Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Costa Rica's Second National Flag.....the Ecological Blue Flag Award!!

Mother Nature had a hand in making Costa Rica’s beaches beautiful, but the local government of Costa Rica continues to encourage businesses and citizens to help these same beaches remain clean and beautiful thanks to the Bandera Azul Ecologica (Blue Ecologic Flag) program.

Created in 1996 with the goal of preventing, stopping and cleaning up the  pollution that threatened the health of both people and the environment, great strides have been made to safeguard the public and diverse ecologies of Costa Rica.  Over the last 16 years important measures have been taken to certify more beaches nationwide, surely making Mother Nature proud and enabling the continued promotion of Costa Rica as a World Class eco-tourism destination.

The Blue Flag Ecology Program functions as a multi-agency venture of numerous Costa Rican government institutions.  Some of these include the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT), Ministry of Environment (MINAE), Insituto Costarricense de Alcantarillas y Acueductos (AyA), Ministry of Public Health (MINSA) and National Tourism Chamber (CANATUR), along with the members of local communities who personally strive and sacrifice to achieve the Blue Flag certification. Under the administration of the National Blue Flag Commission, these organizations have achieved certification on an ever growing list of beaches, schools and businesses receiving this prestigious award.

No easy feat to even qualify to win the Blue Flag Certification, Costa Rican beaches are evaluated on a strict criterion under the Blue Flag Ecology Program. Beaches are assessed on water quality of not only the ocean, but the drinking water, waste disposal,

sanitary facilities, signage, tourist safety, environmental education and the involvement of the community regarding beach maintenance.
The PBAE evaluated each beach based on 7 different aspects: quality of seawater (35%), quality of water for human consumption (15%), sanitary quality of the coast, which included garbage (10%), domestic sewage (15%), industrial sewage (5%), environmental education (10%), and safety and administration (10%).  Only beaches with a 90% score can receive the coveted Blue Flag award.  Based on the performance across these seven dimensions, each beach is then given a grade of 1 to 5 stars.

Out of the some 126 beaches that competed for the award, of the eighty winning beaches, only two of them got a top of the line 5 star grade. These were Punta Madero and Blanca, located in Guanacaste and Puntarenas respectively.

Although the Blue Flag Ecology Program was founded with the idea of improving education and awareness regarding the environment, the program has grown to provide a great sense of pride and accomplishment for not only the countries beaches, but local businesses, schools and other tourism operations. Every year more and more beach communities (and businesses) compete for the Blue Flag designation, furthering the original goal to include non-coastal communities, as well as non-tourism projects.

A total of 80 beaches from all over the country received the ecological blue flag award this year during the 16th ceremony of the Ecological Blue Flag Program (PBAE), which took place last March 28th at the Double Tree Hotel in Puntarenas.

For the first time, the Costa Rican Institute of Tourism (ICT) held an exclusive

ceremony for the beach category, as a way to honor the hard work of the winning committees. In the past, the ceremony was held at the Presidential House, as part of a community event, so this added recognition was greatly appreciated by the beach comittees involved.

Today Ecological Blue Flags fly proudly over these Costa Rican beaches scattered throughout the country. Environmentally conscious tourists can now make an educated choice to spend their vacation dollars in locations that take pride in offering a healthy and environmentally friendly ambiance to their visitors. 

So, hats off to our government agencies and their hard work and take a bow all you beaches, schools and businesses that through your hard work and perserverance have achieved this undeniably pretigious Ecological Blue Flag award.  Felicidades!!

PBAE’s Grading Criteria

One star (A): If it gets a score between 90 – 100%

Two stars (AA): If it gets a score of 100% and also has: warning signals for national and international tourists, surveillance and first aid services during weekends and high seasons.

Three stars (AAA): If it meets the requirements for two stars, and also has: public showers and bathrooms, touristic information center, comfortable and safe access for people with disabilities.

Four stars (AAAA): If it meets the requirements for three stars, and also has: recycling and solid waste separation programs, cleaning actions to prevent vector-borne diseases, permanent surveillance and first aid services, and Local Emergency Committee, as well as participation in AyA’s Sanitary Quality Stamp.

Five stars (AAAAA): If it meets the requirement for three starts, and also has: designated parking for people with disabilities, ramps or synthetic rugs to access the beach, Tourist Police services, and participation AyA’s Sanitary Quality Stamp program.

Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years.  Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.  Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.

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