ‘If there is a problem, I’ll have the red flag straight back up,’ he says.

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