When envisioning the perfect summer vacation, we usually picture beaches with spotless sand, clear water and comfortable amenities. But the truth is, many beaches are strewn with litter, polluted with chemicals or sewage, and have awful facilities. They can be unsafe for beach goers as well as local wildlife and waterways.
One way to be sure you’ll be swimming in safe, clean water this year is to seek out a beach certified by the Blue Flag Programme, an eco-label earned by over 3,500 beaches and marinas across 41 countries. Besides looking after your own health and enjoying more pristine views, you will be helping to protect the environment if you choose to catch some waves and rays at a Blue Flag certified beach.
The criteria for Blue Flag beaches include:
- Water is tested regularly and found to meet quality standards
- Beach is free of sewage and industrial pollutants
- Environmental education activities and information are available to beach goers
- Garbage and recycling containers are readily accessible
- Restroom facilities are clean and properly maintained
- Sustainable transportation options are available in the area
- Plant matter and natural debris are left on the beach
- Nearby coral reefs are monitored
Actual blue flags are erected at qualifying sites, giving visitors extra peace of mind. While most of the certified beaches are concentrated in Europe and North Africa, there are also Blue Flag beaches to be found in Canada, the Caribbean, Brazil, South Africa, and New Zealand. There are plenty of FlipKey vacation listings to be found near Blue Flag beaches: check out these possibilities in Cyprus, Greece, Wales, Ireland, and England.
The Blue Flag Programme is the most widespread eco-certification system for beaches, but there are similar labels cropping up in other countries. In the U.S., the Clean Beaches Coalition awards deserving beaches with Blue Wave certifications. And in Costa Rica, the Blue Flag Ecological Program rates beaches with one, two, or three stars according to their level of commitment to the environment.
Joanna Eng is a New York-based writer and editor who covers travel, green living, food, careers, entrepreneurship, and more. Her travel experiences have ranged from hostel hopping in Mexico to staying with distant relatives in China to renting a beach apartment in New Jersey.