Fluttering For Safety

 Safe swimming, fun at the beach, free of marine hazard. The flags say it - West Corniche, Abu Dhabi

By Sujata Devadas, December 30, 2016

Not just decoration nor even a symbol. It is an international warning system developed by the International Lifesaving Federation (ILS) and adopted by coastal communities worldwide to notify beach users about local information, lifeguard services and potential safety risks.

©Vidhyaa Kris December 2016

We might know or assume the meaning of red, yellow and green beach flags: ‘not safe to swim’, ‘swim with caution’ and ‘safe to swim’, in that order. There is more to it though. The purple and the blue flags, for instance.

Sharing Solutions spoke to lifeguards at Corniche beach about each flag color and its message. 

At 7:00 AM

 “The 3.2 kms of Abu Dhabi West Corniche beach opens at 7am. We start the day, usually by raising a flag with 2 colors: red on top and yellow beneath to let beach lovers know, they can enter the water for swimming in the designated area marked by a buoy line. Lifeguards are now on duty, patrolling the beach and monitoring risk assessment.” says Sri Lankan lifeguard Dharmapriya Dharmasena.

Inclement weather 

Fog, therefore poor visibility, sandstorm, cyclone, high winds or hurricane - or a high-speed boat race event, the red flag goes up.  Safety is priority. Swimming is closed. It is not safe to swim. 

“The duty manager on shore is accountable for everyone’s safety. Corniche beaches close 5 minutes before sunset. Lifeguards do not leave the beach until they are instructed to do so by the duty manager in charge.“ informs Dharmapriya.

Swim, use caution

Patrolling to ensure safety: Dharmapriya Dharmasena

©Vidhyaa Kris December 2016

©Vidhyaa Kris December 2016

 “Let us say, lifeguards who monitor safety, can just about see the buoy line demarcation for swimmers but the weather is still foggy or the water current is swifter than normal, we raise the yellow flag to let everyone know, use caution if you choose to venture in for swimming.” Dharmapriya pauses, then adds, “at times, the tide is so low that the ocean inside the first buoy  line is only waist deep; not quite right for earnest swimmers. At such times, we permit them to swim

between the first and second buoy lines, no further. At such times too, the yellow flag is raised to remind them: caution is advised.”


“Speak to  lifeguard about the hazard. He will know why the yellow flag is up.” encourages Operations Manager, Ganga Nalina Kumara of Ocean Diving Center, Lifesaving section.

If it rains - lightning and thunder is quite likely - yellow flag is the rule.

Marine Hazard

The Arabian sea has a veritable heritage of sea creatures.  Jellyfish, blue crabs, sea snakes, sting rays swim close to shore in the summer.  It is Abu Dhabi’s marine heritage. “Respect marine life.” says Ganga. “If they are spotted, the purple flag, marine hazard, goes up at the middle of the beach to prevent injury either to these creatures or to beach visitors.”

 “A day beside the ocean is about getting in sync with nature.” agrees Dharmapriya.  “In general, most of these creatures won’t bother you unless you bother them.” 

For four-and-half years, Dharmapriya has been a lifeguard in Corniche beach qualifying for the job, with a certification from International Lifesavers Association, Australia, while he was still in school.

As is a prerequisite for all lifeguards in UAE, he has the HABC Level 3 International Award in Beach Lifeguarding with competence in international first-aid and rescue measures, by Dubai Municipality. Dharmapriya is a team leader for lifeguards now.

Lifeguards Champika Pradeep and  Antonio Hortillo notify site coordinator Rosanah Abejo of coastal wealth - sea creatures worth saving.

Not zero

 “Ocean fauna may recede, but sharp shells, sharp stones, broken glass discarded by those mindless of pollution - are part of any beach.  As the wind blows from the ocean to the sea,  the tide carries in dead fish and bones, starfish and crabs. It is not about 100 per cent safety. A low risk assessment is the time to unfurl and raise the green flag” Dharmapriya explains.

“Green flag means the water quality is very good.” informs Ganga. “If you look at the rules and regulations board, at the entrance to the beach, you will see it there.

The result of the micro bacterial test on water quality. All this information is available at Gate 6, West Corniche.”

It is all about receiving the blue flag award.

The Blue flag award

It began in France in 1985. It is operational in Europe since 1987. In 2001, it spread beyond Europe - an international beach flag system.

“Pure water, clean coasts, safety and access for all.” 

The well-known blue flag eco-label operates under the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE), headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark.  A beach  is eligible for Blue Flag accreditation if it is a designated bathing area. Private beaches may charge a small, reasonable fee. 

It is proof of the care given by Abu Dhabi municipality and the marine management team to achieve high standards in four categories: water quality, environmental management, environmental education and safety. The flag symbolizes the programme run at the beach and indicates compliance. Blue Flag beaches have an information board for the public containing information making this commitment transparent to consumers. Blue Flag beaches are subject to control visits (announced and/or unannounced) by FEE International.

Services such as life-saving and toilets facilities exist at such beaches. All lifeguards at Corniche are certified as competent by International Life Saving Federation.

©Vidhyaa Kris December 2016

Blue flag information board at West Corniche between Gates 2 and 3 for the public's benefit.

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