Blue Flag flies standard for beaches, marinas and boats

February 25, 2008

Blue Flag logo

The Blue Flag is an eco-label awarded to thousands of beaches and marinas across Europe, South Africa, Morocco, New Zealand, Canada and the Caribbean.

The Blue Flag works towards sustainable development at beaches/marinas through strict criteria dealing with water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management, and safety and other services. The Programme includes environmental education and information for the public, decision makers and tourism operators. For boats there is a code of conduct.

The Blue Flag was first awarded in France in 1985 to French coastal municipalities for sewage treatment and bathing water quality. In 1987, which was the “European Year of the Environment”, the Foundation for Environmental Education in Europe (FEEE) presented the concept of the Blue Flag to the European Commission. The Blue Flag Programme was accepted as one of the “European Year of the Environment” activities in the Community.

In 2001 FEE became a global organisation, changing name from FEEE to FEE (Foundation for Environmental Education). FEE is an independent non-profit organisation which owns and runs the Blue Flag Programme. FEE has been co-operating with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Tourism Organization (WTO) on extending the Programme to areas outside Europe.

There are separate though interrelated criteria for beaches, marinas and boats. I’ve picked out some of the less obvious ones, to show the thought that has gone into them.

Beach Criteria

Environmental education and information 5 criteria including: A minimum of 5 environmental education activities must be offered.
Water quality 5 criteria including: Algae or other vegetation should be left to decay on the beach unless it constitutes a nuisance.
Environmental management 10 criteria including: Sustainable means of transportation must be promoted in the beach area.
Safety and services 9 criteria including: A minimum of one Blue Flag beach in each municipality must have access and toilet facilities provided for disabled persons.

Marina Criteria

Environmental education and information 5 criteria including: The marina should be able to demonstrate that at least three environmental education activities are offered to the users and staff of the marina .
Water quality 1 criterion: Visually clean water (no oil, litter, sewage or other evidence of pollution). Although there isn’t a reference to a specific standard of water quality required, it seems that water quality is covered under the management side, and may perhaps depend on the marina’s location.
Environmental management 11 criteria including: Promotion of sustainable transportation.
Safety and services 6 criteria including: Facilities for disabled people.

Blue Flag for Boats

The individual Blue Flag can be awarded to interested boat owners/users wanting to contribute to the Blue Flag Programme. The boat owner signs a code of conduct declaring that he/she will act according to the environmental issues outlined in the code of conduct.

There are 13 issues in the environmental code of conduct covering protecting and respecting the environment, plants and animals, fishing practices and archaeological underwater findings, and encouraging other sailors to take care of the environment.

The flags show the year the award is valid for. At the end of the season the flags are sent to the nearest recycling centre, as the flags themselves comply with the textiles criteria of the EU Eco-label.

When I first read that the Blue Flag Programme receives sponsorship from various companies – with interests in beach cleaning equipment, advertising, a tour operator, boating equipment – I wondered about it s objectivity. But this is perhaps countered by the status of the Programme’s Main Partners:

  • United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
  • World Conservation Union (IUCN)
  • United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) (not to be confused with the World Trade Organization (WTO)!)
  • International Lifesaving Federation (ILS)
  • Coastal Union (EUCC)
  • International Council of Marine Industry Associations (ICOMIA)
  • European Union (the Directorate General for Environment), and
  • Reef Check.

Blue Flag runs nationally in many countries. But whereas Brazil has only one national body overseeing the Programme, in the UK we seem to have a slightly different idea about nationhood, as different bodies run the Programme in different regions: for England and Northern Ireland there’s EnCams (Environmental Campaigns), for Scotland Keep Scotland Beautiful, and for Wales Keep Wales Tidy – and the Welsh body works with An Taisce (The National Trust for Ireland) in the Republic of Ireland.

This entry is part of the Infomancy Eco-Symbols Series.


5 Responses to “Blue Flag flies standard for beaches, marinas and boats”

  1. Peter Manson Says:

    Is this really an eco-label, or just a “good management” label? Specifically the criteria you mention for disabled access, while a good thing, are not an eco-supporting criteria, indeed in most cases the provision of disabled access will have a negative eco impact?

  2. infomancie Says:

    Eco-labels are good ecological / environmental management/impact labels. There are formal definitions of eco-label which apply in specific circumstances and more general usage, but they all – that I have seen so far – have eco-/environ- management/impact at core.
    So effectively this “quick” definition holds both ways.

    For the Blue Flag in particular, both Beach and Marina criteria have specific Water quality and Environmental management components, which require monitoring of and compliance with particular standards (see links). In the case of water at beaches, clean water is not enough, it must be of excellent quality.

    Good management on its own does not require the environment to be taken into account, as one can always ask what end(s) the management is good for. A well-managed site might even change the environment dramatically, whilst remaining successful.

    For example, randomly chosen…

    Tourism Product and Infrastructure Strategy The Development Planning Unit Government of the British Virgin Islands

    … can be read with all the eco-/environmental considerations removed and it could still be considered good management – to the extent that the environment weren’t considered important.

    This is obviously a larger undertaking than a single site.

    For an example of a local plan with perhaps poor management (trying to site a beach in an area of low water quality) and negative environmental impact, again randomly, …
    Association for Geoconservation, Hong Kong (Jan 2008).


    Provision of disabled access has a negative eco-impact?

    I’ll hazard a guess at no…

    A toilet with a larger door here and there shouldn’t make much difference. Wider walkways, corridors, service till areas mean less crowding for all.

    Access ramps as well as (or instead of) steps can improve site visuals.

    Induction loops for the hearing-impaired on displays/tours may cost, but shouldn’t impair the environment.

    Generally, improving accessibility helps everyone – small children, older people, people who’ve broken a leg – and opens up experiences for all. But it doesn’t mean that every steep cliff has to have a lift cut into it.

    Opening up experiences in turn means that the environmental eduaction activities are available to more people, which spreads knowledge further and integrates it into family/community experience, not discounting the pleasure being there can bring and the notion that it is worth protecting.



  3. Peter Manson Says:

    Hmmm. Not really sure about some of that.

    “Blue Flag” does not have eco drivers as its “core” – it was originally created as a marker of beaches clean and safe for tourists, and technically some of its requirements on water quality and safety require impacting the ecology to remove natural but harmful (to people) species. “Excellent” quality water just doesn’t exist very often in truly natrual, eco-rich environments – real bio-diversity is often less pleasant or even downright nasty for tourists. Quite a lot of blue flag beaches that are sufferring erosion (either natural, or due to numbers of tourists, or due to run-off or other human effects) are maintained by importing huge quantities of sand, with devastating impact on the local ecology, or by planting new “dune-fixing” species not native to the locality. Under blue flag this is quite OK, as the focus is on “what’s good for tourists”, over-riding any eco agenda.

    Provision of disabled access has a negative eco-impact?

    If you hazard a guess of “No”, then I’ll hazard a guess that you’ve not actually been involved in trying providing this. In fact it is very rare that disabled access and eco concerns would naturally align, and in the majority of cases they have opposite needs and there has to be a balance struck between them.

    Just looking at your examples:
    Wider toilet doors (and larger toilets), wider walkways, larger service areas may be a benefit for all, but take up more room, require more power (light, heat etc), water (just to keep them clean if nothing else), need more building materials to be transported in (above a certain size you need more solid foundations, meaning what could be a wooden hut on wooden piles, becomes a structure with major excavation for concrete foundation), and take up more room: the typical disabled access toilet cubicle is more than three times the area of a standard cubicle.

    “Induction loops … may cost, but shouldn’t impair the environment” Maybe so if there is a bottomless pit of money, but every site has cash constraints, and every cent spent on these is one less to go on other things, including environmental programs.

    And the very concept of opening up better access for all means more impact – both travel to sites and simply walking on them has an impact, and the more people, the more impact (I’ll confess my part as a well-travelled tourist). I know that people visiting a site gives a chance to educate them, but how many really take notice? – I’m pretty sure that the education at best offsets a minor part of the impact. It may not be a popular message, but the best support for eco sites is to discourage as many visitors as possible.

    Note I’m not saying providing better access (disabled and other) is wrong – just that it conflicts with eco-concerns and a decision has to be made. Blue flag comes down firmly on the side of tourists and access, and I don’t believe it should be considered an eco-label.

  4. infomancie Says:

    I agree with many of your points, without agreeing on the conclusion(s).

    Perhaps Blue Flag beaches are better considered distractor destinations. The benefits of having such destinations must be weighed against those of having none, with widely distributed and uncontrolled environmental costs.

    Eco-sites and Blue Flag sites aren’t necessarily the same thing, which doesn’t make such awards non-eco.

    I disagree on “education at best offsets a minor part of the impact”, although I cannot quantify why. Positionally, and somewhat briefly, the absence of education encourages indifference of various kinds, the damage of which is enormous.

  5. Arlene Mascarenhas Says:

    As I live in Kenya, I was looking at blue flag from a developing world perspective. The website gives no indication of costs, time frame and if there is no strong policy or legislature to back ip up …. is really my question. It has a section in its Beach Criteria Explanatory notes 2008 about domestic pets … we have camels, dogs and who knows what running on our beaches … and it is culturally expected that they be allowed on the beach.

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