The USVI Hotel & Tourism Association and the V.I. Conservation Society are pleased to announce that, after the extensive annual review process, three beaches have again been awarded the Blue Flag status by the Foundation for Environmental Education. Blue Flag is an exclusive eco-label that promotes sustainable tourism and is awarded to beaches and marinas worldwide that meet the established criteria of the program.
It started with 10 participating countries in 1987, and today the Blue Flag Program continues to grow and has been implemented in 45 countries at more than 4,000 beaches and marinas across Europe, South Africa, Morocco, Tunisia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada and the Caribbean.
The three beaches receiving this coveted certification are Emerald Beach and Great Bay on St. Thomas and Green Cay Beach at Tamarind Reef on St. Croix. The certification is based on compliance with 32 criteria that include environmental education and information, water quality, environmental management and safety and services.
The program serves to encourage authorities and managers to provide beaches and marinas with a certain level of environmental quality, cleanliness and safety standards for local populations and tourists.
After the devastating 2017 hurricane season, the program was put on hold until the various sites were able to rebuild. The priority during the past two seasons was to consult with current sites to meet and exceed Blue Flag standards as they rebuild and to develop environmental education opportunities that align with the Eco Schools initiative (sister program to Blue Flag).
The Blue Flag Program aims at improving the environmental quality of beaches and marinas and the management of coastal areas in a holistic way. It is a system that does not curtail recreation and tourism in the coastal area but rather helps manage it through a wide range of subjects, activities and users that have direct and indirect interactions with the coastal environment.
Most recently, Blue Flag USVI was awarded 2nd place in the Best Practice Competition 2020 for the southern hemisphere by the Blue Flag International Jury for watershed-related work. The Virgin Islands Conservation Society spearheaded a two-year watershed assessment for the Smith Bay/Water Bay area on St. Thomas. Upon completion of the analysis, Blue Flag USVI created an informational brochure and coordinated numerous coastal cleanups (on land and in water) to educate participants on the impacts of pollution in watersheds and their possible contributions to help protect the health of those watersheds.
The process of acquiring Blue Flag certification involves both monetary and manpower investment. The Department of Tourism has been a key supporter. Key agencies, including the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, CORE, Department of Tourism, V.I. Waste Management Authority, Department of Education, St. Croix Environmental Association, NOAA, University of the Virgin Islands – VIMAS, Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association, the Hotel and Tourism Association and the EPA provided the staffing to serve on the Blue Flag jury that conducted inspections of the beaches.
According to Valerie Peters, Blue Flag USVI coordinator, “We strive to engage the public to protect and preserve the coastal environments of the Virgin Islands and the communities they live in through education and action.”
The flags will be raised on all three beaches on Dec. 1. Blue Flag USVI encourages residents and visitors to join with it in recognizing these locations for their hard work and dedication to implement sound environmentally sustainable tourism practices.
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