Travelers will soon have another reason to flock to four of the territory’s best beaches: a blowing blue flag that attests to their safe water, clean sand and educational role in the community.
Representatives from the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association, V.I. Conservation Society and various government agencies gathered Wednesday at Emerald Beach Resort to announce that four local beaches have earned Blue Flag certification from the Foundation for Environmental Education. They include Lindbergh Bay/Emerald Beach and Great Bay on St. Thomas, Trunk Bay on St. John and Pelican Cove on St. Croix.
Based in Denmark, the Foundation for Environmental Education is a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable development through environmental education. To qualify for the Foundation’s Blue Flag, beaches and marinas must comply with 32 criteria in areas including environmental education, water quality and safety. More than 3,500 beaches in 41 countries have earned the designation.
Those who worked on getting the four territory beaches certified said it was an often painstaking, two-year-long process.
Or five years in the case of the project’s lead proponent, Coral World Marketing Director Valerie Peters. Peters said she started researching the certification program about five years ago, and that it was only in the last two years that other partners – such as the V.I. Tourism Department, Hovensa and the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources – got involved and helped move the project toward success.
“I want to encourage people that we can do it ourselves,” Peters said of the locally led effort. “We don’t need to go to the outside.”
The V.I. Conservation society will now manage the local Blue Flag program, with help from other partners. Christine Settar, marine stewardship coordinator of the University of the Virgin Island’s Sea Grant program, said that to keep the Blue Flags the Society will have to offer educational activities at the beaches. In Settar’s opinion, this will be a very good thing.
“Just getting people outside – that’s a huge part of education that’s lacking in the Virgin Islands,” Settar said.
Eddie Donoghue, 74, said he has defended Lindbergh Bay from numerous environmental threats over the years. With the Blue Flag certification, he finally feels his favorite beach is safe.
“I never thought that it would happen,” Donoghue said.
The flags will be officially raised on all four beaches on Thursday, Dec. 1. The project’s next phase will include certifying marinas and hotels. For additional information, visit www.blueflagusvi.org.