Every year it’s the same story, on the eve of the peak summer season, the media and environmentalists alike bemoan the state of the Crimean Peninsula. They say the beaches and waters of the Black Sea are dirty, unsafe, and neglected. To be honest, this is true in general: the tourism industry in Crimea is chaotic, often illegal, and designed to rake in maximum kopeks in anticipation of the leaner winter months. In these circumstances, environmental concerns are low on the list of priorities and you can’t be sure either the owners of the budget mini-hotels or the luxury resorts care if sewage flows directly to the sea. As a result, you often hear of people returning from holiday with gastrointestinal or respiratory problems. The problem is compounded by holidaymakers themselves, who pack the beaches like sardines and show little concern about where they discard their rubbish. However, let’s not paint too bleak a picture – with proper planning, you can still find a place in picturesque Crimea that does not resemble a dump, or pose a health-risk.
The Tourism Industry View
Oleh Fesenko is the marketing manager of Palmira Palace Hotel near Yalta and he is forthcoming when approached by What’s On. He readily admits the Black Sea water and beaches can be polluted in summer: “It becomes quite an acute problem in the ‘high season’ and applies mainly to open city beaches, which are traditionally overcrowded.” However, Fesenko says the annual media hysterics about the catastrophic condition of Crimean beaches are overblown. While he cannot comment on all operators, he leaps to the defence of Palmira Palace, saying it is connected to the city sewage system, has its own beach, which is cleaned every day, and samples of seawater are routinely taken for testing in a laboratory.
At the moment, the hotel is preparing to be certified with the internationally recognised accreditation system Blue Flag – a Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) initiative, which defines the safety of beaches all over the world. In Ukraine, the Blue Flag scheme is operated by the Ecological Initiative, a non-governmental organisation on behalf of FEE.
Blue Flag criteria are stringent, taking into account 32 points which include water quality issues such as microbiological counts, physical and chemical indexes, beach conditions, and the necessary amount of litter bins for sorted wastes. Also, the beach cannot have a camp-site or parking lot on its territory, the toilets must be clean and well-kept, life-guards or rescue equipment must be at the beach and so on. In other words, if you see a branded blue flag waving at the beach, you can be sure it will be safe and comfortable, meeting international standards.
The Environmentalist View
For advice on how to find the best place in Crimea for a vacation, we talk Viktoria Radchenko from the Ecological Initiative. She says forward planning is key and this should be considered before leaving for Crimea. She suggests checking out those 10 beaches that met Blue Flag criteria this year, which are five beaches in Yevaptoria and five in Yalta, including Massandra and Yalta-Inturist beaches.
Others are situated outside of Crimea – in Illichivsk, Odesa region, the municipal beach also got a Blue Flag this year, and in Sevastopol, the Tsarskaya Pristan Marina became the first in the whole post-Soviet space to get certification. Environmental-friendliness does come at a price, however, and Radchenko says to get onto the majority of these beaches you will have to pay a fee – around 70 - 80 hryvnias: “It’s a reasonable price for the service you get there,” she says. “Nature is not going to donate its treasures any more; people need to start paying money to keep nature in decent condition. On Massandra beach, for instance, dozens of people officially work to maintain the beach.”
If you can’t find a Blue Flag beach, Radchenko suggests you search out a “beach passport” – an official document you can ask to see before you enter that certifies the beach is being taken care of, or, at the very least, make sure you check for the presence of lifeguards and medical staff. Otherwise, you take responsibility for yourself, spending time at what she describes as a “wild” or unkept beach.
“Don’t ever choose a spot below a cliff, or you might be buried by rubble,” Radchenko says. “Pay attention to jellyfish – they might be present in large numbers due to currents or overly polluted water. In this case, check the clearness and the smell of the water.” To contradict the rumour mongering about the state of the Black Sea, The Commission on the Protection of the Black Sea Against Pollution recently announced it is slowly but surely returning to its pre-industrial condition, Radchenko says.
Armed with these tips, if you decide to discover Crimea this summer, you’re now well informed on how to stay safe.
by Kateryna Kyselyova