Four bright Blue Flags flew over the territory’s beaches for the first time on Thursday, serving as a long-awaited symbol for safe water, clean sand, and protected ocean life.
“I am thrilled beyond belief – absolutely thrilled,” V.I. Conservation Society President Jason Budsan said after one Blue Flag was raised at Emerald Beach Resort along Lindbergh Bay on St. Thomas.
Blue Flags were also raised Thursday along Great Bay Beach at the Ritz Carlton on St. Thomas, The Palms Beach at Pelican Cove on St. Croix, and Trunk Bay Beach on St. John.
Among those celebrating at Emerald Beach Resort was Lourdes Diaz, vice president of the Foundation for Environmental Education, which administers the Blue Flag eco-label program. To qualify for the Foundation’s Blue Flag, beaches and marinas must comply with 32 criteria in areas that include environmental education, water quality, and safety.
Standing before a newly installed educational display about water quality, ocean life, and the Blue Flag program, Diaz said that 3,650 beaches in 64 countries have received the designation. The flags should draw more Europeans to vacation in the territory, as they are often familiar with the program’s high standards, Diaz said.
Meeting the program’s ongoing environmental benchmarks will be the responsibility of Budsan and the Conservation Society, which is the nongovernmental organization tasked with overseeing project’s grant funding, Diaz said.
The Society will get help from other area supporters of the Blue Flag project, including the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association, V.I. Tourism Department and V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
Of the many people who worked to get to Thursday’s milestone, none appeared more jubilant than Coral World Marketing Director Valerie Peters, who started working on the project nearly six years ago.
A native Virgin Islander, Peters said that the project has taught her how local folks can and should stop the degradation of their home’s outstandingly beautiful beaches.
“We can never bring it back to exactly what it was,” Peters said, “but we can sure try.”