Ocean Odyssey, which is Knysna’s only permitted close encounter whale watching operation, has been awarded the prestigious Blue Flag Status, an international award given to beaches, marinas and nature-based boat excursions that meet a standard of excellence in the following categories: Environmental Education, Environmental Management, Safety and Security and Water Quality. The criterion is laid by the international coordinators of the Blue Flag campaign in Europe, the FEE (Foundation for Environmental Education).
Ocean Odyssey stands proudly alongside other well-known local Blue Flag sites, namely Brenton and Buffalo Bay beaches (Sedgefield Beach received a pilot Blue Flag) and Thesen Island Marina, from where the Blue Flag recipients for the 2014-2015 South African Blue Flag season were announced at a ceremony hosted by the Knysna Municipality. It was attended by esteemed guests such as the Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom, Knysna’s Executive Mayor Georlene Wolmarans, Wessa’s CEO Dr Burger and the National Coastal Programme Manager Ted Knott.
Perhaps the most significant of the aforementioned categories within the Blue Flag Programme is Environmental Education. The famous Senegalese conservationist Baba Dioum penned this perspective perfectly: “In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught”. It has indeed become clear that education is crucial for the preservation of the environment.
The Blue Flag Programme is managed by WESSA (Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa); the respected South African environmental NGO, whose mission it is to “implement high impact environmental and conservation projects that promote public participation in caring for the Earth”. Blue Flag falls within WESSA’s National Coastal Programme which aims at both protecting and rehabilitating South Africa’s dynamic and beautiful marine environment, which includes miles of sweeping beaches, vast estuaries, rocky shores, marinas and more. The programme offers numerous benefits including improved tourism facilities and management of coastal ecosystems.
Luring thousands of local and international tourists every year, the Greater Knysna area is well renowned for the raw beauty of its myriad ecosystems and is the area’s primary economic draw card. These Blue Flag statuses bring to the fore just how extraordinary Knysna really is. It lies within the extensive Garden Route National Park, which includes not one but two Marine Protected Areas (MPA”s), rich in species both in and out of the water. The Park includes several Blue Flag beaches. Knysna itself is hugged by an estuary that is rated as the most significant in terms of biodiversity in the country. Within this estuary is Thesen Island, a Blue Flag marina, and operating from this marina is Ocean Odyssey, one only six Blue Flag whale watching companies in the country. The above facts tell a story that is real cause for celebration and should serve to inspire each of us to conserve our most precious and inspiring natural environment.