‘No dogs allowed’?

Linda Saunders, Retreat

On Easter Sunday, March 27, my cousin and I took my dog to the beach for a walk in the afternoon.

Because parking at Sunrise beach was full due to the flea market, we parked in the parking area adjacent to the law-enforcement office.

We felt this would be safest, not only for the car, but also for us – two women on a deserted beach.

The presence of several police officers in the vicinity added to our sense of safety.

As we entered the beach area we saw two signboards indicating what was allowed.

The first, which looked older and weather-beaten, stated that no dogs were allowed from December to March.

The second sign, a few paces on, looked much newer and indicated that dogs were allowed on leashes. No dates were mentioned. Noting the contradiction, we reckoned that since it was the end of March and our dog was on a leash, we’d be fine so we entered there, but immediately made our way to Sunrise beach.

On our return we were stopped by two officers who took me to their office and presented me with a notice to appear in court for contravention of the seashore act GN1563b/1994 with a fine of R500. While I was there another woman was brought in, also walking alone with her dog.

While I accept the need for dogs to be controlled, I cannot understand the reasoning or logic behind this action.

It’s understandable in the middle of summer when the beach is full and dogs can be a nuisance, but this was a cold and cloudy day, the beach was empty, and it was the end of season. Surely there’s a place for discretion?

The fact that none of the officers who saw us entering the beach area stopped us and told us dogs were not allowed makes one think that this was a deliberate attempt to catch people out. What’s worse was that it was women being caught out, when it is known how dangerous the beach has become and that a dog offers a measure of protection – especially at times when the beach is not well populated.

I am deeply disgusted by what has happened. Engaging in such an operation on that day was not only stupid and senseless but malicious as well, and I would appreciate an explanation from the city that supposedly “works for you”.

* Belinda Walker, mayco member for community services and special projects, responds:

Muizenberg Beach has, for many years, achieved Blue Flag status – a world-renowned environmental education programme administered locally by the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA).

The Blue Flag season at Muizenberg Beach runs from 10am to 6pm from December 1 to March 31 each year.

Unfortunately, Muizenberg Beach was not able to maintain its full Blue Flag status during the 2015/16 summer season due to a decline in water quality experienced over previous seasons.

However, Muizenberg Beach remained on the programme as a pilot Blue Flag beach this season, with the aim of maintain the high standard set by Blue Flag and attaining full Blue Flag status in the 2016/17 summer season.

As part of maintaining Blue Flag status at the beach, 33 criteria within four main categories must be met. These categories include environmental education, safety and services, water quality and environmental management.

Criterion 23 within the environmental management category of the Blue Flag Beach criteria clearly stipulates the following: “Access to the beach by dogs and other domestic animals must be strictly controlled. On Blue Flag beaches, dogs and pets are permitted in the parking areas, on walkways and promenades in the back beach area only – if permitted by the beach authorities as well as local and national legislation. Animals in these areas must be controlled. It is recommended that a dog-free zone be created to prevent dogs and other animals from entering the main beach and swimming area. This excludes guide dogs for the visually impaired.”

To this end, the City of Cape Town has erected signage alerting members of the public to keep their dogs on a leash, except during the Blue Flag hours when no dogs are permitted on the beach. One hour of leeway from 9am to 10am has been given in order for the beach to be thoroughly cleaned after the dogs have left the area and before the Blue Flag period begins each day. Dog excrement contributes significantly to the faecal bacteria load in sea water and the water quality declines as a result. Since Muizenberg Beach lost its full Blue Flag status to poor water quality last season, the City must ensure that every effort is made to limit any potential contributors to poor water quality in future. The Blue Flag criteria does not distinguish between different weather days and the date of the resident’s visit to the beach was within the Blue Flag season.

After an assessment of the area in question, it can be understood how the different signs could be misleading. Most of the signs in the area refer to Muizenberg Beach, while additional signs found only around the Zandvlei River refer specifically to the Zandvlei Nature Reserve and, as such, outline regulations specific to the nature reserve area. At the Zandvlei River mouth, the nature reserve and beach area become indistinguishable and the signage will therefore be amended to reflect uniformity at the beach.